In 1841, Father Pierre DeSmet, a Jesuit missionary, had spotted some names carved there by fur traders and called it “The Great Record of the Desert.”. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines. After leaving Ash Hollow, the wagon train continued on up the sandy banks of the North Platte. The Oregon trail was 2,000 miles long, with branches starting in Iowa and Missouri before they converged in Nebraska and traveled through Wyoming and Idaho. The Oregon Trail was once a piece of fiction to me, little more than a storybook setting. Prairie schooners were capable of carrying over a ton of cargo and passengers, but their small beds and lack of a suspension made for a notoriously bumpy ride. Applegate would later provide descriptions of life on the Oregon Trail in his memoir, A Day with the Cow Column in 1843. In fact, due to … One trip on the Oregon Trail was more than enough for most pioneers, but Ohio native Ezra Meeker eventually made the trek a half-dozen times using nearly every available means of conveyance. Marcus Whitman, a Protestant missionary and physician who had established a mission in Oregon in 1836, would join the Applegate train on his return west after an eastern visit. Twice they risked deep crossings of the Snake River, fatal to some. Since they were unable to drive wagons through the Columbia’s steep-walled, heavily timbered gorge, the men in the Applegate party spent about two weeks at Fort Walla Walla sawing lumber and building skiffs. But far more prevalent on the trail than Indian attacks were the everyday trail hazards of accident and disease. HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate. The California Trail was eventually traveled by some 250,000 settlers, most of them prospectors seeking to strike it rich in the gold fields. Those who took the California Trail veered southwest through an arid, rocky landscape and eventually, after 525 miles and a month’s travel time, reached the Sierra Nevada. In fact, when rivers were too deep to be forded and there was no timber to build rafts, the travelers would remove the wheels and float the wagons across. Women and children often walked beside the trail, gathering wild flowers and odd-looking stones. Vast and unclaimed riches far to the west, across the Great Plains, beckoned. The Oregon Trail was a major route that people took when migrating to the western part of the United States. “A very bad road,” wrote William Newby. These met along the lower part of Plate River Valley which was located near Fort Kearny. The Oregon Trail was the Important route taken by settlers from the east migrating to build a new life in the western part of the United States. The road beyond Fort Laramie became littered with castoffs—sheet-iron stoves, clothes trunks, tools, claw-footed tables, massive oak bureaus, cooking pots and even food. Fifty-five miles beyond Soda Springs, at Fort Hall, another supply depot operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company, the wagon trains split up, one part going to California and the other to Oregon. VIDEO: Battery H Of The 3rd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery At Gettysburg, Dan Bullock: The youngest American killed in the Vietnam War, Three brothers: A Navy SEAL, Green Beret, and the Marine Sole Survivor, A Method to His Madness: Raymond Westerling in the Dutch Indies. The trail then swung up into Nebraska, where it ran along the south bank of the Platte River. Once the wagons were loaded, the animals gathered and the emigrants reasonably organized, Captain Peter Burnett finally gave the signal for the Applegates and the others to move out. Food supplies would inevitably become low and water scarce. Jesse, who would turn 8 on November 14, and the other battered survivors regrouped and continued downriver. Eventually, the wagons would be dragged up Burnt Canyon into present-day Oregon, skirt the treacherous swamps of the lovely Grande Ronde River valley, and finally climb slowly among the cold evergreens of the Blue Mountains. Popular depictions of the Oregon Trail often include trains of boat-shaped Conestoga wagons bouncing along the prairie. The trail stretched out loosely for 300 miles along the south rims of the black lava canyons of the Snake River. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Wild West magazine today! Since the majority of emigrants were farmers with families, they often chose Murphy farm wagons as their chief means of transport. Contact: 816-252-2276 Once he had selected a wagon or two, the pioneer next had to decide on his draft animals. ‘Old Hundredth’ was a favorite, and as the music and words of the grand old hymn floated on the evening breeze, many paused to listen and ponder. By the year 1836, the first of the migrant train of wagons was put together. These vehicles typically included a wooden bed about four feet wide and ten feet long. Almost never did an Indian war party descend upon a circle of wagons. The emigrants were prone to dose themselves with great quantities of medicine at the first sign of illness—the theory being that the larger the dose, the quicker the recovery. After traveling 70 miles in seven days, they would arrive at Soda Springs, where the naturally carbonated water was a treat for the travelers. Register Cliff, near present Guernsey, Wyo., is one of three large “registers of the desert” in Wyoming where Oregon-, California- and Utah-bound emigrants carved their names on rock. This road to the Far West soon became known by another name—the Oregon Trail. “Our party ate large quantities of this fruit. “As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea,” wrote novelist Willa Cather in My Antonia. They came from all directions, by steamboat and over primitive roads that a day or two of heavy rain turned into quagmires. “They were so noisy that I suspected they had liquor mixed with the water.”. Broken down prairie schooners and dead draft animals also littered the roads, and it wasn’t unusual to see personal items like books, clothes and even furniture. Space was so limited that, except in terrible weather, most travelers cooked, ate and slept outside. Little was known about health and sanitation, and no vaccines were available. They celebrated their arrival in Oregon Territory with cheers and gunfire at nearby Pacific Springs, but most had no idea that hundreds of miles lay between them and their final goal. Peter Burnett was chosen captain, and a so-called cow column for slower wagons and herds of livestock was formed with Jesse Applegate as its leader. Among the travelers was Jesse Applegate’s young nephew and namesake. The wagon wheels were taken off, and the wagon bodies, by then long bereft of their caulking, were covered with buffalo skins to waterproof them. The presence of ice in midsummer indicated that they had reached the highest point on the trail—the Continental Divide at South Pass. The wagons had 10-by-three-and-a-half foot bodies, and their covers were made of canvas or a waterproofed sheeting called osnaburg. One of the most notable prairie guest books was Independence Rock, a 128-foot-tall granite outcropping in Wyoming dubbed “The Register of the Desert.” Thousands of travelers left their mark on the rock while camping along the nearby Sweetwater River. Photo by Randy Wagner, used with thanks. Jesse A. Applegate, who would die at age 88 in 1919, wrote: “Oh, how we could have enjoyed our hospitable shelter if we could have looked around the family circle and beheld all the bright faces that had accompanied us on our toilsome journey almost to the end. In late October, the Applegate train finally reached Fort Walla Walla. His final crossing came at age 94, when he made the trip in a biplane flown by famed pilot Oakley Kelly. The land ahead was challenging. At the Ice Slough, not quite 80 miles west of Independence Rock, a bed of ice lay about a foot beneath the sod even in the heat of the day. Meeker went on to journey the Oregon Trail several more times by wagon, train and automobile. Various companies took turns at guard duty, one night out of three. But while the Conestoga was an indispensable part of trade and travel in the East, it was far too large and unwieldy to survive the rugged terrain of the frontier. The Oregon Trail happened on its own, created by the explosion of travelers moving westward in the 1840s in search of farmland, adventure, or gold. Many of these restless souls had heard of the success of Joe Meek and his friend Bob Newell, who had made it to Oregon in 1840. The Oregon Trail was a 2,170-mile (3,490 km) east-west, large-wheeled wagon route and emigrant trail in the United States that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. Meek and Newell managed to get the first wheeled vehicles over the Blue Mountains. The Oregon Trail wasn't an unbroken dirt road running direct from one place to the next; rather, it was a series of paths, trails, and wagon roads. Indians on their pinto ponies, some of these dragging laden travois, trailed by, gazing curiously at the ox-drawn wagons. It crossed varied and often difficult terrain that included large territories occupied by Native Americans. Starting with the gold rush in 1849, more of the overland travelers chose California as their final destination, but Oregon still got its share. These trail facts may be downloaded for personal reading convenience or to be used in the classroom. It was about 900 yards acraws.”. Ill-broken oxen and reluctant mules either bolted or sulked in harness, entangled themselves in picket ropes or escaped entirely and sped back to the starting point. “Joel Hembree sone [son] Joel fell off the waggeon tung and both wheels run over him.”, After a month on the road, the emigrants arrived at the confluence of the Platte’s north and south forks. Despite the occasional thunderstorm, the weather was usually pleasant. “And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.”. The wagon trip ended at Fort Walla Walla, after which they took boats down the Columbia River to the Willamette River valley. Many emigrants elected not to visit the fort, however, because it was shorter to follow a path across a grassless tableland—Sublette’s Cutoff. © 2021 A&E Television Networks, LLC. And it was by no means […] The train included nearly 1,000 persons of both sexes, more than 200 wagons, 700 oxen and nearly 800 loose cattle. That changed in 1836, when newlywed missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman took a small party of wagons from St. Louis to the Walla Walla Valley to minister to Cayuse Indians. Many died of overdoses, especially of laudanum. Such slowdowns would often throw off the schedule and sometimes cause major problems down the road. 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