Americans Move West

wagons

Americans move west along the Oregon Trail

Americans have always been rugged individualists, willing to endure hardships to ensure a better life.  Before the comforts of modern life, a generation of Americans set out along a 2,000 mile stretch of land across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to the Oregon Territory.  The journey took the pioneers across six states and became known as the Oregon Trail, the longest of the overland routes to the western frontier.

On May 16, 1842, about 100 pioneers in 18 covered wagons set out from Independence, Missouri, bringing with them such items as flour, bacon, salt, dried fruit, oxen, cattle and whatever other items they could fit in their wagons.  In the following two decades, tens of thousands of others followed the same path.  Usually starting out in the spring to avoid the harsh cold of winter, pioneers covered about 15 miles a day on average.  Many walked the entire trail.  The trip took between four to six months.

Along the way, many died from accidents, disease, the harsh environment and in rare instances, from the native Indian population.  The motivation for such a trip varied, but most sought to gain land and new opportunity in the West.  Despite the hardships, pioneers kept using the trail in great numbers.  One settler wrote after making it to Oregon, “We lost everything but our lives.”  In 1884, the Union Pacific Railroad constructed a railway along the route, leading to a decrease in overland travel.  Today, the ruts of wagon wheels remain in some places along the Oregon Trail.

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The route of the Oregon Trail

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The next time you venture out on a road trip to a new location, remember the kind of trips earlier generations had to make.  The story of the Oregon Trail is a reminder of the determination of Americans to improve their lives and the lives of their families no matter the cost.

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