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 did the journey westward take?
In fact, the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled across the western part of the continent and back in two years, four months, and nine days.
How many died on the Oregon Trail?
At least 20,000 people died along the Oregon Trail due to accidents, drowning at dangerous river crossings, and other illnesses; most trailside graves are unknown because burials were quick and the wagon trains moved on.
Why is it called the Oregon Trail?
They were mostly farmersu2014family men with wives and childrenu2014who had a common goal of seeking a promised land of milk and honey in far-off Oregon, about which they knew as little as they did about how to get there.
What happened on the Oregon Trail?
The Oregon Trail became a well-worn path and an abandoned junkyard of surrendered possessions as more settlers headed west, as well as a graveyard for tens of thousands of pioneer men, women, and children, as well as countless livestock.
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 was the most feared disease on the Oregon Trail?
While cholera was the most feared disease among overlanders, tens of thousands of people emigrated to Oregon and California over the course of a generation, bringing with them virtually every disease and chronic medical condition known to science, with the exception of leprosy and the Black Death.
Does the Oregon Trail still exist?
Pioneers heading west from Missouri used the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail to find fertile lands; today, travelers can follow the trail along Route 66 or Routes 2 and 30.
Where did Pioneers sleep?
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.
Why did Pioneers go to Oregon?
Economic problems infuriated farmers and businessmen, and free land in Oregon and the prospect of finding gold in California enticed them westward. The majority of the pioneer families followed the Oregon-California Trail or the Mormon Trail.
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 happened at the end of the Oregon Trail?
The wagon trains camped a final time near the Willamette River, not far past the end of the Barlow Road; this spot, Oregon City’s Abernethy Green, marked the traditional End of the Oregon Trail.
What was the most common cause of death on the Oregon Trail?
On the trail, the most common killers were shootings, drownings, being crushed by wagon wheels, and injuries from handling domestic animals. Wagon accidents were the most common, with both children and adults falling off or under wagons and being crushed under the wheels.
What did the people eat on the Oregon Trail?
Cornmeal was easy to make and transport, so travelers got creative with how they used it in their meals. Cornmeal pancakes were a favorite food on the Oregon Trail, and they could easily be fried up over the campfire.
How far did the pioneers typically walk each day for 6 months?
The average daily distance traveled was fifteen miles, but on a good day, twenty miles could be covered.