The Oregon Trail

This letter to a friend is written by a farmer’s wife travelling with her husband and children along the Oregon Trail in mid-1840s.

Dear Jane,

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Blessed be the hour when I can see you again, for the way seems endless and the barriers insurmountable. When we lost our farm[1], I was looking to our trip as to a journey to the Promised Land, but now the everyday hardships are challenging this faith. However, John tells me to stay strong and so I do.

During the three months on the road, I have seen more than ever before, so in case you and Paul decide to undertake this trip, the following advice may be of use to you. For your journey, it is vital to buy a good tent and a nice sturdy wagon to move all the belongings and supplies. I would rather recommend a prairie schooner, which is much lighter than a normal Conestoga wagon and driven by oxen.

They move slower than mules, but are much cheaper (as they can easily find food for themselves) and not so likely to be stolen by the Indians [2]. As for provisions, make sure you have enough flour, salt, sugar, tea and coffee, dried beans and fruit, corn and rice. I would not advice to take anything perishable, as it is more a burden than a benefit on this trip; but if you have extra dried goods, you can always change them for travel clothes and moccasins in the mountains[3]. Meat is not a problem here, as wild fowl and game are abundant here, so rifles and ammunition will never be extra.

Do not forget to reserve a good sheet-iron stove for your journey as well, since wood is scarce here and a stove is very convenient. As a setting-out point, I would rather advice St. Joseph, since you can avoid crossing several streams which can be very high (several of our fellow-travelers even drowned in them, which was a sad and dramatic occurrence for their families)[4].

The routine at our camp starts before sunrise, and we travel most part of the day. One of the biggest discomforts is caused by violent windstorms that scatter our tents and wagons and set the cattle stampeding wildly into the unknown. To protect us somehow from the devastation of the storms, our men have invented a simple yet ingenious trick: as soon as the first signs of storm appear, we group the wagons in small circles with oxen chained inside the circles[5].

One day we were confused by the thunder-like sounds and a heavy dark cloud approaching us, which we first took for a sand-storm. As the cloud drew nearer, we felt the ground trembling and recognized thousands of buffalos rushing past. Happily, they were left on the other side of the stream and did not ruin the camp; otherwise I doubt I would be writing these lines now.

Another danger lurks inside the camp itself: I would have never expected it, but I witness many people, especially little children, getting trampled down by the wagons in the general confusion. That is why I always take care my little ones are in a plain view and never let them go too far away from our wagon. There is another reason for it: although the Indians we have met so far appear to be peaceful, I would not trust these daubed savages anyway, hearing the rumors of their cruelty.

It is late now, and tomorrow is another early start, so I cease my writing for a while and hope that this letter brings composure to you. I hope for the best and send blessings to your family. Love, Mary.

Bibliography

Federal Writers’ Project. Oregon Trail: The Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. Murietta, CA: US History Publishers, 1939. Print.

Hill, William E. The Oregon Trail, Yesterday and Today. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Press, 1986. Print.

Olson, Stephen P. The Oregon Trail: A Primary Source History of the Route to the American West. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003. Print.

Olson, Stephen P. The Oregon Trail: A Primary Source History of the Route to the American West. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003. Print. P. 32. ^
Federal Writers’ Project. Oregon Trail: The Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. Murietta, CA: US History Publishers, 1939. Print. P. 220. ^
Ibid., pp. 221–222. ^
Federal Writers’ Project. Oregon Trail: The Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. Murietta, CA: US History Publishers, 1939. Print. P. 222. ^
Hill, William E. The Oregon Trail, Yesterday and Today. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Press, 1986. Print. P. 53 ^

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