From Missouri to Oregon and California, the trail had no single path, but always was long and arduous. Raging rivers, quicksand, and storms plagued the journey, as well the cholera that the pioneers unwittingly spread through the camps. Accidents and drownings were also common. Some estimates suggest that about 10% of the pioneers died while making the journey. But, for many settlers the hardships were worth it.
4) Peaceable Relations
Many first-hand accounts of settlers tell of trade with the American Indians, not violence. But many settlers were scared, giving rise to rumors of attacks that were worse and more numerous than the reality. Many folks from northern or eastern states had never even seen a person of color before traveling west on the wagon trail. The actual number of violent clashes with Indians along the trail was quite low when you consider how many thousands of settlers journeyed across the country during that time. On the contrary, attacks were often perpetuated by the settlers.
5) Huge Gains
Despite the enormous risks, poor farmers couldn’t afford to pass up the opportunity to gain a whopping 640 acres of land (half as much for a single man) through the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, which predated the Homestead Act by 12 years. In only 5 short years 30,000 settlers moved into the Oregon Territory alone, not to mention the surrounding areas.
6) Only the Necessities
Often averaging 15 miles traveled in a good day over hard terrain, exhausted oxen were a common sight. In order to ease the burden on their animals and make difficult passages easier, many families dumped their belongings along the trail. So prevalent was this dumping that when it came time to part with supplies, no resale market could be found. Settlers either could find what they wanted for free disposed of on the trail. But, it just as likely that they were also trying to lighten their loads and would buy only those supplies which they were most in need of.
Taking in some cases the better part of a year, the overland journey out west was a tragic time for some, while others found the prosperity they were seeking at the other end of the long Oregon Trail. If you love this era you can find some very interesting pioneer recipes right here.