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Oregon Trail

John Tyler

Oregon Trail: John Tyler was the 10th American President who served in office from April 4, 1841 to March 4, 1845. One of the important events during his presidency was the journeys of the first settlers along the famous Oregon Trail.

Definition and Summary of the Oregon Trail
Summary and definition:
The Oregon Trail began as a network of unconnected trails used by Native American Indians and Fur Traders.

The Oregon Trail was the Important route taken by settlers from the east migrating to build a new life in the western part of the United States.

The Oregon Trail covered over 2000 miles originally starting in Independence, Missouri from where it followed the Platte River westwards, crossing the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and then crossed Wyoming and ended Oregon City in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Early settlers in the 1840's traveled in large wagon trains using covered wagons to carry their supplies and belongings for the six month journey.

What were the dangers and hardships of the Oregon Trail?
Making the long journey along the Oregon Trail was fraught with dangers and hardships for the early settlers and pioneers. The dangers and hardships of the Oregon Trail included the following:

  • The Rivers and Drowning: Crossing the swollen rivers and deep, swift water along the route led to the loss of life of the settlers and their animals by drowning together with the loss of the supplies, goods and equipment

  • The Wagons: Wagons overturned crushing men, women, children and animals

  • Injuries: Migrants were prone to a numerous range of injuries due to gun shot wounds caused by the accidental discharge of firearms. Other injuries were caused by kicking oxen and horses. Burns were another cause of injury and axle grease, thinned with turpentine, was used to coat the burned skin

  • Weather: Extreme weather conditions such as hailstorms, lightening and grassfires and crossing dangerous mountain terrain caused deaths and injuries

  • Snakebites: Rattlesnakes were a great danger and, just as we see in the old Western movies, somebody would slice open the bite wound and suck the poison out

  • Illnesses: People became sick, their was little or no medical help available for those suffering from often serious and fatal diseases such as cholera, small pox, measles, mumps, mountain fever, dysentery, scurvy, influenza, hypothermia, tuberculosis, even the common cold caused deaths

  • Childbirth: Women died giving birth in the primitive and difficult conditions experienced along the Oregon Trail

  • Native American Indian Attacks: Many Native American Indians actually helped the migrants but the number of Native Indian attacks increased significantly in the 1860's and white settlers encroached on Native Indian lands

  • Deaths: The number of deaths along the Oregon Trail was significant and it is estimated that 5% of migrants died on the journey, about 15,000 deaths in total

  • The stress of the journey along the Oregon Trail , the sickness and the hardships encountered along the way also led to suicides

What were the hardships of the Oregon Trail?
Hardships: All of the dangers encountered along the Oregon Trail caused suffering to the pioneers but additional hardships were also experienced including exhaustion and general weakness. The animals also suffered in the same way and settlers were forced to lighten the load of the wagons by discarding all but the most essential of their possessions. The weather especially the cold and the rain caused additional misery and hardship. Lack of food and the threat of sickness, accidents, death and disease all added to the stress of the Oregon Trail. The need to complete the journey along the Oregon Trail People became homesick, deprived of their home comforts and familiar surroundings and wished they had never started the long, hazardous journey along the Oregon Trail. Many were pioneers were also terrified at the possibility of attacks by strange, hostile Native Indians.

Oregon Trail Facts for kids
Interesting Oregon Trail facts for kids are detailed below. The history of Oregon Trail is told in a factual sequence consisting of a series of short facts providing a simple method of relating the experiences of the settlers and pioneers along the Oregon Trail.

Deaths: It is estimated that 300,000 people migrated along the hazardous trails westward in search of a better life. About 5% died on the journey accounting for approximately 15,000 deaths

Food: The meals for the travelers were breakfast, lunch and dinner and commonly consisted of bacon, beans, and coffee, with biscuits or bread. There was little fruit containing vitamin C that led to scurvy

Hunting and Fishing: Food supplies were supplemented by hunting and fishing. Buffalo, wild game, elk, deer and small game such as rabbits and squirrels offered welcome meat supplies. Fish included salmon and trout

Livestock on the Oregon Trail: Some families took along livestock including goats, milk cows and chickens

Preserved foods: These were limited but included cheese, canned butter, sugar, salt, pepper, vinegar, dried fruit and pickles

Fruit and Vegetables: Some vegetables including potatoes were available at the forts and trading posts along the way. Apples were the common fruit

Cooking: Cooking along the trail was usually undertaken over campfires suspending, pots, pans, kettles and coffee pots over the fire

Water: Water was stored in barrels and all travelers carried water canteens or water bags

Native Indians: There were many Great Plains Native Indian tribes who inhabited areas along the Oregon Trail. The Indian tribes included  the Fox, Sauk, Potawatomi, Sioux, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Cayuse and the Shawnee.

The Covered Wagons: The covered wagons designed to navigate the tight corners of the Oregon Trail were called 'prairie schooners' which were about half the size of the Conestoga wagons that were in common use at the time. The largest prairie schooners  measured up to 15 ft (4.6 m) in length and 4ft wide

The Covered Wagons: The wagons had no suspension and the trail was uneven, rough and rocky. They were so uncomfortable that many people preferred to walk, unless they had horses to ride.

Wagon Trains: Many migrants traveled together along the Oregon Trail in Wagon trains guided by a wagon master who had knowledge of the trail, the route, the dangers and hazards. The wagon trains generally consisted of 20 to 40 wagons which made them more manageable than larger wagon trains

The Covered Wagons: The covers were made from waterproofed cotton or linen canvas and were usually drawn by oxen although mules were also used. Oxen were much slower than the mules along the trail

Wagons: The pioneers traveled between 15 and 20 miles every day along the Oregon Trail aware they had to reach their destination before the winter snow

The Cost: The cost of a wagon ranged from $100 to $200 dollars and the animals to pull them were about $50. The average cost for provisions per person was about $150 - $200

Weapons: Weapons were essential items to take on the Oregon Trail and included hunting knives, revolvers or muskets

Tools: Common tools such as axes, saws, hammers, picks and shovels were necessary to clear the trail and mend broken wagons including a good supply of nails

Sundries: Other items needed for the journey along the Oregon Trail included tents, blankets, mugs, plates, knives, spoons, rope, buckets and candles

In 1840 Joel Walker was the first settler to make the complete trip along the Oregon Trail with a family

The first Important migration took place in 1843 when a single large wagon train that consisted of 120 wagons and 500 people made the long, hazardous journey

The Oregon Trail Journey: Migrants started their journey in the early Spring. If they left too early, there would be no grass for their animals to eat, if they left too late, they would get caught by the winter snow

1845: John O’Sullivan initiates the phrase 'Manifest Destiny' and Americans are further encouraged to move westwards

The Oregon trail was the most common form of transport for settlers until the Transcontinental Railroad connected the east to the west in 1869. The last wagon trains crossed the country during the 1880's. For additional facts refer to Railroads in the 1800s

The Wagon trains gave way to the railroads and the Oregon trail became a route used for cattle drives

What were the Landmarks of the Oregon Trail?
The Important 10 landmarks on the Oregon Trail were as follows:

  • 1. Courthouse Rock and Jailhouse Rock: Courthouse Rock and the smaller landmark called Jailhouse Rock were located in the Platte River valley and were the first Important landmarks seen by the settlers heading west

  • 2. Chimney Rock: The aptly named Chimney rock indicated to the settlers that as the Oregon trail would steepen as it headed towards the Rocky Mountains

  • 3. Fort Laramie: Fort Laramie provided the pioneers with the opportunity to replenish their supplies

  • 4. Independence Rock: The massive landmark of Independence Rock was 1,900 feet long, 700 feet wide, and 128 feet high. The settlers aimed to reach this landmark before Independence Day on July 4

  • 5. Fort Bridger: The Fort Bridger was another landmark on the Oregon Trail providing the opportunity to get new supplies

  • 6. The landmark Soda Springs was so-called due to ancient volcanic activity in the area. The settlers enjoyed this particular landmark as it provided the opportunity to bathe and also helped with aching joints

  • 7. Fort Hall: This was the landmark that many of the early settlers dreaded as it was the point that they would abandon their wagons and continue the perilous journey along the Oregon Trail by foot with their animals. In 1843 the first wagon train blazed the trail for all the emigrants that followed

  • 8. Fort Boise: Fort Boise provided another opportunity to get new supplies

  • 9. Whitman Mission: The Whitman Mission had been established by Methodist missionaries, at this point the pioneers knew that their journey along the Oregon Trail had nearly ended.

  • 10. The Dalles: The Dalles was the end of the overland Oregon Trail. The Dalles was the center of navigation on the Columbia River between the Cascades rapids and Celilo Falls when the wagons were loaded on rafts and floated west to Fort Vancouver and Oregon City.

Oregon Trail for kids: Other Trails
Advocates of the Manifest Destiny strongly supported the settlers who migrated along the Oregon Trail into the Territory and also supported settlement in the Mexican Southwest and California. The Oregon Trail was the most used wagon trail, there were other trails that led west. Some of them branched off the Oregon Trail like the California Trail which left the Oregon Trail in Idaho and headed south to California. There was also the Mormon Trail which went from Council Bluffs, Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah.
The first migration route started in the 1820's at Independence, Missouri followed the Santa Fe Trail into Kansas south of the Wakarusa River to Santa Fe (now New Mexico).

US American History
1841-1850: Westward Expansion

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