History of the Trail
The story of the Oregon Trail is really a story of movement, travel, migration.
During eight decades in the 1800's the Oregon Trail served as a natural corridor as the United States moved from the eastern half of the continent towards the west coast. The Oregon Trail ran approximately 2,000 miles west from Missouri towards the Rocky Mountains to the Willamette Valley. A trail to California branched off in southern Idaho. The Mormon Trail paralleled much of the Oregon Trail, connecting Council Bluffs to Salt Lake City.
It began as an unconnected series of trails used by Native Americans. Fur Traders expanded the route to transport pelts to trading posts and rendezvous. In the 1830's missionaries followed the still faint trail along the Platte River and the Snake, to establish church connections in the Northwest.
A combination of economic and political events in the 1840's converged to start a large scale migration west on what was then known as "The Oregon Road". Joel Walker is credited as the first settler to make the complete trip with a family, in 1840. Large scale migration started in 1843, when a wagon train of over 800 people with 120 wagons and 5,000 cattle made the five month journey.
In 1847 Mormons escaping persecution headed towards Salt Lake, and the discovery of gold in California in 1848 sent a wave of fortune seekers west. Military posts, trading posts, shortcuts and spur roads sprang off the Oregon Trail over the next three decades. As many as 500,000 people are estimated to have traveled the Oregon Trail between the 1840s and 1860s.