Free Emigrant Road

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The Free Emigrant Road, a branch of the Oregon Trail, successfully opened a middle route across Oregon for emigrant travel from the Malheur River (Vale) to the southern Willamette Valley (Eugene).

Three different wagon trains made the attempt to cross by a middle route. The first, led by Stephen Meek in 1845, ended in disaster when the wagon train foundered in the desert before turning north for rescue at The Dalles. The second, led by Elijah Elliott in 1853, succeeded in crossing the desert, but became stranded in the Cascade Mountains for lack of a cleared wagon road and were rescued by a relief party from the settlements. The third attempt, led by William Macy in 1854, was finally successful in both crossing the desert and getting over the Cascades using the newly completed Free Emigrant Road.

Together, the three wagon trains that blazed the middle route brought some 2500 emigrants into Oregon. The routes they blazed, sometimes collectively called the Meek-Elliott-Macy Trail, were later used by gold seekers, freighters, the military, and settlers moving to central and eastern Oregon.