When the first pioneers arrived in America, it was the vast land that, they thought, was their for taking. But after years of settling, the east got crowded. The Indian land was slowly taken away and farms were built on it. New immigrants could not find land for their farms. So, they started to move west. In order to move west, settlers followed the trails. Trails were the routes that were usually discovered by the explorers or the mountain men. Because of the tall mountains, people needed to know where the safe way is to cross, especially because of the harsh winters and sometimes unfriendly natives. The land that lied west was unsettled by whites for a long time because there was no safe route for the wagons. It was the explorers and expeditions seeking ways to the west that discovered these routes that brought hundreds of thousands of settlers and, eventually, destroyed Native cultures.
There were many trails in the North American continent. Some, like the Bozeman trail,led to the gold mines. But most, brought settlers to the land that they considered free for taking. The most famous trail is probably the Oregon trail.
THE OREGON TRAIL
WHAT WAS IT?
The Oregon Trail is actually called The Oregon - California. The trail was a 2,170 miles long and it started in Missouri and led all the way to the west coast. What made this trail so important is that it was the only possible route to get from the East to the West Coast,. The first settlers crossed this route in 1841. The trails continued to attract people until the railroad was completed. Over 500,00 settlers made it across with their wagon.
The life on the trail was no fun. The wagons were pulled by mules or oxen. Oxen were better because they were stronger and tougher. The wagons moved slowly, about 15 miles per our. With this speed, it took 4 to 6 months to make this huge trip.
It was important to start at the right time, because no one wanted to get caught in the harsh winter. That means a certain death!
ON THE TRAIL
The beginning of the Oregon trail is thought to be Independence, Missouri. But many people "jumped" the trail. This means that they joined the trail somewhere else. If you came to independence during early spring in 1840's you would notice many camps full of settlers ready to make their trip west. They were waiting for the grass to grow. This was important, because oxen needed to graze.
Most of the settlers prepared for the trip by getting supplies. The trip took half a year, so they have to drag along thousand of pounds of food such as sacks of flour! Most came with their wagons that were covered so rain would stay out. To make it waterproof they would soak the cotton cover in linseed oil. In addition to food, it was important to have tools and spare parts in the case the wagon broke. And than there was the issue of water. Most settlers carried large water containers for this trip.
You may think of America as a vast land. But when the settlers decided to go, there was a huge traffic jam. It didn't help that many of these people were immigrants who were not experienced in driving those heavy wagons! Also, settlers tended to take to much. After a while they would realize this and started to throw things overboard, creating a whole lot of garbage around the trail.
The Oregon trail was not easy and settlers had to deal with many hardships. Often people think that Indians were the dangerous part of the Oregon trail. People probably think this because they saw movies that show wagon trains coming in circles at night to protect themselves. This is not true - Indians were sometimes not even seen by settlers. If they appeared, they wanted to trade with settlers. They probably did not understand what is going on and who were these people trying to cross the mountains. If they knew that their intention was to claim the Indian land, maybe they would have been less friendly! But the truth is that very few trailblazers died because of Indians.
However, they had plenty to worry about. They had many accidents such as s being run by wagons or accidentally shooting themselves. Since there was no doctors on the trail, this means death! One of the most common killer was the disease. One of the most awful diseases was Cholera, a disease that is caused by contaminated water. Sometimes two thirds of wagon trains were lost due to Cholera.
MAKING IT ALL THE WAY
Once you were one third into the trip settlers would pass Chimney Rock and Scouts Bluff. When they saw those incredible sights, they knew they were moving along. This was to place to rest a bit and get some supplies. But not for long. Settlers had to cross the mountains before the snows and harsh mountain winters. In the early years, before the Harlow road was opened, travelers would have to abandon their wagons for boats and float down the Columbia river. Many lost their lives in the rapids and rough parts just miles from their destination. In 1846 the Harlow Road opened, and now the pioneers could finish their journey by crossing the Cascade Mountains in their wagons.
After they crossed the mountains , settlers would start a new life and build farms or decided to go to the gold mines.
Today, in many places along the trail, you can still see the wagons' ruts . Want to cross the Oregon Trail? Today from Independence day you can do it much more comfortably sine there is a road from Independence, Missouri all the way to Oregon City, Oregon, following the same route that settlers took.
What was the result of the Oregon Trail? That depends on who you ask. Settlers, immigrants and pioneers took this difficult journey looking for better future. Many got it - they started farms on Indian land or tried their luck searching for gold. But the huge number of settlers building farms, changed the environment for Native Americans. Their way of life was destroyed when the hunting areas became farms. One of the results of this huge migration of people was that by the end of 19th century only 1 of 25 Native Americans in California survived!
OTHER SETTLER TRAILS
In addition to Oregon trail many other settler trail existed. They criss crossed the North America. One thing they all had in common is that they brought white settlers to the Indian land which slowly destroyed many great Indian cultures.