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The Oregon Trail. By Elizabeth Stevens Pacific Northwest History 151 4 November 2010. The Oregon Trail.

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the oregon trail

The Oregon Trail

By Elizabeth Stevens

Pacific Northwest History 151

4 November 2010

the oregon trail1
The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail, the longest of the overland routes used in the westward expansion of the United States, was first traced by explorers and fur traders. Settlers began following the trail in 1841. The first large group of about 900 immigrants used the trail in the "Great Migration" of 1843. In that year, a provisional government was organized in Oregon. The Oregon Country's northern boundary was set in 1846, and the Territory of Oregon was formed in 1848 as over 12,000 people made the journey in that decade.


During the Oregon Trail transportation consisted of Wheelbarrows, Mormon Handcarts, Prairie Schooner (another name for a white canvas-covered farm wagon), Horses and Mules.


Saddles, bridles, hobbles, and ropes were needed if the party had a horse or riding mule, and many men did. Extra harnesses and spare wagon parts were often carried. Most carried steel shoes for oxen, mules or horses. Tar was carried to help repair an injured ox's hoof.

travel equipment
Travel Equipment

Wagons: They used standard wagons called Conestoga Wagons. These were commonly used in the Eastern United States on the Santa Fe Trail. Their 6,000 pounds freight was larger then needed, while the large teams (8-10 animals) these wagons required could not navigate the tight corners often found on the Oregon Trail.


Per grown adult it was recommended they took 150 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of or corn meal, 50 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of coffee, 15 pounds of dried fruits, 5 pounds of salt, ½ pound of baking soda, 2 pounds of tea, 5 pounds of rice, and 15 pounds of beans. These ingredients were kept in “water-tight” containers or barrels to reduce spoilage. The typical cost of food for four people for six months was about $150.


Tobacco was used for personal use and for trading with Indians and other pioneers. Most wagons carried tents for sleeping, though in good weather most would sleep outside. A thin fold-up mattress, blankets, pillows, canvas or rubber guttapercha ground covers were used for sleeping. Sometimes an unfolded feather bed mattress was brought for the wagon if there were pregnant women or very young children along. Belts and folding knives were carried by virtually all men and boys. Scissors, pins, needles and thread for mending were required.

  • Each person brought at least two changes of clothes and multiple pairs of boots (two to three pairs often wore out on the trip). About 25 pounds of soap was recommended for a party of four for bathing and washing clothes. A washboard and tub was usually brought for washing clothes. Wash days typically occurred once or twice a month or less, depending on availability of good grass, water and fuel.
different routes
Different Routes

The Oregon Trail consists of many states. Theses states include Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon,


Crossing a river was a source of distress for the pioneers. Trying to cross the Kansas, North Platte, and the Columbia River among others hundreds died. In 1850 alone, 37 people drowned trying to cross the Green River. Since the wagons were overloaded, most had to walk the entire journey on foot. Accidents were uncommon. If someone fell under the wagon wheels, death would be instant. Many lost their lives, more often then none, this would be children. Weather played a big factor in deaths. Lighting strikes from thunderstorms, and sickness from being in the rain.

  • The cost of traveling over the Oregon Trail varied from nothing to a few hundred dollars per person. Women hardly ever went alone. The cheapest way was to hire on to help drive the wagons or herds, allowing one to make the trip for nearly nothing or even make a small profit. Those with capital could often buy livestock in the Midwest and drive the stock to California or Oregon for profit. 60–80% of the travelers were farmers and already owned a wagon, livestock team, and many of the necessary supplies. This lowered the cost of the trip to about $50 per person for food and other items. Families who planned the trip months in advance and made many of the extra clothing and other items needed. Individuals buying most of the needed items would end up spending between $150–$200 per person

Disease: 6,000 – 12,500

Indian Attack: 3000-4500

Freezing: 300-500

Run Over: 200-500

Drowning: 200-500

Miscellaneous: 200-500

Scurvy: 300-500

Total Deaths: 9,400-21000

interesting facts
Interesting Facts

Cholera was perhaps the biggest problem on the Trail was a mysterious and deadly disease killing many people over time.