The Oregon Trail (Cornerstones of Freedom)
What I Learned Section 1 -- Answer the
1. The Oregon Trail runs
between which two locations?
a) Nashville and Natchez
b) Missouri and New Mexico
c) Missouri and Oregon
d) San Antonio and Abilene
c) Missouri and Oregon. The Oregon Trail
runs from east to west between Missouri and Astoria, Oregon.
In the early 1800's Indian tribes and white
fur trappers (called mountain men) lived in the Oregon country.
This area covered about 500,000 square miles. It included today's
states of Washington and Oregon, and it stretched almost to Alaska.
At one time, Russia and Spain held claims to the territory. By
the 1830's, only the United States and Great Britain tried to
control this area.
The Oregon Trail was used to travel from
the East to the Oregon country. The Oregon Trail was started long
before Europeans and Americans explored the Pacific Northwest.
For hundreds of years, Indians created footpaths to cross mountains
and follow rivers. The European and American explorers connected
the different paths to create the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail. It
took about six months to travel from Missouri to Oregon.
The Oregon Trail follows the North Platte
River from Nebraska into Wyoming, and it continues along the Snake
and Columbia Rivers.
2. What year did Dr.
Marcus Whitman travel the Oregon Trail?
1836. The Oregon Country was ideal for farming. However, farming
required a family, and it was previously thought families could
not travel the Oregon Trail. The Whitman group proved families
could complete this long journey.
In the spring of 1836, Dr. Marcus Whitman
led a group of missionaries along the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail
to the Oregon country. They left from Liberty, Missouri. There
were two women in this group. They were Narcissa Whitman (Marcus'
wife) and Eliza Spalding.
The first part of the journey followed
a well established trail. They traveled across present-day Kansas,
Nebraska, and Wyoming in wagons. Narcissa Whitman, kept a diary
of the trip. On June 3, 1836, she documented their daily routine:
"Start usually at six, travel till eleven, encamp, rest and feed,
start again about two, travel until six or before, then encamp
for the night."
When the Whitman group reached the Rocky
Mountains, they abandoned their wagons because the mountains were
too long and steep for the wagons to climb. The crossing of the
Rocky Mountains was very difficult. Once they climbed one peak,
there were more peaks ahead of them. Soon they made it over the
you know Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding
were the first white women to cross the Rocky Mountains on the
On September 1, 1836, the group reached
present-day Walla Walla, Washington. There were forts built by
fur traders. The Whitmans established a mission near Fort Walla
This journey by Marcus Whitman and the
missionaries proved farm families could complete the journey across
the Oregon Trail. This opened the Oregon Country up for others
3. How many miles was
the Oregon Trail?
The first white people to travel parts
of the Oregon Trail were the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
In 1804, Lewis and Clark began their journey in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1805, they crossed the Rocky Mountains and reached the Pacific
Ocean. For the most part, this expedition took a more northerly
route to the Pacific. However, they traveled part of the Oregon
Trail when they followed the Snake and Columbia Rivers.
In 1811, John Jacob Aster's Pacific Fur
Company arrived by ship at the mouth of the Columbia River. Then
members traveled inland twelve miles and established a fur trading
post and a settlement. It was called Astoria, and it was the first
permanent settlement in the Oregon Country. Later, the town of
Astoria was considered the end of the Oregon Trail.
During the 1820's and 1830's, the Oregon
Trail was used by mountain men. Mountain men both fought the Indians
and lived with them. Many had Indian wives. Although they thought
the territory was hostile, they kept exploring the unknown. They
became mountain men for different reasons. Some liked the adventure,
some made money selling furs, and some were escaping the law from
the East. Some mountain men became legends of the Old West. They
were Kit Carson, Henry Fraeb, James Bridger, and Tom Fitzpatrick.
In the 1830's, missionaries began coming
to the Oregon Country. They wanted to spread their word to the
Indians. By the 1840's, "Oregon fever" swept through the United
States which influenced more and more pioneer families to travel
the Oregon Trail. They wanted to start farms and ranches in the
fertile land and gentle climate of the Oregon Country.
The pioneers traveled in Conestoga wagons.
Did you know Conestoga wagons
were named after the Pennsylvania town where they were first built?
Americans had been using Conestoga wagons since the Revolutionary
War. The wagons were also called "prairie schooners." A schooner
is a fast moving sailing ship, and the wagons looked like ships
as they moved across the tall prairie grass. Oxen were used to
pull the wagons. Oxen were chosen because they were strong, and
they could be used to pull plows once the farmers reached Oregon.
4. How many months did
it take to travel the Oregon Trail in the 1840's?
About six months.
In the 1800's, the United States was a
young and growing country. In the beginning, most of the country
lived along the eastern seaboard. Pioneers and settlers began
moving west. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson purchased the
Louisiana Territory from France. This land deal was called the
Louisiana Purchase, and it doubled the size of the United States.
The United States owned the territory stretching from the Atlantic
Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.
At this time, Mexico owned the present-day
states of California and Texas, and Britain had claims to Oregon.
However, that did not stop the people of the United States from
dreaming of a nation that stretched from sea to sea. This was
called the "Manifest Destiny" of the American people. To settle
from sea to sea, Americans had to cross the long and difficult
The Oregon Trail was difficult and dangerous.
It took six months to travel the 2,000 miles. There were only
a few fur-trading outposts along the route. This meant the pioneers
had to carry with them everything they needed for the long journey.
The families packed all of their possessions into a Conestoga
wagon. The trip covered many different climates. For part of the
trip, it was hot and dry. Another part of the trip was snowy and
cold. They had to cross the plains, rivers, and mountains. Some
ran out of food, and others got sick. If the trip took too long
and they did not reach Oregon before the winter, they could freeze
to death in the mountains.
5. Describe how ONE
of the following affected the wagon train's trip while traveling
the Oregon Trail:
American Indians: American Indians were the least of the
travelers' fears. The Plains Indians did not attack them as long
as they kept moving. Indian wars usually broke out if white people
settled where the Indians lived. Some Indians approached the wagon
trains to trade or to help the pioneers. Other Indians were scouts
or guides for the wagon trains.
Disease: Diseases were more of a threat to the travelers
than Indian attacks. The worst disease was cholera. Many pioneers
would get really sick, and some would die. Those who died were
buried alongside the trail. Approximately 34,000 travelers died
along the trail during the pioneer years.
Weather: The travelers also had to contend with the weather.
In the summer, the wagon trains were crossing the Great Plains,
and they had to watch out for thunderstorms. Later, the trail
crossed hot desert. Finally, they had to cross the cold and snowy
mountains. If they were trapped in the mountains for the winter,
they could freeze to death.
What I Learned Section 2 -- Define the
Conestoga Wagons: Wagons
used by families traveling the Oregon Trail; they were named after
the Pennsylvania town where they were first built
Manifest Destiny: The belief of
the United States that its people had a right to settle the entire
North American continent from sea to sea
Missionaries: People who spread
their religious beliefs
Mountain Men: White fur trappers
living and exploring the Oregon Country in the early 1800's
Pioneers: First group of travelers
who moved to the new land and made a new home
Teamsters: People who drove the
wagons during the wagon train
Bonus Questions (Answer 1 of the
Following Questions for Your FREE
a. Describe the journey
across the Oregon Trail made by Jesse Applegate's group in 1843.
In 1843, a mass movement of Americans began traveling to Oregon.
The first of the wagon trains left Independence, Missouri, in
May. It consisted of 1,000 men, women, and children, 120 wagons,
and 5,000 cattle. Jesse Applegate led the wagon train. Applegate
was a Missouri farmer, and he wrote about the trip. The day started
at 4:00 a.m. Women built fires and made coffee. The fires were
made from dried buffalo dung (or "buffalo chips" as the settlers
called them). The settlers ate sowbelly (bacon) and slam-John
(flapjacks) for breakfast.
At 7:00 a.m., Applegate yelled, "Wagons
ho!" and the wagon train started up for the day. Each wagon had
an assigned place on a given day. These positions alternated each
day. The more favorable positions were in the front because there
was less dust. If a wagon was not in its place by 7:00, it would
have to travel at the end of the line. The wagons formed a line
about three-fourths of a mile long. Teamsters drove the wagons.
Some teamsters rode on the front of wagon and some walked beside
At noon, the wagon train stopped for lunch.
Some people ate at portable tables, and others ate while standing.
At this time, Applegate met with a council of men to discuss any
issues that arose during the day. After lunch, the wagon train
When it got dark, the wagon train stopped
for the night. The wagons formed a circle, called a "night circle."
It served as a barrier against Indian attacks, and it gave the
travelers a community atmosphere. Fires were lit within the circle.
The families ate their largest meal of the day. They would eat
buffalo, antelope, chicken, or wild game. After dinner, some people
may play a violin or flute they had brought with them.
The wagon train usually traveled twelve
to fifteen miles a day. Sometimes the wagon trains crossed streams
or rivers. Horsemen went ahead to find a safe place for the wagons
to cross. This location was marked with a flag. The wagons crossed
one at a time. Some rivers were easier to cross than others.
At the beginning of the Oregon Trail, the
settlers crossed the Great Plains. Trees only grew along the river
banks. The rest of the land was tall grass. About four hundred
miles from Independence, the travelers crossed the south branch
of the Platte River. This was a difficult crossing because quicksand
lined the river banks, and the bottom was a bed of ooze.
The travelers then came to Fort Laramie
in present-day Wyoming. This was a fur-trading outpost. At Fort
Laramie, the travelers rested for a few days and learned about
the wagon trains ahead of them.
From Fort Laramie, they followed the banks
of the Sweetwater River and climbed into mountain country. They
sometimes found their first snow as early as August. Independence
Rock was a famous landmark on the Oregon Trail. It was a turtle-shaped
boulder. Travelers scratched their named on the rock, and it became
known as the "register" of the Oregon Trail.
Next, the wagon train crossed the Continental
Divide in the Rocky Mountains. The rivers on the east side of
the Continental Divide flowed east, and the rivers on the west
side of the Continental Divide flowed west. They crossed the Rocky
Mountains at South Pass. In 1812, Scottish explorer Robert Stuart
discovered South Pass as a gateway through the Rocky Mountains.
The travelers than came to the Green Valley.
They came across Soda Springs and Steamboat Springs. Soda Springs
tickled their noses when they drank from it, and Steamboat Springs
sounded like a Mississippi steamboat.
The next stop was Fort Hall in present-day
Idaho. It was a wilderness outpost. It was located at a split
in the trail. The northwest trail continued to Oregon, and the
southwest trail led to California. For those who continued on
the Oregon Trail to Oregon, they came to Snake River, crossed
Blue Mountain, and followed the Columbia River to Fort Walla Walla.
At Walla Walla, the travelers could either
claim land in the Willamette Valley or take a riverboat to Astoria.
By the time they reached their destination, they had to quickly
build shelter before winter arrived.
b. Name ONE of the points
or landmarks along the Oregon Trail.
Platte River, Fort Laramie, Sweetwater River, Independence Rock,
Chimney Rock, The Continental Divide, South Pass, Soda Springs,
Steamboat Springs, Fort Hall, Snake River, Columbia River, and
Fort Walla Walla.
Platte River: About four hundred miles from Independence,
the travelers crossed the south branch of the Platte River. This
was a difficult crossing because quicksand lined the river banks,
and the bottom was a bed of ooze.
Fort Laramie: A fur-trading outpost in present-day Wyoming.
At Fort Laramie, the travelers rested for a few days and learned
about the wagon trains ahead of them.
Sweetwater River: A river after Fort Laramie.
Independence Rock: The halfway point of the Oregon Trail.
It was a turtle-shaped boulder. Travelers scratched their named
on the rock, and it became known as the "register" of the Oregon
Chimney Rock: A 500-foot column sitting on a bed of rock.
Chimney Rock was 550 miles from Independence, Missouri.
The Continental Divide: Located in the Rocky Mountains.
The rivers on the east side of the Continental Divide flowed east,
and the rivers on the west side of the Continental Divide flowed
South Pass: A pass where the wagons crossed the Continental
Divide. In 1812, Scottish explorer Robert Stuart discovered South
Pass as a gateway through the Rocky Mountains.
Soda Springs: A spring with bubbling water for drinking.
It got its name because it tickled a person's nose when they drank
Steamboat Springs: A spring that sounded like a Mississippi
Fort Hall: A wilderness outpost located in present-day
Idaho. It was located at a split in the trail. The northwest trail
continued to Oregon, and the southwest trail led to California.
Snake River: A river flowing into the Oregon Country.
Columbia River: A river flowing to the Pacific Ocean.
Fort Walla Walla: A fort built by fur traders. Here, the
travelers could either claim land in the Willamette Valley or
take a riverboat to Astoria.
c. What does "Fifty-four
forty or fight!" mean?
This referred to the 54°40' latitude line that the United States
wanted as the northern border of Oregon.
Between 1843 and 1845, about 5,000 American
farmers lived in the Willamette Valley. All of these people had
come using the Oregon Trail. The American presence in Oregon gave
the United States an advantage over Britain in controlling the
Oregon land. Some Americans wanted to control the land all the
way to Alaska, and they shouted, "Fifty-four forty or fight!"
This referred to the 54°40' latitude line that Americans wanted
as the northern border of Oregon. In 1848, the United States and
Great Britain agreed on a boundary line along the 49th parallel.
Today, this is the border between the United States and Canada.
By the end of the 1840, American's Manifest
Destiny had become a reality. The United States stretched from
sea to sea.
By 1850, the Fort Laramie register showed
40,000 men, women, and children, and 9,000 wagons had passed through
the fort along the Oregon Trail. In 1869, the transcontinental
railroad was complete which connected the east and the west by
railroad. Unlike the Santa Fe Trail, the transcontinental railroad
did not close the Oregon Trail. As late as 1895, travelers were
still using the Oregon Trail to move west. Today, ruts from wagon
wheels can be seen.
five of the words in Section 2 in a sentence.
Families traveled the Oregon Trail in a Conestoga
The Manifest Destiny was the
belief the United States should stretch from sea to sea.
Dr. Marcus Whitman was a missionary.
Kit Carson was a famous mountain man.
It took the pioneers and teamsters
about six months to travel the Oregon Trail in their Conestoga
My great grandfather told me stories
of teamsters driving the wagons
across the Oregon Trail.
e. Have a parent or friend give you
a spelling test with EACH of the words in Section 2.
More Valuable Information about The
National Historic Trail (NPS)
of Westward Expansion (NPS)
Search of The Oregon Trail (PBS)
The Oregon Trail (Idaho State University)
of the Oregon Trail (Idaho State University)
Trail History Library (End of the Oregon Trail)
of a Prairie Schooner (End of the Oregon Trail)