The Oregon Trail was a 2,000-mile route from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. Hundreds of thousands of American pioneers emigrated west along the trail in the mid-1800s.
Missionaries Blaze the Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail was blazed by missionaries. In 1834 Nathaniel Wyeth led a group of missionaries, traders, and naturalists westward. They built an outpost in present-day Idaho.
The Great Emigration of 1843 and the Cayuse War
Protestant missionary Marcus Whitman wanted to prove that the Oregon Trail was safe to travel. It took him several attempts. Finally in 1842 Whitman met up with a huge wagon train destined for Oregon. Their journey lasted five months. Their success triggered a pioneer migration along the Oregon Trail. It became known as the Great Emigration of 1843.
Whitman had a mission in present-day Wyoming that he dedicated to assisting white settlers. As more settlers arrived, the Cayuse Indians fought them. A measles epidemic in 1847 almost wiped out the Cayuse population. For seven-years the Cayuse and the federal government were at war.
Life on the Oregon Trail
Pioneers had to sell their homes, businesses and any possessions they couldn’t take with them. They also had to purchase hundreds of pounds of supplies for the trip.
The most important item for a successful journey on the trail was the covered wagon. It had to be sturdy enough to travel in harsh weather, yet light enough for a team of oxen or mules to pull it for thousands of miles.
Travelers had to start out in the spring to reach Oregon before the winter snows began. Thousands of pioneers often traveled the trail at the same time. There were slightly different paths for reaching Oregon
Independence Rock in Wyoming marked the halfway point of the journey. Travelers tried to reach it by July 4 to know that they were on schedule. Then they had to cross the Rocky Mountains.
From Oregon, some people continued south into California, especially after the Gold Rush started in 1849.
Many people died along the trail of diseases. Others died in accidents caused by inexperience, exhaustion and carelessness.
Over time, conditions along the Oregon Trail improved. Bridges and ferries made water crossings safer. Settlements and supply posts along the way provided services to pioneers.
After the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, westward wagon trains decreased significantly. Settlers now had the option of a faster, more reliable mode of transportation.
Source: The Oregon Trail
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