Imagine an deep economic depression. Add in heightened political animosities and incessant war-mongering. Top it off with a spicy dash of blatant religious persecution. Now extend an irresistible offer for free land, 320 acres to be exact, in wide open and fertile spaces. Perhaps there’s even a little gold to be found on that land.
A chance for a Do Over in tough times.
But like all free offers, there’s a catch.
Almost 2,000 miles of heat, dust, cholera microbes, impassable mountains, frostbite, hunger and fast moving rivers lie between you and those 320 acres of Fresh Start. And even before you can take that first step to freedom, everything you own must fit into a box measuring only four feet across and twenty-one feet in length. And that’s without calculating in the necessary food, water and ammunition supplies. And did those real estate agents happen to mention most of your traveling would be via foot?
Yet almost 200,000 people did just that.
Between 1841 and 1869, the Oregon Trail was traveled by settlers looking to escape the economic downturn, missionaries seeking to proselytize, Mormons escaping persecution, gold-seekers, the Overland Stage line and eventually, the Pony Express.(1) The four to six month journey spanned over half the continent as the wagon trail proceeded west through territories and land later to become six U.S. states: Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Extensions of the Oregon Trail became the main arteries feeding settlers into six more states: Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Washington, and Montana.(2) Continue reading