The routes taken|
People often traveled by steamboat up the Ohio River or the Mississippi to reach the major trailheads. The Oregon Trail was created earlier by fur trappers.
A The Humboldt Basin
The dreaded 40-mile stretch of Humboldt Basin promised severe heat, sand deep enough to trap oxen and no food or water.
B The Continental Divide
South Pass was the easiest passage through the Rockies. Rivers to the east flowed toward the Atlantic. Rivers to the west flowed toward the Pacific. From this point on, travel became increasingly difficult.
C Independence Rock
Marked on by hundreds of pioneers who passed it.
D Fort Laramie
Over 39,000 people were recorded passing through Fort Laramie in the first six months of 1849. It is likely that several thousand more passed through unrecorded.
E The Platte River
The rains of 1849 made the overland journey difficult at the Platte River.
F Chimney Rock
A 500 ft. column. It marks 550 miles from Independence, Mo.
G The Jayhawkers
A group, named the Jayhawkers, broke off from a larger group in the hopes of cutting 600 miles off the distance. Their journey ended in an area named Tomesha, "ground afire," by the local Indians. Today, the area is called Death Valley.
Pioneers could replenish food, tools and other supplies at posts along the way, if the wagon train before them hadn't cleaned the forts out.
The weary travelers looked forward to sighting these almost mythical places as they confirmed that they were not only on the right trail but also making progress.
A cholera epidemic killed young and old alike on the trail.
Dysentery was introduced from drinking dirty water.
Trails through Arizona and New Mexico with frequent towns and trading posts were popular.
What they took
The cost for a family of four was around $600 to $700. Groups organized and agreed to travel together. Any given train of wagons would have people with different occupations. The more varied the abilities, the more comfortable the journey was likely to be.
Supplies might include:
Cooking stove made of sheet metal, cows, bacon, ham, rice, dried fruit, molasses, packed butter, bread, coffee and tea, tools for mining, farming and repairing wagons, vegetable and flower seeds, medicines, quilts, musical instruments, guns, ammunition, awls, needles strengthened for mending clothes and tents, bedding, including buffalo robes, waterproof india rubber blankets to keep things dry, lock chains to hold wagons back on steep hills.
On the trail:
There are hooks on the inside of the hoops to hang milk cans, guns, etc.
Making butter: After a few hours on the bumpy trail, a ball of butter would form in the center of a can of milk.
Plates, silverware, pots and pans were kept in a special box attached to the rear of the wagon.
Animals were driven by shouting and whip-cracking over their heads. They were not struck.
Some brought chickens.
Eggs could be stored in flour barrels. So long as they were not touching, they wouldn't break.
The rigors of life on the trail led many women to try wearing pants for the first time.
People often walked, as the wagons traveled very slowly and the bumpy trails made the wagon seats uncomfortable.
On the prairie, wood was scarce. Pioneers discovered that buffalo chips created a hot, smokeless and odorless fire.
A bucket of grease hung between the wheels to lubricate them.
Sources: "The Great American Gold Rush" by Rhoda Blumberg, "The Gold Rush" by Liza Ketchum, "The California Gold Rush," published by American Heritage, "The California Gold Rush" by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, "Hunting for Gold" by William Downie, "Sea Routes to the Gold Fields" by Oscar Lewis, "If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon" by Ellen Levine, "The East Indiamen" by Russell Miller, Steve and Eric Chrissman of the National Nautical Heritage Society
Graphics: Sean McDade