The Oregon Trail was an important route in the mid-1800s stretching from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. This 2,000-mile route was the main route used by the American pioneers for emigrating to the west. Without this route, the American West would’ve settled more slowly. This arduous trail was spread through what today is Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Kansas.
Survival on the Oregon Trail
It used to take from 5-6 months to a year to cover the trail. And, it was far from an easy task as the trail was full of rugged terrain. People would sell their homes, businesses and possessions and only take a few items on the journey. To survive on their journey, they had to buy supplies in large quantities. This included sugar, salt, flour, ammunition, coffee and bacon. The vehicle used for the journey was a covered wagon, pulled by a couple of mules or oxen. Small yet sturdy, it averaged about 12 feet in length and 6 feet in width. Wagons were typically made with seasoned hardwood. Although traders and merchants were the firsts to go on this path, it was missionaries who actually blazed this trail.
The Route of Oregon Trail
Travelers mostly used to depart in April or May if they wanted to reach Oregon before the snow starts. Leaving in the late spring also ensured grass along the way which they could feed to their livestock. As the trail gained in popularity, there were times when thousands of wagons were on the route at the same time. They moved in single file or side by side depending on the terrain. Their paths to reach Oregon, however, differed slightly. But for the most part, they reached Fort Kearney after crossing the Great Plains. From there, they reached Fort Laramie following the Platte River. They then ascended the Rocky Mountains facing cold night and hot days.
Independence Rock – The Mid-Point
The halfway point of their journey was Independence Rock, a huge rock that was made of granite. If they reached it by the 4th of July, this was a sure shot sign to them that they would make it. People used to add their names to the rock, and it was called the “Great Register of the Desert.” After Independence Rock, they moved towards the Rocky Mountains.
Oregon Trail Had Its Dangers
As per the reports of the Oregon California Trails Association, 10% of the all who embarked on the journey didn’t survive. Summer thunderstorms made the journey difficult. Many people lost their lives due to flu, smallpox, cholera, dysentery, and accidents caused due to carelessness, exhaustion, and inexperience. Some people even died from being accidentally shot, getting crushed beneath the wagon wheels or drowning during river crossings. Thousands of people lost their lives during the journey on the trail.
The End of Oregon Trail’s Era
In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad was completed. The wagon trains slowly began to move out of the picture as people began to choose a more reliable and faster mode of rail transportation. They were now able to travel a thousand miles in a week rather than 6 months in the wagon. By the 1890s, wagons were completely removed from the scene
The modern period sure put an end to the Oregon Trail but its historical significance will stay eternal. It was named National Historic Trail by the National Park Service. The agency still teaches the public about its importance.