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The Oregon Trail was a great historic movement that expanded America towards the western land. The trail was a 2,000-mile journey that stretched from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon. This trail was traveled by thousands of American pioneers in the mid-1800s. The Oregon Trail was a very long trail that passed through present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. This historic trail led to the passing of the Oregon Donation Land Act in 1850 and encouraged American pioneers to settle in the Oregon territory. Without this Americans would have been slower to travel and settle in the mid-west region.
The desire for Americans to expand their territory westward came from the Manifest Destiny in the 1840s. The Manifest Destiny was an idea that the United States is destined by God to expand its control, democracy, and capitalism across North America. Many people made their way into the western region between 1804 and 1806 these people included the very famous Meriwether Lewis and William Clark along with many merchants, trappers, and traders. The people who really paved the way for the Oregon trail were missionaries. The first missionary group to go out west was carried out in 1834 and led by merchant Nathan Wyeth. About a year later in 1835, a doctor and protestant missionary by the name of Marcus Whitman set out west on horseback to spread Christianity to American Indians and prove the Oregon trail could be traveled safely and farther than ever done before. This attempt to Marcus Whitman as far as what was called the “Green River Rendezvous” which was a meeting place for trappers and traders, is located near present-day Daniel, Wyoming. On Whitman’s next attempt he decided to bring along his wife and another protestant couple. They faced a harsh journey along the Native American trails and used maps to help them navigate. They then reached their destination of Fort Vancouver, Washington. Here they set up missionary posts. Their journey accounts were published by Whitman’s wife and this proved that both men and women could travel on the trail. Whitman headed towards the west for the third time, but this time he was met by a wagon trained that was heading for Oregon. This group of travelers consisted of 1,000 people and thousands of livestock, and around 120 wagons. They began their journey on May 22 and it lasted a total of five months. This encouraged a lot more people to travel on the Oregon trail and it became known as the Great Migration of 1843.
Preparing for a journey across the Oregon trail was no easy task. This journey across the tough and challenging terrain could take some travelers up to a year until they reached their destination. Many people sold all their belongings possessions that they could not take along with them on the journey. Instead, they had to purchase essential supplies they would need. These supplies included rifles, ammunition, flour, sugar, salt, bacon, coffee, and a covered wagon. The covered wagon was one of the most important supplies, it needed to be sturdy to survive the terrain and small and light for oxen to pull day in and day out. The wagons were usually built 6 feet wide and 12 feet long. Wagons were made from seasoned hardwood and covered with canvas stretched over the frame. The wagons that journeyed this trail were mostly called prairie schooners because many people had thought the canvas that covered the wagon looked like a ship’s sail. These wagons could typically hold up to 1,600 to 2,000 pounds but it really depended on what animal was pulling the wagon. Most emigrants that planned for this trip overloaded their wagon which resulted in them having to discard unnecessary items along the trail that they could no longer haul with them.
On the Oregon trail, many of the pioneers traveled in groups referred to as “trains” however some families did decide to break off from the group and travel on their own. These groups could travel up to 16 miles per day. There were many challenges that pioneers faced on the trail, these included Indian attacks, disease, starvation, and travel accidents. Disease was the most common form of death. They faced certain diseases such as cholera, measles, typhoid fever, dysentery, and smallpox. Pioneers contracted these diseases due to unclean living conditions (drinking unclean water and poor toiletry habits). Many travelers would leave warning messages to those traveling behind them about different disease outbreaks, bad water, etc. The trail brought many hardships and death but there were a few pastimes and activities that the pioneers came up with to enjoy themselves. These games included ban bag double can in which you would toss a bean bag from one can to another on opposite ends of a stick, fox and geese where the object is to eliminate all marbles from the board, and many other activities.
It was important for emigrants to know the route of the Oregon trail and plan accordingly before traveling on the route. It was very important for pioneers to leave in April or May to reach Oregon by winter before the harsh weather comes. Leaving in the springtime also guaranteed that there would be enough grass along the trail to keep livestock properly fed. There were a couple of different paths for reaching Oregon, but most pioneers crossed the Great Plains until they reached the first trading post in Fort Kearney. From here they followed along the Platte River for 600 miles to Fort Laramie and then went up the Rocky Mountains. Independence Rock was a great sigh of relief for many travelers. This was a huge granite rock that marked the halfway point of their journey. It was especially important if the pioneers had reached this point by early July because that meant they were on track to make it to Oregon by winter. When reaching this spot many people would carve their name into it and they became known as the “Great Register of the Desert.”. After leaving the highway point, they continued the Rocky Mountains to the South Pass. From there they traveled across the desert to Fort Hall which is the second trading post. After reaching the second post, the traveled through the Snake River Canyon and a very dangerous climb over the Blue Mountains. Then moving along to the Colombian river to an outpost of Dalles, and then finally to Oregon City. However, some people continued down south to reach California. In total, the Oregon Trail was a little over a 2,000-mile journey that started in Missouri and ended in Oregon.
As time went along and the Oregon trail became increasingly popular, travelers made the trail safer. They built bridges and ferries to make crossing rivers easier for travelers. More settlements and posts were created to give pioneers more spots to rest and regroup. There were also guidebooks that were written by trail guides, so people no longer had to bring an escort along with them. With the Oregon trail becoming so popular there was the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in Utah in 1869. These caused a huge decrease in traveling west in wagons due to this newer and more reliable transportation.
The development of the Oregon Trail had a huge impact on the United States. It allowed the United States to expand its population westward. It was also the only route for people to take to travel west without going all the way around South America. People built settlements along the trail and without this trail and people traveling into the western territory, America may have not been expanded as fast as it was. The Oregon Trail was the idea behind building the first continental railroad system. It also became named by Congress in 1978 as the Oregon National Historic Trail. They still have preserved about a couple of hundred miles of the trail and it said to say that you can still see some of the ruts made by the wagon wheels over the years. It changed the United States in such an impactful and positive way.
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