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No two journeys over the Oregon Trail were the same. For some the overland trip was a carefree and scenic experience of a lifetime. Unencumbered by accident, disease, or misfortune theirs was an adventure-filled, if not a romantic affair. For others the cross-country trek was nothing short of grueling, with unexpected hardships and unbearable heartaches. They experienced intolerable extremes of weather, lacked the basic necessities of food, water, and shelter, and witnessed inconceivable human behavior.
When the wagon train era began in the 1840s, thousands of courageous "emigrants" left behind the America they knew and traveled into uncharted territory across unfamiliar terrain-at times unsure of the route, much less what to expect ahead. West of the Missouri River towns was a wild frontier as foreign to them as living in a space station seems to us today.
The floodtide of emigrants over westward trails began as a trickle and evolved into a tidal wave that left the Native Americans overwhelmed by the sheer volume of trespassers.Caught up in the "Oregon Fever," the emigrants were collectively driven toward fresh horizons, and thus the caravans of wagons began rolling westward. Perhaps it was the chance for a better life, free land, the hope to strike it rich, the desire to unite the land as one nation, or simply an adventuresome spirit that led them to leave behind their lives in the eastern United States. In the span of forty-five short years the United States went from being a country made up of towns mostly scattered along the Atlantic Coast to a nation that stretched from sea to shining sea.
There are several myths about the settlement of the West that need to be dispelled in order to gain a clear understanding of this time in American history. The first is that the Oregon Trail was one long, continuous road. More accurately it was like a network of blood vessels that meandered westward gathering into a pulsating vein in the vicinity of Fort Kearney, Nebraska. Given to the proclivity of human nature to find a shortcut, many cutoffs were defined from the main route.
The second myth involves the image of a single-file line of wagons heading toward the setting sun. In actuality an array of wagons spread out one abreast of the other to avoid the choking dust. A caravan was often miles wide, due to the natural detours caused by changes in river courses or the necessity for finding available grass and fresh campsites.
Third is the misconception that men tamed the west alone with their brute strength. Largely ignored by historians is the importance that women played in settling and civilizing the wild frontier. Their strength and courage under adverse conditions saw their families through unfathomable situations.
The fourth myth is that travelers over the Oregon Trail were a homogeneous group of Caucasian American citizens. The Oregon Trail opened its doors to many immigrants who left their homelands for a better life. It was a melting pot of hopefuls with diverse ethnic backgrounds: Germans, Poles, Irish, Asians, Greeks, Russians, and African Americans, both slave and free.
Absorbed into the American psyche is the fifth myth that travelers over the Oregon Trail were constantly in danger of attack by Indians. In fact, Indian attacks were rare, though cultural ignorance on the part of the emigrants was cause for misunderstandings. While atrocities were committed on both sides, only the attacks by Indians were highly publicized. Though the emigrants were initially given wide berth by the local tribes, the years of conflict between the Indians and the U.S. military that followed were the result of the Indians' refusal to simply give over their land to those who were encroaching upon it. The U.S. government and those who engulfed the continent for the most part turned a blind eye to the plight of the Native American cultures.
A final myth is that the Oregon Trail was simply a corridor conveying a people from one coast to another. Though at first seen as the "Great American Desert" over which the emigrants leap-frogged, the interior of the continent was later claimed and settled by people who traveled part of the way on the Oregon Trail. Soon the frontier had disappeared.
Migratory animals following the path of least resistance to water sources first defined the trail. Then came the Indians hunting their game. Next came explorers, trappers, and traders. Following on their heels were the missionaries taking the westward paths in search of souls to save. As soon as it was proven that wagons could make it across the path, it wasn't long before emigrants chose to follow their own dreams of a better life. The west had become a symbol of health, wealth, and freedom. Today, almost all traces of the Oregon Trail are 0 covered by railroads and highways.
What was it that separated those who chose to travel 2,170 miles to the Pacific Ocean over the Oregon Trail from those who never entertained such a notion? No one knows. Only the stories of some of those who chose to make the journey remain to speak of the decision and its impact. It was an exhausting trek that these hardy and headstrong souls took as they pushed wearily onward. The path led some to a land that held their dreams and aspirations. For others it took them one step closer to their grave.
The faith and determination of these brave men, women, and children to overcome any obstacle, physical or emotional, enabled most of them to be victorious in reaching their destinations. The tenacity, fortitude, courage, and adventuresome spirit of the emigrants and immigrants in the largest mass migration in this country's history remain unrivaled. Their reasons for taking on the trail may have been simple, but it is the complexity of the journey that intrigues us today.
This book offers an insight into the life stories of thirty heroic individuals, who with or without the support of their families, ventured into lands unknown. All the stories are true and are substantiated with facts and details uncovered by extensive research including conversations or interviews with descendants. On occasion, when details were not available, particulars were inserted commensurate with conditions appropriate to the time.
Posted January 5, 2007
This is a wonderful and easy read that captures the strains, toils and joys that happened on the voyage out west. The author did a very good job of crafting a series of individual stories together into a mosaic. The stories collectively provide insight into the feelings of our brave ancestors, who set out on such a dangerous voyage, all to create a better life for their family. I would highly recommend it, especially so for the school kids!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2007
I cannot begin to tell you how much I am enjoying each and every chapter of It Happened on the Oregon Trail. I am so intrigued by every story. I find it fascinating, as if I really knew each individual and their plight. Your writing is so descriptive. How interesting doctors, writers, judges, entrepreneurs. I find I want to discuss each story with you. I am in awe. You have done an outstanding job of capturing each party or individual, their woes, accomplishments, heartaches. I visually can see each mini story, see them on the trail while I read it. Just incredible!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2005
A native resident of southeastern U.S., Tricia Martineau Wagner, while living in California, became captivated by western history, especially the means by which the U.S. became a nation that spanned the continent. Her interest led her to write intriguing stories of those who lived the reality of life on the westward trail while crossing a vast wilderness from Missouri, stretching over 2.000 miles, to the bewildering heights of the Rocky Mountains. She depicts a variety of experiences of men, women and children who walked the dusty, long trail midst their worst enemies--time, disease and weather. Tricia's superlative narration swiftly binds the reader to the lives of these historic characters, bringing them vividly to life in the minds-eye. Her twenty-nine factual short stories reveal meticulous research shown in the bibliography. Being a descendant of Rebecca Burdick Winters, the focus of Tricia's last story, I felt again the love and sacrifice of a pioneer mother for family, religion, and friends while reading Tricia's rendition of Rebecca's death by cholera on the plains. Others who felt of Rebecca's love returned that love by burying her body deeply and staying up through the night chiseling her identity into a tire iron to place as her head stone. Rebecca's love did not end with her death, but continued to inspire her family 144 years later when they exhumed her remains for a more proper burial. Rebecca's love still continues, as Tricia later wrote, 'Rebecca is working through us all.' The entire book opens a little-known frontier of knowledge of an era that each of us can experience vicariously through Tricia's exceptionally well written book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 6, 2005
These stories make it posible for kids to understand the people who journeyed on the Oregan Trail were real people who did amazing things to survive. The people come alive and you can feel their trials and hardships.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.