Oregon Trail

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Scott's Bluff, Nebraska on the Oregon Trail.
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The Oregon Trail went from western Missouri across the Great Plains into the Rocky Mountains to Oregon City, Oregon. It was most heavily used in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s. It was the longest historic overland migration trail in North America. The length of the wagon trail from the Missouri River to Willamette Valley was about 2,000 miles (3,200 km). It normally took four to six months to traverse the length of the Oregon Trail with wagons pulled by oxen. About 80,000 pioneers used it to reach Oregon, and about 20,000 to Washington before the transcontinental railroad in 1869.[1]

Records and Lists of Settlers[edit | edit source]

Pioneers who used the Oregon Trail were mostly Americans from the Midwest or Mid-South. Most settled in Oregon, especially in the Willamette Valley, but about 20 percent moved on to Washington (state) before 1870. Others went to California.

No complete list of pioneer settlers who traveled the Oregon Trail is known to exist. However, a variety of sources exist which can be used to identify many of them. Some of these sources may reveal their place of origin.

Pioneer Databases[edit | edit source]

Less than one percent of Oregon Trail pioneers are so far listed in:

Books and Articles[edit | edit source]

  • Oregon Trail Sources, Queries & Reviews. by Rose Caudle Terry. 6 volumes. Marysville,Washington: Family Publications, 1993 - FHL Collection
  • Oregon trail family research requests of those pioneers and their descendants seeking information : contents include requests from those searching plus full index of names. by Linn Genealogical Society. 6 volumes. Albany, Oregon: Linn Genealogical Society, 1993? FHL Collection
  • James R. Evans with Bert Webber, Flagstaff Hill on the national historic Oregon Trail, Baker City, Oregon : an interpretive guide. Medford, Oregon : Webb Research Group, ©1992
  • Oregon Land Records - Provisional-government records. Oregon's provisional government was established in the spring of 1843. Inhabitants were permitted to stake out claims and survey them by the metes and bounds method. Over 4,000 claims were made. When Congress established the Territory of Oregon in 1848, that system ended. The provisional claims have been abstracted and published by the Genealogical Forum of Oregon.
  • "Some Emigrants to Oregon, Trail, June 1844." National Genealogical Society Quarterly 67 (June 1979): 141-142.
  • "Deaths along the Oregon Trail, 1852." National Genealogical Society Quarterly (December, 1988): 302-303
  • "Register Cliff" Oregon Genealogical Society Quarterly 24 (Summer, 1986):19-20; (Fall, 1986): 4-5. FHL 979.5 D25o

Land records[edit | edit source]

  • Jim Topkins. "The Law of the Land:What the emigrant needs to know about claiming land at the end of the Oregon Trail." Overland Journal (Fall, 2001): 81-112.

Federal: The federal Donation Act of 1850 encouraged settlement of Oregon Territory by granting 320 acres to white male citizens, or those who intended to become citizens, who settled on the land prior to 1 December 1850. Wives were eligible for an additional 320 acres. White male citizens who arrived between 1 December 1850 and 1 December 1853 could apply for 160 acres, with wives receiving an equivalent amount. The act further provided for similar grants to those of mixed Indian-white parentage who were already in the territory; and it required settlers who had staked claims previously to refile them. Amendments in 1853 and 1854 cut the residency-cultivation requirement in half and extended the filing date to April 1855

County[edit | edit source]

After federal land was transferred to a settler, subsequent deeds were recorded in county courthouses.

Church Records[edit | edit source]

Censuses[edit | edit source]

Censuses can be used to identify pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail:

Oregon took territorial and state censuses in years between federal censuses. These censuses often have different questions than federal censuses and additional family information. Pioneer censuses included:
State and Territorial Censuses of Oregon Prior to 1871
1870 State census Umatilla county[2] [3]
1865 State census Benton, Columbia, Marion and Umatilla counties [2][3]
1859 Territorial census Clatsop, Umpqua (now Douglas) counties[2] [3]
1858 Territorial census Benton, Clatsop, Coos, Curry, Umpqua (now Douglas) counties[2] [3][4]
1857 Territorial census Benton, Clackamas, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Jackson, Tillamook, Umpqua (now Douglas), Washington counties[2] [3]
1856 Territorial census Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Curry, Polk, and Washington counties[2] [3]
1855 Territorial census Coos and Jackson counties[2] [3]
1854 Territorial census Benton, Clatsop, and Jackson counties[2] [3]
1853 Territorial census Benton, Marion, Polk, Umpqua (now Douglas), Washington and counties[2] [3]
1849 Apportionment Census of Males over 21 --Benton, Champoeg, Clackamas, Clatsop, Lewis (Washington State), Linn, Polk, Tualatin, Vancouver (Washington State), and Yamhill counties[2] [3]
1845-46 Tualaty county (now Washington County)[2] [3]
1845 Champoeg (now Marion), Clackamas, Clatsop, and Yamhill[2] [3]
1842 Elijah White Census (persons living south of the Columbia River)[2] [3]

Pioneer Associations[edit | edit source]

  • Pioneers in Attendance Published in the Oregon Pioneer Association Annuals Reunions
  • Twenty-First Annual Reunion (1893) Arranged by year, pp 21-25.
  • Twenty-Second Annual Reunion (1894) Arranged by year, pp. 12-14.
  • Twenty-Third Annual Reunion (1865) Arranged by year, pp. 18-22.
  • Twenty-Fifth Annual Reunion (1897) Arranged by Year, pp. 17-28.
  • Twenty-Sixth Annual Reunion (1898) Arranged by year, pp. 22-32
  • Twenty-Seventh Annual Reunion (1899) Arranged by year, pp. 20-32.
  • Twenty-Eighth Annual Reunion (1900) Arranged by year, pp. 13-25.
  • Pioneer Necrology Published in the Oregon Pioneer Association Annual Reunions
  • Forty-Ninth Annual Reunion (1921) - June 1, 1920 to May 31, 1921. pp. 354-362.
  • Fiftieth Annual Reunion (1922) - June 1, 1921 to May 31, 1922. pp. 453-459.
  • Fifty-First Annual Reunion (1923) - June 1, 1922 to May 31, 1923. pp. 9 - 11.
  • Fifty-Second Annual Reunion (1924) - June 1, 1923 to May 31, 1924. pp. 11-13.
  • Fifty-Third Annual Reunion (1925) - June 1, 1924 to May 31, 1925. pp. 9-11
  • Fifty-Fourth Annual Reunion (1926) - June 1, 1925 to May 31, 1926. pp. 10-14
  • Fifty-Fifth Annual Reunion (1927) - June 1, 1926 to May 31, 1927. pp. 10 - 14
  • Fifty-Sixth Annual Reunion (1928) - June 1, 1927 to May 31, 1928. pp. 9-12.

Local and county histories and biographies[edit | edit source]

Local and county histories and biographies in Oregon also may help identify additional pioneers. For example:

Ezra Meeker

Some Oregon Trail pioneers also settled in Washington, California, Idaho, or Nevada. Local histories and biographies from those places may also include some pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail.

Oregon Historical Society[edit | edit source]

Background History[edit | edit source]

Footpath to wagon road. The route of the Oregon Trail was first discovered by fur trappers about 1811. Several expeditions of government men explored and mapped parts of the trail in 1832, 1834, 1846, and 1848. It was originally a footpath or mule pack train trail. In 1830 the first fur trade rendezvous wagons reached the Green River in Wyoming. By 1836 when the first pioneer wagon train was organized in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri Genealogy, the wagon trail went as far as Fort Hall. By 1843 the wagon road reached the Dalles (Oregon) where pioneers could raft down the Columbia River. In 1846 the Barlow Road around Mt. Hood finally reached Oregon City.[1]

Oregon boundary dispute. Washington State and British Columbia were at first disputed and jointly occupied by Britain (Canada) and the United States. The British and their Hudson's Bay Company controlled Washington northwest of the Columbia River. But pressure was being exerted against Canada. In 1836 American pioneer groups began migrating over the Oregon Trail into Oregon. Thousands came over the next decade, far more than from Canada. Slogans of the 1844 American presidential campaign clamored for war to take Washington and British Columbia by force. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 gave Washington to the United States and British Columbia to Canada.[5]

Reasons for migrating. Mountain men fur trappers were the earliest to use the Oregon Trail. A few early missionaries came in the 1830s. Larger groups of American settlers began arriving in 1843. The California Trail, Mormon Trail, and Bozeman Trail overlapped much of the Oregon Trail and branched off it starting in 1846. The California Gold Rush of 1849 contributed significantly to west coast migration. Western gold and silver strikes, free farm land, lumber, and ranching all increased traffic on the Oregon Trail. An estimated 80,000 pioneers used the Oregon Trail to Oregon, and 20,000 to Washington by 1869, and about 320,000 more followed part of the Oregon trail to take one of its three main branches.[1]

Preparations. Most emigrants were farmers who already had their own wagons and most of their own supplies. Other travelers usually purchased supplies at "jumping off points" in Missouri, Iowa, or Kansas. Supplies cost as much as $200 per person including a covered wagon, teams of oxen, 150 pounds of food per person, tobacco, cooking gear, extra shoes, two sets of clothes, 25 pounds of soap, washboard and wash tub, tent, a canvas or rubber groundcloth with blankets for sleeping, tools, guns and ammunition. Some also bought a trail guide book.[1]

Trail life. Non-essentials were often abandoned on the trail to lighten the load. Forts and trading posts (Ft. Kearny, Ft. Laramie, Ft. Fetterman, Ft. Bridger, Ft. Hall, Ft. Boise, Ft. Nez Percés, and Ft. Vancouver) along the way usually provided supplies, fresh animal teams, repairs, spare parts, and news of trail conditions. Hunting (including bison), fishing, and trading were also common along the route. Emigrants usually formed into wagon trains for security. Almost everyone preferred to walk rather than ride in dusty, bumpy wagons. They had to average 11 miles (18 km) to 17 miles (27 km) per day to reach Oregon City in four to six months. To leave too early risked muddy trails and too little grass for livestock. To arrive late risked traveling in winter weather. Thunderstorms and fierce winds were common. In good weather they often slept under the stars. On the prairie buffalo chips were gathered for use as cooking fuel. Wash day was about every two weeks. Many travelers enjoyed side trips climbing over trail landmarks like Chimney Rock, Scott's Bluff, and Independence Rock. Some entrepreneurs drove herds of cattle over the trail to sell and help pay for the trip.[1]

Deaths. About five percent of pioneers died on the Oregon-California-Mormon trails. The most common killer was cholera along the Platte River in Nebraska. This disease killed as much as three percent between 1849 and 1855 (6,000 to 12,500 individuals). About 3,000 to 4,500 deaths happened because of Indian attacks especially in Idaho and Nevada after U.S. Army troops were withdrawn in 1860 in the run up to the Civil War. Other causes of death included freezing, scurvy, being run over, drownings (especially in the 1850s before many ferries), and accidental shootings.[1]

Oregon Pioneers[6]
Year Oregon
pre 1840 20
1840 13
1841 24
1842 125
1843 875
1844 1,475
1845 2,500
1846 1,200
1847 4,000
1848 1,300
1849 450
1850 6,000
1851 3,600
1852 10,000
1853 7,500
1854 6,000
1855 500
1856 1,000
1857 1,500
1858 1,500
1859 2,000
1860 1,500
1861 2,000?
1862 2,000?
1863 2,000?
1864 2,000?
1865 4,700?
1866 4,700?
1867 4,700?
1868 4,800?
Total 80,000

Decline of trail use. In 1855 the Oregon Trail (and California Trail) traffic declined dramatically for at least two reasons. First, Oregon's free land incentive ended in 1855. From 1850 to 1854 pioneers could claim 300 acres of land for free. From 1855 to 1862 Oregon pioneers were required to pay for government land. The next free-land opportunities were not created in Oregon until the 1862 Homestead Act was passed. Second, the Panama Railroad was completed with steamship links that made transportation from the east coast to the west coast of America more practical than using an overland wagon trail.[1]

Another factor that later diminished the use of the Oregon Trail was American railroads. The transcontinental Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads completed in 1869 to Sacramento, California made that route faster, safer, and less expensive than traveling the Oregon Trail. Railroads to Oregon were developed in the 1870s. Nevertheless, a few emigrants continued to use the Oregon Trail as late as the 1890s.[1]

Main Route[edit | edit source]

Oregon Trail map.

The Oregon Trail was miles wide with many variations. Emigrants started on their journey from many sundry "jumping off points" in three states. Some took a variety of shortcuts, and others traveled on different sides of the rivers from other emigrants. Travelers often completed their journey in Idaho, Washington or places other than Oregon City. The Oregon Trail was the trunk trail for several other branch trails. The California Trail starting 1846, the Mormon Trail in 1847, and the Bozeman Trail beginning 1863 branched off from the main Oregon Trail.[1]

Two of the most popular early outfitting or "jumping off points" were Independence and St. Joseph in western Missouri. Once the river was dredged and steamboats could reach it in the early 1850s, Council Bluffs, Iowa became the most popular Oregon Trail starting place.[7] Kansas City, Lawrence, and Topeka in Kansas were also used. From their starting point emigrants often followed the Missouri River up to the Platte River. Another option was to follow the Kansas River and then the Little Blue River toward the Platte River.[1]

Livestock needed watering so the Oregon Trail followed rivers across the dry prairies. The Oregon Trail usually followed the south side of the North Platte River west through Nebraska to Fort Fetterman (near Douglas, Wyoming). At Fort Fetterman the Bozeman Trail branched off northwest toward Montana.[8] Oregon Trail emigrants followed the Sweetwater River farther west. An important goal was to reach Independence Rock on the Sweetwater River by Independence Day. The trail went over South Pass then worked its way through the mountains. One shortcut went from South Pass due west toward Fort Hall. The main trail from South Pass headed southwest to cross the Green River at Lombard Ferry, headed for Fort Bridger. At Fort Bridger the Mormon Trail branched southwest toward Salt Lake City.[9] The main Oregon Trail went northwest from Bridger to Fort Hall, Idaho. From the Raft River southwest of Fort Hall most California Trail emigrants forked southwest toward Nevada[10], while Oregon Trail followers continued along the Snake River to Fort Boise and the Oregon border. Once in Oregon emigrants made their way through the Blue Mountains either to Fort Nez Percé (Walla Walla, Washington) on the Columbia River, or to The Dalles on the same river. At first a risky raft trip down the Columbia River was the normal route. But the opening of the Barlow Road in 1846 allowed wagons to get around Mount Hood to the Willamette Valley and Oregon City. Some pioneers continued on to destinations like Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon Genealogy and Tacoma, Washington.[1]

Maps and Pictorical Histories

The exact route of the Oregon Trail varied over the years. Most often it passed through:[1]

The Oregon-California Trails Association provides a Virtual Trail map with images, and brief histories of points along the trail.

Connecting migration routes. The Oregon Trail linked to other migration routes at each end, and at junctions in the middle. The migration pathways connected near the east end included:

The migration pathways connected near the west end of the Oregon Trail included:

Several migration pathways had junctions at various places along the middle of the Oregon Trail:

Modern parallels. The modern roads that roughly match the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon are listed in an online edition of a National Park Service publication about the Oregon Trail:

Other Wiki Pages[edit | edit source]

Interpretive Centers[edit | edit source]

Related FamilySearch Blog Articles[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Wikipedia contributors, "Oregon Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Trail (accessed 12 July 2012).
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 Ann S. Lainhart, State Census Records (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1992), 97-98. WorldCat entry. FHL Book 973 X2Lai.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 Connie Miller Lenzen, Research in Oregon Research in Oregon] (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Association, 2007), 16-17. WorldCat entry. FHL Book 979.5 D27L 1992.
  4. Ronald Vern Jackson, Scott D. Rosenkilde, W. David Samuelsen, Oregon Census Records 1851-1859 (North Salt Lake, Utah: Accelerated Systems, 1984) WorldCat entry. FHL Book 979.5 X22o 1851-1859.
  5. Wikipedia contributors, "Oregon boundary dispute" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_boundary_dispute (accessed 12 July 2012).
  6. John D. Unruh, The Plains Across: the Overland Immigrants and Trans-Mississippi West 1840–1860 (University of Illinois Press, 1979), 119–20.
  7. Wikipedia contributors, "Emigrant trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emigrant_trail (accessed 15 July 2012).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Wikipedia contributors, "Bozeman Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bozeman_Trail (accessed 15 July 2012).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Wikipedia contributors, "Mormon Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_Trail (accessed 15 July 2012).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Wikipedia contributors, "California Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Trail (accessed 15 July 2012).
  11. Wikipedia contributors, "Cherokee Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherokee_Trail (accessed 15 July 2012).
  12. Wikipedia contributors, "Meek Cutoff" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meek_Cutoff (accessed 15 July 2012).