Tuesday, February 26

We Were There on the Oregon Trail

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What’s a Mountain Man to do when the fur trade goes south?

May, 1843.  Pioneers left Missouri to head for Willamette Valley in Oregon.  The 2,000 mile long journey tested even the strongest of settlers, as the trail was rough and full of dangers.  Approximately 10% of those who set off on the trail died.  We can still see many grave sites littered through the trail area today.

While dubbed ‘the Oregon Trail,’ it wasn’t really a set trail, but more of a general route west.  Settlers followed the same path, but given all of the shortcuts (or attempted shortcuts), passes, and attempts to avoid dangerous areas, the trail was quite flexible.  The mountain men and fur traders that had traveled the region since its exploration by Lewis & Clark were seeking new jobs as the fur trade died out.  They turned their attention, and their skills, to being trail guides.  Some of them also documented the people, places, and nature found on the trail.

Planning for the journey could take up to a year – there were supplies to be bought, loose ends to tie up at home, and some families needed to earn extra money for the trip.  They traveled to Missouri, often meeting up with other families who were heading west, and set out in wagon trains.  These wagon trains provided protection in numbers.  They could only set off on the journey during a few months, as they needed to reach their destination before the snows came.

Due in part to the Oregon Trail, areas that had once been only log cabins or Indian lands were quickly cleared, planted, and scattered with towns.  California and Oregon became states, and the United States stretched from coast to coast. 

Virtual Field Trip
Our family traveled through Nebraska on the way to South Dakota a few years ago.  When we drove by Chimney Rock, we had to stop and poke around for a bit!

We discovered the Chimney Rock Cemetery, full of graves of the individuals who had died along this stretch of the trail.  While a bit sad, it was pretty amazing to be standing in a place with so much history behind it, looking at a view that had offered hope to weary travelers journeying to a new life!


Make / Do


Define / Identify
  • Use this map....
  • Independence, MO
  • Scotts Bluff
  • Chimney Rock
  • Three Island Crossing
  • pioneer 
  • pathfinder 
  • impressment 
  • nationalism 
  • annex 
  • doctrine 
  • manifest destiny 
  • sectionalism 
  • scarce 
  • opportunity

  • What might the borders of our country look like today without the expansion that occurred along the Oregon Trail?
  • Using this page, choose an individual who traveled the Oregon Trail and summarize his/her journey. What was this person's motivation? Were his or her dreams realized?  Use this pioneer journal to write your findings.

Check out all of our We Were There unit studies!


  1. that was a neat walk along the trail. :)

  2. As always, some really great looking resources here. Thanks for sharing.

  3. We played the card game - good fun. I need to ask our friends to bring it back over for the next game day.

  4. I tried this several years ago and had a terrible time with getting all of it to be straight. I eventually made some shorter, some longer and used that layout.