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Oregon Trail II

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Discover the excitement and hardships of the westward movement in Oregon Trail II. Relive two decades in history that changed the United States forever. Blaze new trails west with incredible 3-D graphics, a movie-quality soundtrack, digitized speech, and dozens of interesting characters.

You'll face new challenges and decisions as a pioneer while you explore the Overland Trails in this American history saga. Enhance your journey with facts about the trails that are compiled in an extensive on-line guide book, and record your travels in your personal travel journal. With it's multiple levels of difficulty, Oregon Trail II is perfect for ages 10-adult. The action is never the same as you venture westward as a Greenhorn, advance as an Adventurer, or lead as a Trail Guide. You'll uncover action-packed adventure at each turn in the trail with Oregon Trail II.

Features and Benefits

  • Relive a period in time that changed the United States forever
  • Learn about geography of the Old West
  • Capture experiences and improve writing skills with the built-in journal
  • See over 5,000 photo-realistic images on your way west
  • Listen to hours of digitized speech from over a hundred characters, and motion-picture quality soundtrack

Trail History

The 1840s and 1850s were the peak years of westward migration over the Oregon Trail and other associated western routes--most significantly the California and Mormon Trails. Every spring, hundreds and often thousands of people would gather at one of the popular "jumping-off towns," buy the supplies they would need for the long journey, and set off on the trail in wagon trains sometimes consisting of more than a hundred wagons, though usually the number was considerably less. As has been pointed out by more than one historian, this overland trek represents one of the largest voluntary mass migrations of people in human history.

The western trails had been blazed during the first half of the nineteenth century by intrepid explorers who themselves were often following American Indian trails that had been established long before. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, traveling in the first decade of the century, were among the first and most famous to cover part of this route. But many other lesser-known figures, such as Robert Stuart, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jedediah Smith, Christopher "Kit" Carson, Nathaniel Wyeth, Jim Bridger, James Beckwourth, and John C. Frémont, made important contributions in developing the western trails, sometimes blazing paths that later bore their names.

By the late 1830s, Americans living in the eastern half of North America began to view the territory west of the Mississippi River--only part of which (the Louisiana Purchase) was at that time recognized as U.S. territory--with increased interest. As reports filtered back east of the attractiveness of the far-western country, more and more Americans (as well as immigrants from overseas) were determined to settle the "new land" and to claim it for the United States. The Oregon Country (which included all of the present states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, plus parts of Wyoming and Montana as well as British Columbia) was jointly occupied and controlled by Great Britain and the United States, both of which had strong claims to the region. The equally attractive territory of California, plus other lands due east of it, was part of Mexico. No matter. American settlers were already striking out for Oregon and California.

Although some small groups headed out earlier, the first large, organized wagon train set out from Independence, Missouri, in 1841. But 1843, is often recognized as the "real start" of the Oregon Trail because that was the year of what has come to be known as the "Great Migration." Led by Dr. Marcus Whitman (who had been living in the Oregon Territory for several years but had come back to attract additional settlers as well as support for his mission work) and John Gantt, the Great Migration consisted of 875 persons, roughly 75% of them women and children. The next year was the first in which more than a thousand people traveled west in covered wagons.

Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley remained the predominant destination of the pioneers during the first several years of the migration. But in 1846 and '47, a popular new destination--and new trail--suddenly sprang up: the Great Salt Lake Valley, reached via the Mormon Trail, which began at Nauvoo, Illinois. That was when Brigham Young led the first group of Mormon emigrants to their "promised land" near the Great Salt Lake. During this period, nearly as many people went to Utah as to Oregon.

Before 1849, relatively few emigrants were bound for California, although the California Trail was known and in use. A few small parties went to California earlier, but Elisha Stephens led the first large wagon train over the Sierra Nevadas in 1844. Still, Oregon remained a far more popular destination. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 changed all that. It took a few months for word to spread, but in 1849 the "Gold Rush" was on. More than 20,000 people went to California in that one year alone, while fewer than 500 went to Oregon (whereas nearly three times that many had gone there the year before). Twice as many went to California in 1850. The numbers dropped off somewhat after that, although California would remain the preferred destination for most of the decade.

Not everyone who went to Oregon had their eyes on the Willamette Valley in the northwestern part of the state. The Rogue River Valley in southwestern Oregon also attracted emigrants. The opening in the late 1840s of an offshoot from the California Trail--the Applegate Road, later known as the Lassen Road or the Applegate-Lassen Road--allowed settlers to flood into southern Oregon.

The great era of wagon trains on the western trails was over by 1860. After the Civil War, most of the people who went West would travel by stagecoach (service began in the late 1850s), railroad train (the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869), or ship. Some small groups of wagons would continue west over the old trails as late as the 1880s, but in ever-decreasing numbers.

Here are some facts about the western trails that you may find especially interesting:

  • From 1840 to 1860, the total number of people who traveled the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails in wagon trains is estimated to be between 315,000 and 320,000--well over a quarter-million people. This is widely regarded as one of the largest voluntary mass movements of people in human history, especially in proportional terms: the entire population of the United States during this period went from just over 17 million in 1840 to about 31 million in 1860.
  • Although most of the emigrants survived to begin their new lives in the West, death was a frequent visitor along the trail. It's estimated that between four and six percent of the emigrants died in route--between 12,500 and 20,000 people. That translates to roughly one grave for every 200 yards of trail (the length of two football fields). A disproportionately large number of those who died were either children or elderly people.
  • The four most common causes of death on the western trails were cholera, wagon accidents, drownings during river crossings, and accidental gunshots.
  • Contrary to popular belief, very few emigrants were killed in Indian attacks. During the entire period from 1840 to 1860, fewer than 350 emigrants were killed by Native Americans. That's only about one-tenth of one percent of emigrants. Indian attacks were extremely rare, and most of the ones that did occur happened during the later years of the westward migration, when the emigrants began having a significant negative effect on the American Indian nations of the region (the spread of disease, the decline of the buffalo herds, and increased encroachment on Native land). In fact, encounters of any sort seldom took place between wagon-train emigrants and American Indians.
  • Also contrary to popular perception, most of those who headed west in wagon trains were not poor, impoverished people desperate for a "second chance." Rather, the westward migration was overwhelmingly a middle-class experience. Buying all of the supplies one would need for the journey wasn't cheap. In fact, the cost often amounted to the equivalent of from one to three years' wages for the average person. In short, very few poor people could afford to go west during the period 1840-60. Most of the people who traveled the western trails were relatively well-to-do folks who led comfortable lives back east. But they yearned for even greater opportunity--not to mention sheer adventure. Essentially, most of them were successful people aiming to become more successful.
  • Few people rode in their wagons, which were usually loaded to capacity with valuable supplies. Only very young children (under the age of five or so), the elderly, and the sick had the luxury of riding. Except for those who were fortunate enough to have horses to ride, everyone walked the entire way.
  • Wagon trains rarely traveled in a single-file "line" over the trail. Instead, whenever possible, they "spread out" many wagons abreast in order to avoid choking on each other's dust. Generally it was only through narrow passages where they had no other choice that the wagons traveled single file.
  • Wagon trains did form a circle overnight or during rest periods, but not for protection. It was to corral their animals, making them less likely to stray. For this reason, emigrants always sought out grassy areas for their campsites.
  • Although nearly every wagon party hunted for some food along the way, hunting was not the chief source of food on the trails. Before setting out on their journey, emigrants were advised to stock up on all the food they would need along the way. Hunting was unreliable as a source of food--especially by the late 1850s, when buffalo and other game became increasingly scarce. In addition, emigrants needed a lot more than just meat to survive. A diet consisting exclusively of meat left one susceptible to deficiency diseases.
  • The most common deficiency disease on the trails was scurvy, which is caused by a lack of Vitamin C. People in the nineteenth century didn't know about Vitamin C, but they knew that fruits and vegetables, especially when fresh, could prevent scurvy. But because fresh fruits and vegetables were hard to come by over much of the trail, pioneers would often prevent scurvy by eating pickles that they had brought along with them, pickles being an excellent source of Vitamin C. Vinegar is also a good source of Vitamin C. Emigrants would sometimes create a drink similar in taste to lemonade by watering-down some vinegar and adding sugar.

See Also