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1841 to 1860's

During the nineteenth century, over 300,000 men, women and children traveled the Oregon and California Trails in search of new homes in the west. The trek was a difficult journey and took five months to travel the 2,000 miles by oxen-drawn wagon. Today, you could make the same trip by car in four days or by jet in four hours.

At first the emigrant flood was a trickle. It began in 1841 as a small, lonely caravan of only 58 people in the Bidwell - Bartleson Company followed the trail. Near Soda Springs, half of the party continued to Ft. Hall and across southern Idaho to Oregon, while the smaller half followed the Bear River, crossed the Great Salt Lake Desert and over the Sierra Nevada Mountains to become the first emigrants to follow a land route to California. This first group established what would become the Oregon and the California trails.

This was the beginning of the Great Migration. Two years later, 875 farmers went to Oregon while 38 split at Soda Springs and followed the new California Trail to California. After the Mexican War was over in 1847, an other 4,000 ventured west on the trail.

Who were the people who dared to leave home and hearth and venture into the wilderness? Most were farmers; a few were artisans. After selling their farms, machinery, draft animals and household goods, most had a sizable amount of cash in invest in their trip and to settle on new land. They were also a religious people, mostly Protestant. The discovery of gold in California 1848 dramatically changed the character and experience of traveling the trail. Men dropped everything in a rush to get to California. By the end of 1849, over 25,000 more people traveled the trail and arrived in California. The Gold Rush didn’t end in 1849 and the following year another 55,000 migrated to California and 50,000 more came in 1852.

By the 1860s when interest waned due to Indian scares, over 300,000 had moved west.


# People













Total by 1860 - 300,000 people

Other Research Sources

Why Did They Go?

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How Did They Get There?

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Why Did Most Pioneers Use Oxen to Pull Their Wagons?
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A Mule or an Ox?



  • A mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey

  • An ox is a male cow that has been castrated.

  • Mules are strong and can go fast.

  • Oxen are slower but more reliable.

  • Mules are trickier to handle.

  • Oxen are tougher than mules.

  • Mules tended to bolt and could be stubborn.

  • Oxen are very strong and could pull a fully loaded wagon up ravines or out of mud holes.
  • Mules needed better quality grass.

  • Oxen can live on poor quality grass.

  • You needed a team of six oxen to pull a fully loaded wagon.

  • 50 - 75% of all wagons on the Oregon Trail were pulled by oxen.

What New Words Did They Use?

The Oregon Trail - Class 5D





Student Product

Student QR Code

Louisiana Purchase

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1804 - 1806
Lewis & Clark
Clark, William.png Meriwether Lewis.jpg

Journey of Discovery
Brown Map Louisiana Purchase.png

1807 - 1808
John Colter
Mountain Man Who
Explored Wyoming
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1846 - The Applegate Trail

5C Jodie
5C Jodie Oregon Trail.png

1804 - Indian Removal Act

5C Farhat
5CFarhat Indian Removal Act.png

What Music Did They Like In This Time?

[American Memory]
[American Memory]

Popular Song of the Time - "Wait for the Wagon"

Click on the image and then Download version 1 to listen to the music!
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Popular Song of the Time - "To the West!" - Sorry, no audio on this one. But read the lyrics~

America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets
To the West! H. De Marsan, Publisher, 54 Chatham Street, N.Y.
Library of Congress

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Library of Congress Resource Page