Blazing The Oregon Trail

By | January 17, 2019

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The Westward Trail circa 1840: A map showing the westward trail from Missouri to Oregon. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)

In 1971, Minnesota Education Computing Consortium released a computer game called The Oregon Trail. Since then several versions have been released, with the most recent being a standalone handheld game. But the real Oregon Trail was a 2,000-mile track leading from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. It is estimated that up to 500,000 pioneers traveled the trail in the mid-1800s.

They traveled for a variety of reasons. Among those was the concept of Manifest Destiny, a sentiment that expansion was preordained. However, others were seeking financial stability or escape from the Civil War. The earliest travelers of the trail were trapper and fur traders who traveled on horseback or on foot. The Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1804 to 1806 was the government’s first attempt to explore the land to the west. In 1810, John Jacob Astor launched an expedition to Oregon, intent on opening a trading post for his American Fur Company. The expedition led to the discovery of a gap in the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming, which offered the easiest path across the Continental Divide and became known as the South Pass.

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Mormon Pioneers. Source: (

Other early travelers of the trail were missionaries. The first group of missionaries left independence in 1834 and joined the party of a merchant named Nathaniel Wyeth. They became the first group to travel the entire length of the trail. In 1835, physician and missionary Marcus Whitman, along with his wife and another couple, traveled the trail to set up missions in Oregon among the Cayuse Indians. Whitman’s wife, Narcissa, published her accounts of the journey, leading to increased interest in the trail. Their route eventually became known as the Whitman Mission Route. During the Great Emigration of 1843, Whitman made the trek again and met up with a group of 120 wagons destined for Oregon. The group made the journey in five months, leading to a rise in westward migration.