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December 10, 1987

Pix #1 - a view of a large plane of sagebrush along the Snake River, Idaho, photographed in 1910 when Ezra Meeker passed through that area. Meeker and his team covered wagon is in the central portion of the photo.

Pix #2 - A view of The Oregon Trail as Meeker saw it near Thirty Two Mile Creek Crossing, Nebraska. Note how the two parallel trails come together on the ascending ground. Trails were four feet deep on the lower level and near seven on the upper.

Pix #3 - Shoshone Falls, known as Niagara of the west, with its plunge of 212 feet. It is located along Snake River, Idado. Seen by meeker on his Oregon Trail trip.

Pix #4 - Castle Rock, an almost inaccessable scene along Snake River, Idaho. Seen by Meeker on his trip on The Oregon Trail.

If last week's article, an introductory chapter about the Oregon Trail excited you, and you are anxious to learn more about how the western land of America was open and settled, then you will be interested in the rest of the great saga.

Although the information is contained in three books, mentioned in last week's column. The Oregon Trail Revisited, by Gregory M. Franzwa provides much detail and is well presented, so it is from it this article is primarily assembled.

The younger generation of readers of this article, those who are avid historians, travelers and especially interested in our country's early expansion and development, will find today's article contains the necessary information to travel the route of those early settlers especially owners of campers, cans, etc.


(Excerpts from The Oregon Trail Revisited)

Oregon in 1820 was a lot of things to a lot of people. but one thing it wasn't...the Oregon with the doundaries we know today. It started somewhere in the Rocky Mountains (it is a fact that no one knew exactly where) and preceded west to the Pacific Ocean. On the south, at the 42nd parallel, was Mexico, or more specifically that part of Mexico known as California. On the north, 54 degrees 40 foot, and Russian Territory. That was about as close as anyone could get but that was close enough.

The American people knew the things that were important; such as, the land was full of beaver, and beaver pelts wer nothing less than hairy money.

You could get there from St. Louis, but as meredith Lewis and William Clark had reported in 1806, it was one tough job.

The Missouri River will take you near there if you are in no big hurry...but it goes almost everywhere first. The Columbia, the Great River of the West abounded in salmon, and somebody ought to be able to make a living off of that some way.

And most important, there was a valley out there was a valley out there, a long, wide one where the ground was more fertile than anywhere else on earth. There was plenty of rainfall, it was warm in the winter, comfortable in the summer, and the Indians couldn't care less in any white man came around... and there was plenty of land along the Williamette for everybody.


Many American families who had settled anywhere in the eastern sector of the U.S. and as far west as St. Louis, were enticed by the reports of the opportunity to claim new land in the West and start a new life there. And there were those adventurers who were anxious to organize groups of people for the trips.

Scores of brave, adventurous people had set out to reach that "promised land" and many had died along the way. But, it was in the 1830's that the course of Oregon emigration was chnaged. In 1930 Jed Smith, Bill Subblette and Dave Jackson took a caravan of 81 men from St. Louis to the rendezvous in the Wind River Mountains, at the mouth of the Popo Agie River, near present Riverton, Wyoming. All were mounted on mules. The differences between this and earlier caravans was this one rolled on wheels; 10 wagons drawn by four mules each, and two one-mule dearborns. A dozen beef cattle and one milk cow completed the caravan.


They didn't have to wait long. In 1832, Capt. Benjamin E. Bonneville, on leave from the U.S. Army, assembled a train at Ft. Osage on the eastern edge of Jackson Co., MO., and moved west by land...landing northeast of Independence, over the bottoms of the Missouri River, across the rock ledges of what is now downtown Kansas City, and onto the old Chouteau fur trail to the mountains. His wagons crossed the divide at the familiar South Pass, headed to the northwest. He built his fort in western Wyoming on the Green.

That was enough to excite the nation. Now the dreamers could dream reality. In 1836 they would see Dr. Marcus Whitman with only two wheels get almost to the Columbia. The farmers of Iowa, Virginia and Georgia already knew all they wanted to know. The West was open. Wagons could move there if they were built right and in a few years they themselves would quit this vale of tears and get out there in the promised land where they belonged. (End of excerpt from The Oregon Trail Revisited).

(Author's Note: In conversation with The Patrice Press, publisher of "The Oregon Trail Revisited", I learned that the book is still available at $6.95. They have a toll free number: 1-800-367-9242. Readers interested in this series of articles and wanting all of the thrilling reading, wich cannot possibly be included in this series of articles, may wish to procure a copy at that attractive price.


They didn't roll over the mountains but at least they got to them. A nation hungry for news from this thrilling land noted this, and waited until some- body could get a wagon all the way.

Wagon transport was absolutely essentail to mass emigration. The wagons were needed to haul a family's personal possessions, to transport the provisions not only for the five month haul but to sustain the family until the crops planted the following spring were harvested.

The wealthy could emigrate by sailing ship around the Horn, and up the west coast, or by ship to Panama, across the neck of land by pack mule, and by ship to the Pacified Northwest. The cost either way was $300 a head. By wagon a whole family, their personal belongings and their livestock could move to the West for $200. The nation waited and watched.

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