Imagine traveling with your family for months in a covered wagon the size of your bathroom. All the food, clothing, and tools your family owns must fit in that wagon; there is little room for toys. You eat dried meat, biscuits, and beans for most meals – and you’re happy to have that since many families go hungry.
What would make a family choose such a miserable adventure? Between 1841 and 1845, more than 5,000 people traveled the Oregon Trail, a rough, rutted road from Missouri to Oregon. Trappers first traveled the Oregon Trail. Later farmers took their families west in search of rich farm land.
- The Oregon Trail stretched more than 2,000 miles from Missouri almost to the Pacific Ocean and the Oregon coast. The U.S. government promised settlers a square-mile of land for almost nothing.
- Rumors abounded about the wonders of the west. People called Oregon the “land of milk and honey.” They said the Oregon soil was bottomless and a man could become rich by farming. Life was hard for farmers living in the Midwest. Cholera and smallpox diseases killed thousands of people. Crops failed. Many people were eager to believe the stories about Oregon.
- Life on the Oregon trail wasn’t any easier. One in 10 settlers died along the trail, usually from disease or accident.
- The settlers traveled in “wagon trains” for safety. They typically traveled about 15 miles a day. Children walked alongside the wagon most of the time. At night, the settlers would move the wagons into a circle for safety. They cooked dinner, sang songs, washed their clothing, and offered school lessons to the children.
- The Oregon Trail was little more than two ruts on the prairie, but following it guaranteed some safety. Another trail split off from the Oregon Trail to California. One group of emigrants, the Donner Party, decided to try a new trail over the Sierra Mountains to California. An early blizzard trapped them in the mountains for five months. Only half of the 89 travelers survived.
- Cholera: a serious disease spread by unclean conditions. People afflicted with cholera could feel fine in the morning and die before sundown.
- Wagon train: a group of wagons that traveled in a long, straight line (like a train).
- Rut: a deep, rough hole
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Did families travel on the Oregon Trail?
Answer: While few women and children were part of the Gold Rush, families traveled together to Oregon to farm. Children were often born on the trail; parents sometimes died, leaving children to be cared for by other family members or members of the wagon train.
Visit the Oregon California Trails Association to read firsthand accounts of the Oregon Trail adventure.
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Declan, Tobin. " Fun facts bout the Oregon Trail for Kids ." American History for Kids, Sep 2019. Web. 20 Sep 2019. < https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/the-oregon-trail/ >.
APA Style Citation
Tobin, Declan. (2019). Fun facts bout the Oregon Trail for Kids. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/the-oregon-trail/