We have not been around much the last month-and-a-half, as we have been following the Oregon Trail, literally!
We started out, as most of the immigrant pioneers started, either by crossing the Mississippi River or traveling from different parts of Missouri.
The biggest questions are why did so many people come across Missouri (the Gateway to the West) to go to Oregon?
Another question is, why hadn’t I heard about the fascinating historical trip in detail enough in school to make it interesting in school?
Why did the people sell their property, pull up stakes (all of them) and build or purchase a wooden wagon and pile their worldly possessions and provisions to go on this long trip to Oregon?
It is known that a very large percentage of pioneers came from Missouri and the nearby states. Eastern farmers did the same, traveling thousands of miles before crossing into Missouri.
While getting ready to leave St. Joseph, Missouri, we found out that much of the country was in turmoil with the banks closing, economic recession, and religious factions fighting against each other.
Another reason many of these people were wanting to go to Oregon was the United States was offering FREE land!
This land that was supposed to be free was being contested on who owned it, the British or the United States.
The US thought that if enough individuals (US citizens) showed up they would soon overrun the British entities and the land could then be claimed for the US.
While traveling we stopped by many areas that you could see the wagon ruts that were still visible. Now, these ruts are not like tire tracks in the mud or snow, but you could see there are definite ruts in the ground.
These ruts were put there from 1840 to 1865 so they are not well defined, but some of the research that has been done on the ground and the air definitely show anomalies in the growth of the vegetation and density of the compaction of the earth in these areas.
Another bit of information is (we all watched “Wagon Train” right) the wagons all traveled in a line behind Major Adams, and stopped at the same time and place. WRONG!
Since there were up to 500,000-plus pioneers traveling west during this timespan, the largest (non-forced) migration in the world, they certainly did not travel behind each other.
The dust would be thick and choking from the oxen, mules, and horses (about six each per wagon); any livestock or riding horses all made for a miserable trip behind one another.
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There are accounts that the trail could have been a mile-and-a-quarter wide but wagons would converge where there were natural obstacles like a mountain range or suitable river crossing.
Where in the world did they get enough food? Much of the food was purchased before leaving, and that is another story. Some of the meat was from hunting, water to drink was plentiful as they traveled along the rivers, but what about bathrooms?
Ah, yes, bathrooms… this might have been the biggest problem of all. Hunting was not too difficult for the first few thousand pioneers, but as the crowds surged, and they did, hunting became more difficult for the pioneers and for the native residents, which eventually made one of the biggest problems later on.
As for the water, there was lots of water coming from the Platt and Snake rivers along with all the tributaries. Since water was necessary for everyone, including the livestock, the pioneers camped right next to the water when they could for convenience of using and carrying the water.