The Oregon Trail (also known as the Oregon-California trial) was a 2,200 mile route stretching from Missouri to Oregon that was travelled by the early Wild West pioneers in the 1800s. The trail was the only way for settlers to reach the West Coast via land and over 500,000 have made the trip with ox and mule wagons before the first transcontinental railroad was completed. Wagons that could travel at a speed of 15 miles a day took between four and six months to complete the trip via the Oregon Trial, while taking the sea route took a full year.
Origins of the Trial
Originally, what became the Oregon Trail used to be a series of unconnected Native American trails. The route was then expanded by Fur Traders who used it to transport their pelts to meeting points and trading posts. Missionaries also used the fairly faint trail in the 1830s to establish churches in the Northwest. It was only by the 1840s when the trail however started to be used on a larger scale by the first settlers after Joel Walker made the trip with a family. In 1843, wagon trains of 120 wagons, 800 people and 5,000 cattle used the trail and in 1848 gold diggers also flocked to California via the trail. Towns, trading posts, military posts and smaller roads sprang off the Oregon Trial for the next 30 years.
With the completion of the Central Pacific and the Portland, Oregon, Union Pacific railroads between 1869 and 1884 the use of the Oregon Trail started to decline rapidly. Travelling by train simply became a shorter, safer and more comfortable option.