The pioneers who set out along the Oregon and California Trails packed their supplies and their belongings into wagons. By the 1840s, all the lands to the west of the Mississippi River had become part of the United States. People heard that Oregon, on the Pacific coast, was lush and green. With so little farming land available in the east, many decided to leave their homes for ever and make the 3000-kilometre (1900-mile) journey west. Over the next 25 years, around half a million people trudged along what came to be known as the Oregon and California trails. But it was a hard and dangerous trip across the “Great American Desert”. Many fell victim to disease, and almost all suffered from hunger, thirst and exhaustion.
The routes of the Oregon and California trailsThe Oregon Trail connected towns along the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. The trail was marked by fur trappers from 1811 onwards, but it was not until 1841 that it became entirely passable by wagons. From 1843, the eastern part of the trail was also used by travellers on the California Trail, which branched southwards to the fertile land and goldfields of California. After 1847, Mormon travellers also used the Oregon Trail before branching on to the Mormon Trail. This led to Salt Lake City, in Utah, where Mormon pioneers established a centre for the Mormon Church.
From 1830 to 1869 the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by about 500,000 settlers, miners, businessmen and their families.
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