What is the Oregon Trail?

The Oregon Trail is an old 2,170-mile trade route that stretched from the eastern United States to the west coast. The Oregon Trail went through several current states including Kansas, Wyoming, Oregon, Idaho and Nebraska. The journey started from the city of Independence, Missouri, and ended in Oregon City, Oregon. The Oregon Trail also served as an important emigration route.

Origin of the Oregon Trail

Before the Oregon Trail was established, the only way that traders in the eastern United States could reach the west was by their ships across the entire American coast (North American and South American coasts), a road that took a long time , it would take almost a year to make it happen. Then, in 1803, President Jefferson commissioned explorer Meriwether Lewis to move west and map the area and identify any areas of economic importance. Lewis and his colleague William Clark began the journey that is now known as the Lewis and Clark expedition and their expedition meant the start of the Oregon Trail. The first sections of the Oregon Trail were initially used by fur traders, missionaries and hunters with the only mode of transport available on foot or on horseback. More expeditions will follow to extend the runway to the west as an expedition led by the Pacific Fur Company that was looking for new locations to capture beavers whose fur was in great demand. The missionaries were also fundamental in the early stages of the Oregon Trail with Dalles Methodist mission leaders moving west to spread the gospel, establishing new parishes and churches along the way.

Emigration along the Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail was an important emigration route when settlers moved west to seek new opportunities. The first migrants who used the Oregon Trail were a group of Illinois men who set out to colonize Oregon on behalf of America on May 1st, 1839. The men, led by Thomas Farnham they were classified as “Oregon Dragoons” and followed the motto “Oregon or The Grave”. Another group of emigrants was known as the Bartleson-Bidwell Party which in 1841 began the first trip to Oregon using the Oregon Trail. After these first successful trips, huge groups of people started using Oregon Trail to look for better opportunities in Oregon.

This included the Great Migration of 1843, led by John Gantt, where around 1,000 people left Illinois for Oregon using hundreds of wagons. Another key event was the Mormon emigration of 1847 after the 1844 murder of their “prophet”, Joseph Smith in Missouri, Illinois. Tens of thousands of Mormons traveled west establishing various structures along the way, including the Mormon ferry operating in the North Platte and the Green Ferry. In the late 1840s the news spread that gold had been discovered in California, news that saw thousands of men and women traveling from Oregon to California to exploit the precious metal as they increased traffic along the Oregon Trail. 1844 murder of their “prophet”, Joseph Smith in Missouri, Illinois.

Tens of thousands of Mormons traveled west establishing various structures along the way, including the Mormon ferry operating in the North Platte and the Green Ferry. In the late 1840s the news spread that gold had been discovered in California, news that saw thousands of men and women traveling from Oregon to California to exploit the precious metal as they increased traffic along the Oregon Trail. 1844 murder of their “prophet”, Joseph Smith in Missouri, Illinois. Tens of thousands of Mormons traveled west establishing various structures along the way, including the Mormon ferry operating in the North Platte and the Green Ferry. In the late 1840s the news spread that gold had been discovered in California, news that saw thousands of men and women traveling from Oregon to California to exploit the precious metal as they increased traffic along the Oregon Trail.

Legacy Of The Trail

It is estimated that over 400,000 people have used the Oregon Trail. The Louisiana territory purchased by the US government was one of the most important events related to the Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail’s legacy is still felt in the state of Oregon with numerous literary pieces written on it. Currently, much of the modern highway such as Interstate 84 and Interstate 80 follow the route and cross the cities that have been established to serve the Oregon Trail.

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