There’s no doubt that setting out on the Oregon Trail was, for many pioneers, one of the biggest events of the their life. One first-hand account tells of mothers and daughters saying goodbye, never to see each other again on this earth, women who had perhaps never before been apart. They had no way of knowing just exactly how tough the journey would be, or what new experiences awaited them. While we’ll never know exactly how it felt, we do have some firsthand descriptions of what went on in the years following the Oregon Land Donation Act, which was a very strong incentive that brought thousands westward. Read on to find out some surprising facts about the Oregon Trail.
1) Novice Campers
For many it was the first time that they had experienced anything like camping. Farmers and merchants looking for a fresh start were among the many who risked it all to travel to the other side of the country. While most of them had some outdoor skills, at the time the only folks who usually had camping experience were cowboys, ranch hands, or trappers. If you weren’t among those ranks, you had probably never experienced camping before.
2) Haute Cuisine
For many travelers, even the Midwest was very far into the frontier for them. Many had never traveled from their birthplaces and hometowns. Most had certainly never seen a buffalo before, let alone hunted or eaten them. Described as beef, it would be through years of over hunting that buffalo would be in danger of being erased from the Plains forever. But, to a hungry family in the throes of a long journey, so much meat must have seemed simply irresistible, regardless of the fact that a family or wagon train could not possibly consume an entire bison.
3) Pet Project
Well-meaning settlers often tried to make pets of the wild animals they came across on the trail. This was often disastrous for any number of reasons. First off, once they had to head on their way, the may have had to leave behind animals which had become accustomed to being fed, like prairie dogs. One pioneer woman recalled her prairie pet, an antelope that had become beloved by her family along the trail, and had escaped being hunted by other pioneers only to be then hunted and killed by the local tribe’s dogs. With delays in wagon repairs and waiting for streams to recede, it makes sense that some pioneers were itching for something to do to pass the time and pets were a very good distraction, if not a wise one.
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