The Oregon Trail, measuring over 2,000 miles, was a wagon trail that connected the Missouri River to the valleys in Oregon. During the mid-19th century, the trail was an important pathway for American migrants searching for new lands and opportunity. Over 400,00 pioneers traveled this trail, but it was no easy route. In the summer time, water sources dried up, oxen perished, and families were left in thirst. Many travelers starved, though the most dreaded danger was catching cholera. The journey brought about challenges, but many migrants were able to successfully cross over and finally make a new life in the valleys of Oregon.
The Oregon Trail was not a single path.
Most people heading toward Oregon traveled a route that passed through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho before reaching Oregon. However, there wasn’t just one path, and pioneers often spread out in search of grazing patches for their animals and plains to hunt for additional food. As the years passed, many other settlers found shortcuts and new trails that led to their destination quicker. These cutoffs were mostly in Wyoming.
The trail was littered with supplies.
The Oregon Trail was a wagon road stretching over 2,000 miles. The journey to get to the west was agonizing and many families suffered. Combined with accidents, drowning at river crossings, and suffering illnesses, about 20,000 people lost their lives along the trail. The route was littered with discarded supplies because thousands of families struggled to lighten the load and save their family members and animals.
Indian attacks were very rare during the trail.
Despite what you might see in films, it was very rare that settlers faced attacks by the Plains Indians. In fact, Indians were more likely to be allies and trade, and many wagon trains used Pawnee and Shoshone trail guides.
Most settlers did not end up settling in Oregon.
Even though the trail led to Oregon, many of the pioneers went off from the main route in either Wyoming or Idaho and took separate trails that lead to California and Utah. Only 80,000 people of the 400,000 travelers actually ended their journey in Oregon. Many of the Oregon Trail emigrants traveled the California Trail to see if they could strike it rich in the gold fields.
You can still see wheel ruts from the trail today.
Pioneer wagon ruts can still be seen in all six of the states that were traveled on during the trail. Decades of traveling left imprints in stone and wore down grasslands so much that nothing can grow on them to this day.