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Discovery of the Oregon Territory

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Throughout the horrific and rugged of the Oregon trail, an immense amount of travelers fell victims to death. Just between the years 1840-1846– the one period when the Oregon trail had gained most attraction from colonists— a total of 15,000 people died on this expedition of emigration from East to West. These hardship did however generate a vast triumph, which was a tremendous step in the direction of a bright and significant development for for what would come to be known as the state of Oregon, specifically, and the West Coast as a whole. These were the major tragedies and triumphs of the Oregon trail.

The Manifest of destiny is what triggered the great Westward expansion across the nation. Colonists all over the states were settling the West of the United States. They believed that they had a quest given to them from God to expand their land and teach Native Americans of, what they believed, was the true meaning of life. The Westward Expansion led to the influence of the journey to Oregon. People from Independence, Missouri desired more land for farming and to settle on. People began to move from the East, discovering new territory. In actuality, the first people to discover Oregon, were Lewis and Clark.

Their journey held great significance for the trek to Oregon.. “No exploration of the Oregon Country has greater historical significance than the Voyage of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…in 1805-1806…” (oregonencyclopedia.org) Lewis and Clark’s journey is what first led to the idea of further exploring and settling, what was then known as the Oregon territory. However, it wasn’t until over 30 years later that people started to settle Oregon territory on a journey now known as the Oregon trail. Oregon City, Oregon was the final destination for settlers. The beginning point, was Independence, Missouri. As a guideline fir their expedition, pioneers followed multiple Rivers, such as the Platte, Snake, and Columbia. Unfortunately, they were also forced to cross through the Rocky mountains, as there was no way around them.

The Oregon trail was actually established because of a senator from Missouri, named Linn, who desired to expand American land to the Oregon territory. He sought to offer land to settlers, for no charge of money. This highly intrigued colonists around the nation. They desired this great farmland which they would not have to pay for, unlike land in the entirety of the nation. So, the senator sent a bill to Congress. In 1841, Congress passed the bill. This allowed settlers to begin their journey West.

Near 1841, the “…Western Emigration Society left Missouri for Oregon…” (Wikipedia.org/Oregon trail) These were the first groups of settlers to begin this unexpectedly horrifying expedition. John Bidwell and Captain John Bartelson, from the Army, gathered a large group and set off on an expedition to Oregon. They originally did not desire to head towards Oregon. However, a very large portion of the group, interestingly enough, instead decided to split apart and head for Oregon.

Meanwhile, a man named Marcus Whitman, one of the very first travelers of the journey, set off to Oregon himself. On the way, Whitman encountered the pioneers who had split to travel towards Oregon. At the Platte River, he decided to join them during their trip. Upon the encounter of this group, Whitman became a leader to them. He made many important decisions along the way. It was in fact his own idea to stop at the Columbia River, and instead of trying to go across it, he decided to float along the river to their desired location. By 1846, this first group of pioneers to reach Oregon, finally made it to their desired destination.

The journey West on the Oregon Trail turned out to be severely strenuous. It was a whole 2,147 miles and took colonists an average of 5 months to complete. Travelers were going significantly fast, over ten miles an hour, considering the oads being brought along eith them. Ten percent of the first settlers died on the way there, unfortunately. There were many challenges and moments of adversity for travellers of the Oregon Trail.

Examples of the horrific adversity which settlers experienced along the journey included, “…death due to accidents, indian attacks, supply shortages, weather, drowning, disease, terrain, and even medicine.” (oregontrailrus.weebly.com) As evident, people along the expedition faced numerous amounts of difficulty and danger. To imagine what the pioneers went through would be quite difficult for anyone living in the 21st century. This was in fact a true tragedy. Another challenge faced by most settlers was their usage of money along the Oregon Trail. They didn’t want to use all of it in order to sustain some net worth, but they also needed to use it for certain supplies and services.

These hardships were all tragedies, as was winter for the settlers. This was exceptionally difficult for children, who were as young as seven months old. Not all of the emigrants had shoes, as previously mentioned, or aquired very little clothing. This would lead to people becoming ill, getting hypothermia, and some even dying. For the first people to set off on the journey, this was even worse. They possessed no substantial or significant information about the weather or climate there, or the geographical terrain of the trail.

The Oregon Trail is what determined what Oregon would really look like and be. Oregon most likely, would have been settled at a much later time. For all we know, the entire West Coast may not be at the stage it currently is in, and state borders would be most likely be different than currently. “If it wasn’t for the Oregon Trail most western states would not look like how they do today.” (oregontrailrus.com) This would mean that even cities like Seattle would have been much less developed and populated than they currently are. The brave settlers and pioneers who set out on this journey were looking for a better life, and to establish for themselves a new legacy.

This however, was not the only reason for setting out West to Oregon. “Oregon’s pioneers weren’t only propelled by the simple motives I learned as a child—hope, bravery, wanderlust, the desire for something better. That’s part of the story, but…They were also the answer to appeals for colonists who would rescue the Northwest from England, staking a claim for American empire by settling in contested territory.” (theatlantic.com) Colonists all over the nation were astonished by the great pioneers who attained this vast region of the same continent from the British. This new Oregon territory and the territories surrounding it are all now states with large and important cities. Had it not been for the Oregon trail, there is no way of knowing whether they would be the way they currently are, or whether there would still be British rule upon the Northwest.

A large, however negative, impact of the Oregon trail is what occurred to the natives living on the land that was conquered by the Oregon trail. “The cholera epidemic of 1849 killed perhaps half of those [Native tribe: Pawnee] remaining.” (octa-trails.org) During the late 1840’s, there was a widespread epidemic of the lethal disease of cholera. With the arrival of wagon trains along the Oregon territory and the rest of the West, came cholera as well. While cholera was deadly to white settlers, it was much more severe for Natives. Native Americans were not exposed to any diseases such as cholera before, so their immune systems were much weaker than those of colonists. This led to an extremely tragic time period for all people living in the colonies and territories, especially for Native Americans, who had no defense or medicine to prevent these diseases.

A more positive impact of the Oregon trail was that it helped move settlers and colonists from the East to the West of the states. The population within the nation was at a rapid growth, so the expansion to the West from 1841, was a convenient method of drawing settlers away from the dense and overpopulated East. Quite importantly, it was a way for people to get across the U.S., because up until that point, there was no other way of doing so. “The Oregon Trail completely changed the United States because it was the only possible way to get to the West, other than going all the way around South America.” (oregontrailrus.weebly.com)

In conclusion, the Oregon trail will come down in our nation’s history as one of the most grueling, yet significant building block of our country today. Proving the courageous American spirit, this specific time period of the 1841-1846, will truly display the sacrifices made by pioneers to achieve a new great legacy. We should all be thankful and remember what has happened in our nation’s history, not only when it comes to the Oregon trail. Every aspect has had some sort of triumph and tragedy, and we must respect and never forget both the triumphs and tragedies, for without our past, the present wouldn’t be the same, and we wouldn’t be able to better our future.

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