Transport And Life On The Oregon Trail

Transport And Life On The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail was a vital part of America’s westward expansion. This wagon trail allowed vast numbers of enterprising pioneers to navigate their way westward. By 1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition had mapped much of the land west of the Missouri River. Using this information, fur traders further explored the west with the goal of establishing fur trade posts and supply routes. Pioneers began using these routes and making their way to Oregon by 1824 and grew to significant numbers as the trail was improved and expanded. In the following years, the fur trade steadily declined while emigration grew. The Oregon Trail was part of what is known as the emigrant trails. The Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and California trail formed this network of wagon trails used by early settlers headed west. Each emigrant trail began in the Missouri region and they continued as one until South Pass, Wyoming. From there, the Mormon trail diverged toward what is now Salt Lake City, Utah. The Oregon and California Trails continued on together, until diverging in Fort Hall, Idaho. Those on the Oregon Trail continued across the plains of Idaho and the Blue Mountains before reaching their final destination of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Nearly 500,000 migrants traveled west along this emigrant trail from 1843-1869, cementing America’s expansion into the west.

Transport on the Oregon Trail

Early migrants on the Oregon Trail were generally mountain men. They were usually former fur trappers and fur traders making their way west on foot and horseback. The trail was initially only suited for foot and horse travel, but improvements were made as the number of migrants increased. By 1836, wagon trails were cleared and bridges had been added at various points. These improvements made the trail accessible for migrants with oxen-pulled wagons. Although later pioneers may have had wagons for the journey, they continued to make most of the journey on foot rather. They walked alongside their cargo-filled wagons, directing the oxen. The settlers typically did not ride as these wagons could not carry the additional weight of passengers. The physical landscape of the Oregon trail was rugged and difficult to navigate. Settlers quickly found that the traditional large, heavy Conestoga wagons could not withstand the rigors of the trail, and the lightweight, maneuverable Prairie Schooner was developed.

Life on the Oregon Trail

Traveling the Oregon Trail was an arduous experience. The trek took over six months and pioneers faced perils including illness, injury, and hostile environments. Difficult trail conditions and travel timetables dictated by weather concerns also meant pioneers faced the prospect of leaving behind cargo in emergency situations to improve their chances for safe travel. Due to these challenges, pioneers traveled with light loads. Wagons carried only essentials including the family’s food supply and a small amount of household items. Despite these risks, large numbers of pioneers choose to emigrate for various reasons. Initially, fur trappers followed the Oregon Trail in search of new trapping territories and trading opportunities. Other early migrants included missionaries, seeking to establish religious missions in the western territories. Later settlers were also searching for new ways to earn their livelihood. These pioneers wanted to take advantage of new opportunities in ranching, mining, and the California gold rush. Some simply wanted to establish new lives in the frontier. As the emigration west continued and the trail was improved for easier passage, more families made the journey seeking to establish homesteads out west. Others, like the Mormon pioneers, were seeking greater religious freedom.


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