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On the main trail about 5 miles 8.

Oregon Trail - HISTORY

Its main advantage was that it helped spread out the traffic during peak periods, making more grass available. There were only a few places where the Snake River was not buried deep in a canyon, and few spots where the river slowed down enough to make a crossing possible. Two of these fords were near Fort Hall, where travelers on the Oregon Trail North Side Alternate established about and Goodale's Cutoff established crossed the Snake to travel on the north side. Nathaniel Wyeth, the original founder of Fort Hall in , writes in his diary that they found a ford across the Snake River 4 miles 6.

Another possible crossing was a few miles upstream of Salmon Falls where some intrepid travelers floated their wagons and swam their stock across to join the north side trail. Some lost their wagons and teams over the falls. Goodale's Cutoff , established in on the north side of the Snake River, formed a spur of the Oregon Trail.

This cutoff had been used as a pack trail by Native Americans and fur traders, and emigrant wagons traversed parts of the eastern section as early as It passed near the present-day town of Arco, Idaho , and wound through the northern part of what is now Craters of the Moon National Monument. This journey typically took two to three weeks and was noted for its very rough lava terrain and extremely dry climate, which tended to dry the wooden wheels on the wagons, causing the iron rims to fall off the wheels. Loss of wheels caused many wagons to be abandoned along the route.

It rejoined the main trail east of Boise. At Salmon Falls there were often a hundred or more Native Americans fishing who would trade for their salmon, a welcome treat. The crossings were doubly treacherous because there were often hidden holes in the river bottom which could overturn the wagon or entangle the team, sometimes with fatal consequences.

Before ferries were established there were several drownings here nearly every year. The north side of the Snake had better water and grass than the south.

Fur Trappers Lay Down The Oregon Trail

The usually lush Boise River Valley was a welcome relief. This last crossing of the Snake could be done on bull boats while swimming the stock across. Others would chain a large string of wagons and teams together. The theory was that the front teams, usually oxen, would get out of water first and with good footing help pull the whole string of wagons and teams across.

How well this worked in practice is not stated. Often young Native American boys were hired to drive and ride the stock across the river—they knew how to swim, unlike many pioneers. Starting in about the South Alternate of Oregon Trail also called the Snake River Cutoff was developed as a spur off the main trail.

It bypassed the Three Island Crossing and continued traveling down the south side of the Snake River. It rejoined the trail near present-day Ontario, Oregon. It hugged the southern edge of the Snake River canyon and was a much rougher trail with poorer water and grass, requiring occasional steep descents and ascents with the animals down into the Snake River canyon to get water.

Oregon Trail

Travellers on this route avoided two dangerous crossings of the Snake River. In , the Central Pacific established Kelton, Utah as a railhead and the terminus of the western mail was moved from Salt Lake City. The Kelton Road became important as a communication and transportation road to the Boise Basin. Boise has 21 monuments in the shape of obelisks along its portion of the Oregon Trail. Once across the Snake River ford near Old Fort Boise the weary travelers traveled across what would become the state of Oregon. In settlers cut a wagon road over these mountains making them passable for the first time to wagons.

At Fort Nez Perce some built rafts or hired boats and started down the Columbia; others continued west in their wagons until they reached The Dalles. After the trail bypassed the closed mission and headed almost due west to present day Pendleton , Oregon, crossing the Umatilla River , John Day River, and Deschutes River before arriving at The Dalles. Arriving at the Columbia at The Dalles and stopped by the Cascade Mountains and Mount Hood, some gave up their wagons or disassembled them and put them on boats or rafts for a trip down the Columbia River.

Once they transited the Cascade's Columbia River Gorge with its multiple rapids and treacherous winds they would have to make the 1.

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The pioneer's livestock could be driven around Mount Hood on the narrow, crooked and rough Lolo Pass. Several Oregon Trail branches and route variations led to the Willamette Valley. It was rough and steep with poor grass but still cheaper and safer than floating goods, wagons and family down the dangerous Columbia River. The Applegate Trail established , cutting off the California Trail from the Humboldt River in Nevada, crossed part of California before cutting north to the south end of the Willamette Valley.

Route 99 and Interstate 5 through Oregon roughly follow the original Applegate Trail.

What It Was Like to Be On the Oregon Trail

Three types of draft and pack animals were used by Oregon Trail pioneers: oxen , mules , and horses. By , many emigrants favored oxen—castrated bulls males of the genus Bos cattle , generally over four years old—as the best animal to pull wagons, because they were docile, generally healthy, and able to continue moving in difficult conditions such as mud and snow.

Moreover, oxen were less expensive to purchase and maintain than horses. Oxen typically traveled at a steady pace up to two miles an hour. One drawback of oxen was the difficulty of shoeing. Oxen hooves are cloven split , and they had to be shod with two curved pieces of metal, one on each side of the hoof.

While horses and mules allowed themselves to be shod relatively easily, the process was more difficult with oxen, which would lie down and tuck their feet under themselves. Mules were used by some emigrants. Food and water were key concerns for migrants. Wagons typically carried at least one large water keg, [82] [83] and guidebooks available from the s and later gave similar advice to migrants on what food to take. Jefferson, in his Brief Practice Advice guidebook for migrants, recommended that each adult take pounds of flour: "Take plenty of bread stuff; this is the staff of life when everything else runs short.

Food often took the form of crackers or hardtack ; Southerners sometimes chose cornmeal or pinole rather than wheat flour. Randolph B. Marcy , an Army officer who wrote an guide, advised taking less bacon than the earlier guides had recommended. He advised emigrants to drive cattle instead as a source of fresh beef. Canning technology had just begun to be developed, and it gained in popularity through the period of westward expansion.

Initially, only upper-class migrants typically used canned goods. Canning also added weight to a wagon.

Rather than canned vegetables, Marcy suggested that travelers take dried vegetables, which had been used in the Crimean War and by the U. Some pioneers took eggs and butter packed in barrels of flour, and some took dairy cows along the trail.

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What's it Like to Travel the Oregon Trail in a Covered Wagon in the 21st Century?

At the time, scurvy was well-recognized, but there was a lack of clear understanding of how to prevent the disease. Emigrant families, who were mostly middle-class, prided themselves on preparing a good table. Although operating Dutch ovens and kneading dough was difficult on the trail, many baked good bread and even pies. For fuel to heat food, travelers would collect cedar wood , cottonwood , or willow wood, when available, and sometimes dry prairie grass. Tobacco was popular, both for personal use, and for trading with natives and other pioneers.

Each person brought at least two changes of clothes and multiple pairs of boots two to three pairs often wore out on the trip. About 25 pounds of soap was recommended for a party of four, for bathing and washing clothes.


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A washboard and tub were usually brought for washing clothes. Wash days typically occurred once or twice a month, or less, depending on availability of good grass, water, and fuel. Most wagons carried tents for sleeping, though in good weather most would sleep outside.


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A thin fold-up mattress, blankets, pillows, canvas, or rubber gutta percha ground covers were used for sleeping. Sometimes an unfolded feather bed mattress was brought for the wagon, if there were pregnant women or very young children along. Storage boxes were ideally the same height, so they could be arranged to give a flat surface inside the wagon for a sleeping platform. The wagons had no springs, and the ride along the trail was very rough. Despite modern depictions, hardly anyone actually rode in the wagons; it was too dusty, too rough, and too hard on the livestock.

Travelers brought books, Bibles, trail guides, and writing quills, ink, and paper for writing letters or journalling about one in kept a diary. A belt and folding knives were carried by nearly all men and boys. Awls, scissors, pins, needles, and thread for mending were required. Spare leather was used for repairing shoes, harnesses, and other equipment.