Traveling Westward

I’m gearing up for a trip to the West Coast next week, and I’m sympathizing with the hundreds of thousands of people who made the trip along the Oregon Trail in the 1800s. I feel the stress and anticipation they must have felt before traveling.

How Many People Traveled the Oregon Trail? is one of our new Spring ‘12 books in the Six Questions of American History series, and author Miriam Aronin’s narrative brings the journey to life. The historical information and individual stories she weaves together show readers that pioneers who made the journey to reach a new life in Oregon Country faced challenges that were really not so different from those faced by travelers today.


For example:

  • Travelers from eastern states had quite a journey before they even reached the “jumping off” point–most commonly Independence, Missouri—where they bought a wagon and other supplies for the trail and made final preparations for the 2,000-mile trek. I may also have an arduous pre-travel trip, depending on the congestion on I-35W on the way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, and will likely need to stock up on food at the airport before the flight.
  • Pioneers usually sold most of their possessions before embarking on the journey, as they could only take with them what fit in a prairie schooner wagon, about 4 feet by 10 or 12 feet. For my journey, I will endure a difficult selection process when I inevitably have to weed out about half of the clothing I want to take in order for it all to fit in my carry-on luggage.
  • People faced serious health risks on the Oregon Trail. In addition to sheer exhaustion from walking alongside the wagon every day for four to six months, and the threat of freezing temperatures, injuries from accidents, and starvation, Oregon Trail travelers faced diseases such as cholera, dysentery, diphtheria, and typhoid fever. In the same vein, my own health will be in jeopardy while trapped in an airtight vessel with hundreds of other travelers and their germs.
  • Travelers were often delayed for several days during the trip when the varied, rough trail conditions took a toll on the wagon or the animals pulling it, and repairs or healing time was needed. Similarly. . . no, nevermind, I’m sure there will be absolutely nothing of the sort on my trip. Who’s ever of heard of an airline delay?  

Happy travels!