Early pioneers blazed many trails as they crossed our country to reach the west coast. The first covered wagon reached California after an exhausting and life-threatening trip of over 6 months!
In May of 1841, about 70 people set out from Independence, Missouri, in Conestoga-style wagons, heading towards the west coast. They were determined to be the first pioneers to cross the Rocky Mountains to reach the west coast. Although the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition had reached the Pacific Ocean in 1806, it was many years before the first wagon train reached California.
When this group reached Idaho, they broke in half. The first group headed to Oregon.
The second group set their goals on California, and after much hardship, they reached California on November 4th, 1841.
The travelers going west often encountered these life-threatening problems:
Running out of fresh water and food
Pouring rain, hail, and death by lightning
Falling off horses or mules
Crushed by wagon wheels
Drowning in river crossings
Disease, such as flu, typhoid, dysentery, cholera
Overturned wagons due to rocky terrain
Runaway wagons on inclines
Abandoned wagon trains in desert areas
MAPPING THE TRAILS!
Here are some landmarks of the trails for each of those early groups that set out from Independence, Missouri. Encourage your students to find photos of these places, and describe the terrain.
You can have them mark a map, like our TRAILS WEST map, which shows all the major routes that crossed our country.
Click this image above to see this map in more detail, or see the map HERE!
FIRST WAGON TRAIN TO REACH CALIFORNIA
The settlers heading to California had to Cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains before reaching of Tuolumne County in California. Their route, after leaving Missouri, went like this:
Followed the north shore of the Great Salt Lake
Reached Mary’s River now called the Humbolt River
Traveled to what is now Lovelock Nevada
Followed the Walker River
Crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Reached the area around Mount Diablo, California
FIRST OREGON SETTLERS
The other group of Oregon settlers took a 2,000 mile route. This trail that became known as the “Oregon Trail”.
This is a condensed list of landmarks along their trail:
Started on the banks of the Missouri River
Crossed the land of Kansas
Crossed the southern Sand Hills in southern Nebraska.
Followed the south shore of the Platte River
Passed through southern Wyoming
Crossed mountains to the Great Divide Basin
Passed through the Rocky Mountains via the South Pass in Wyoming
Followed the Snake River (now southern Idaho)
Crossed the Blue Mountains
Worked across land and mountains northwest to the Columbia River
OTHER RELATED RESOURCES
For more maps to share with your students, see this link from the National Park Service.
Firsthand written accounts of taking the Oregon Trail HERE.
See our popular TRAILS WEST map HERE!
See our USA, Regions of Native American Culture map HERE!