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The Oregon Trail History and Facts for Kids

The Oregon Trail was a pathway of about 2100 miles that ran from Independence, Missouri to the western part of the United States. It was first traced by explorers and traders, and was the only practical way for settlers to move livestock, supplies and wagons. The Trail was known by many names. It was called the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, the Platte Trail, and the Mormon Trail. It was a trail primarily used by emigrants. It was also used by the Army, stagecoaches, the Pony Express, hunters, traders and ever sightseers. It is the longest land trail in the United States. Today most scholars believe that without the trail, Washington, Oregon, California, NevadaIdaho and Utah would probably not be a part of the United States, but would probably belong to Canada and Mexico.This is because the Trail was the only feasible way for settlers to get across the mountains.The trail was extremely harsh.


It is believed that Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were the first settlers to make the crossing of the trail in its entirety in 1836. In 1843, Marcus Whitman help a large group of about 900 immigrants make the crossing in what is known today as the Great Migration. In fact, most tribes were very helpful to the settlers, trading food for other goods. Until they had enough of the bad treatment they received from settlers. Other causes were cholera, smallpox, gun fights, renegades, and starvation. Some settlers had even complained of having to wear some type of cloth in front of their mouths from the dust kicked up from heavy summer traffic. Most of the travel was done by mule or ox, as most emigrants could not afford horses. Some went, looking for farm land, and some went to California for gold. The trail was even used during the Civil War, until the transcontinental railroad was completed and settlers could make the journey more safely and comfortably.


Today, ruts made by the trail are still visible. Re-enactments happen throughout the trail, and sightseers today can enjoy many of the same beautiful sites that the settlers saw on their journey. Conversation groups are putting forth a huge effort to make the visible trail a historic landmark. There is even an educational computer game. It was designed to teach children about 19th century pioneer life on the trail. The player becomes a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon’s Willamette Valley on the Oregon Trail in 1848.