October 29

First Covered Wagons reach California and Oregon in 1841



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

Indian attacks

Guns misfiring

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



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!


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



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



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!










california, covered wagons, oregon trail, trails west

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