9 Things You May Not Know About the Oregon Trail
Pioneers often spread out for several miles across the plains to hunt and find grazing patches for their animals, and enterprising settlers blazed dozens of new trails, or cutoffs, that allowed travelers to bypass stopping points, particularly in Wyoming, where alternative pathways meandered for over a hundred miles.
2. A pair of Protestant missionaries made one of the trail’s first wagon crossings.
Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, newlywed missionaries, blazed the Oregon Trail in 1836, with 28-year-old Narcissa becoming the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains, and Marcus helped lead the first major wagon train of around 1,000 settlers in 1843.
3. The iconic Conestoga wagon was rarely used on the Oregon Trail.
Pioneers instead traveled in small wagons known as “prairie schooners,” which had a wooden bed about four feet wide and ten feet long. Conestoga wagons were far too large and unwieldy to survive the rugged terrain of the frontier.
4. The trail was littered with discarded supplies.
Many sections of the Oregon Trail became junk heaps as a result of overpacking. Fort Laramie in Wyoming became known as “Camp Sacrifice” for its reputation as an Oregon Trail dumping ground, with pioneers reportedly abandoning 20,000 pounds of bacon outside its walls during the Gold Rush of 1849.
5. Indian attacks were relatively rare on the Oregon Trail.
Fewer than 400 settlers were killed by Plains Indians between 1840 and 1860, and cholera and other diseases were the most pressing threats to westbound settlers from the beginning of the Oregon Trail.
6. Pioneers left behind graffiti on “register rocks” along the trail.
Thousands of travelers left their mark on the rock while camping along the nearby Sweetwater River, and those in a hurry sometimes paid stonecutters a few dollars for them. One of the most notable prairie guest books was “The Register of the Desert,” where tens of thousands of travelers left their mark on the rock while camping along the nearby Sweetwater River.
7. Most Oregon Trail pioneers didn’t settle in Oregon.
A total of 250,000 settlers traveled the California Trail, while 70,000 Mormon pilgrims traveled the Utah Trail to the lands surrounding Salt Lake City.
8. One of the trail’s most famous pioneers made the crossing by wagon, train, automobile and airplane.
Ezra Meeker, an Ohio native who made the journey 54 years before, retraced his steps a half-dozen times using nearly every mode of transportation, including a biplane flown by famed pilot Oakley Kelly at the age of 94.
9. Wheel ruts from Oregon Trail wagons are still visible today.
Ruts left by wagon trains on the Oregon Trail can still be seen today in all six states where the trail once ran; the ruts are caused by years of prairie schooner traffic, which left imprints in stone and wore down grasslands to the point where nothing grows there anymore.
How long was the Pioneers journey?
Pioneers set out from Nebraska, crossed the southwest corner of Wyoming, into the southern part of Idaho, and ended up in the northwest corner of Oregon after a six-month journey.
How many miles a day did the pioneers travel?
Pioneers traveling in wagon trains covered about 15 miles per day on average.
How long did it take pioneers to cross the US?
Life on the Oregon Trail Planning a five- to six-month journey across rugged terrain, which could take up to a year, was no easy task. Emigrants had to sell their homes, businesses, and any valuables they couldn’t take with them, as well as purchase hundreds of pounds of supplies, including flour.
How long did the Pioneers take to travel to West?
A wagon train took about five months to make the journey, with the first major migration taking place in 1843 with a single large wagon train of 120 wagons and 500 people.
Why didn’t most pioneers ride in their wagons?
The wagons were pulled along the dusty trail by teams of oxen or mules. People didn’t ride in the wagons very often because they didn’t want to wear out their animals; instead, they walked alongside them, becoming just as dusty as the animals.
Where did most pioneers come from?
European and African Americans migrated westward from the Thirteen Colonies and later the United States to settle in and develop areas of North America that had previously been inhabited or used by Native Americans.
What did pioneers sleep on?
Despite the romantic depictions of the covered wagon in movies and on television, it would not have been very comfortable to travel in or sleep in the wagon. Some pioneers did camp on the groundu2014either in the open or sheltered under the wagonu2014but many used canvas tents.
What were the real enemies of the pioneers on the trail?
Cholera, poor sanitation, and–surprisingly–accidental gunshots were the real enemies of the pioneers. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman (along with Henry and Eliza Spalding) were the first emigrants to travel to Oregon in a covered wagon in 1836.
What were the two main causes of death along the trail?
Nearly one out of every ten people who set out on the Oregon Trail died, with disease and accidents being the leading causes of death.
What hardships did pioneers face?
Accidental firearm discharges, falling off mules or horses, drowning in river crossings, and disease were among the hazards. Once in the mountains, the trail became much more difficult, with steep ascents and descents over rocky terrain, as well as the risk of being injured by overturned and runaway wagons.
How much did a wagon cost in the 1800s?
It was expensiveu2014up to $1,000 for a family of four, including a $100 wagon that required the use of four or six animals to pull.
What was the main cause of death to pioneers on the trail?
Diseases and serious illnesses killed nine out of ten pioneers, including cholera, small pox, flu, measles, mumps, and tuberculosis, which could quickly spread through an entire wagon camp. Cholera was the trail’s main scourge.
How much did it cost to join a wagon train?
The overland journey from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon or California took six months and cost up to $1,000 for a family of four, including the cost of a wagon, which was around $100.
What did pioneers eat?
Simple foods like potatoes, beans, and rice, hardtack (flour, water, 1 teaspoon each of salt and sugar, baked), soda biscuits (flour, milk, one teaspoon each of carbonate of soda and salt), Johnny cakes, cornbread, cornmeal mush, and bread were staples of the pioneer diet.
Why did the pioneers risk everything to move west?
Pioneers were pushed west because they couldn’t find good jobs that paid well enough, or because they couldn’t find land to farm. The biggest factor that drew pioneers west was the opportunity to buy land for a low price compared to what it cost in states to the east.