Mountain men and fur traders were the first to travel the route that would one day become the Oregon Trail. In their wake came missionaries who wrote letters and reports describing the far side of the continent and praising the mild climate, healthful conditions and the deep, fertile soil.
Historians recognize 1843 as the official beginning of the Oregon Trail. That spring a group of a thousand land-hungry pioneers with 120 wagons and 5,000 head of cattle departed from Elm Grove, Missouri. Some of their wagons were abandoned along the Snake plateau but other were brought to the Columbia River where flat-bottomed boats were built and floated through the dangerous rapids of the Columbia Gorge to the Willamette Valley.
It took the pioneers from early spring until late fall to reach the far west. They threw together shelters and subsisted that first winter on fish, game and the generosity of their neighbors, both white and Indian. Come spring they cleared ground, tilled the virgin soil and planted crops.
The heyday of the Oregon Trail occurred after gold was discovered in California in 1848; it is estimated one-quarter million pioneers traveled overland on the Oregon Trail. From these early emigrants the social fabric of the West was woven.
Within a few years communities were established and schools and churches were built. Then came stage lines, mail deliveries, railroads, telegraph wires and the other trappings of the white man's civilization.
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