The Oregon National Trail is a 2,000 mile monument to the human spirit. In the sixty odd years of its use, thousands of Americans headed west, first for fur, then as missionaries, and finally for land. Between 1841 and the turn of the century, over 300,000 Americans of all ages and walks of life sold most of their worldly possessions, piled what was left in a wagon and set off on an epic journey.The journey would take five to six months across some of the harshest and most hostile territory in the world. Some emigrants traveled all the way to Oregonís Willamette Valley in search of farmland, but many more split off for California in search of gold. The journey was exceptionally difficult and would take five to six months to travel across some of the harshest and most hostile territory in the world.
One in 10 of those whose braved the trek died along the way of cholera, poor sanitation, exposure, and accidents. Many were buried in the trail itself to protect their grave from scavenging animals. Emigrant families hauled food and possessions in covered farm wagons pulled by oxen (oxen were primarily used because they could live off of the prairie grasses along the route and horses couldnít). Wagons were often full, so many walked the entire way barefoot. One of ten would fall victim to disease or injury along the way. The trail was first traveled by Robert Stewart, following the fur trade on behalf of John Jacob Astor. Travel was limited until 1834, when Jason Lee, and then Marcus Whitman, came west to bring Christianity to the American Indians. Reports from these missionaries greatly stimulated Eastern Americaís interest in the rich land awaiting them in Oregon. The first organized party of emigrants set out in 1841 under the leadership of John Bidwell. They were the first in a trickle of emigrants that would swell to a flood in the years to come. The generally recognized start of significant movement west has been established as 1843
The U.S. Congress memorialized the vital role the Oregon Trail played in our nationís history in 1978, when the trail was designated a National Historic Trail. The intent of the public law was to designate the primary route of the Oregon Trail, extending full length between Independence, Missouri, and Oregon City, Oregon