“Deep Is The Grave, And Silent:” Death And Mourning On The Oregon-California Trails

Publication: University of Wyoming, Thesis

Author: Andrea May Binder

Date of Publication: May 2011

PDF File: Death-and-Mourning-on-Trails.pdf


Death was a difficult and lonely event on the plains when many families traveled without close kin or the same support groups they relied on back in their settled lives. In addition, they often lacked the time, materials, and rituals that mark death and burial in more established communities making the transition even more difficult. Previous scholars of the Oregon-California Trail have maintained that due to the necessities of keeping speed on the trail, scarcity of resources and an emotional detachment to death, emigrants put little effort into mourning the deceased and rushed through burials, sometimes merely throwing dirt on top of the corpse. However, using diaries and letters from the Oregon and California Trails, it is possible to demonstrate that deaths could not be separated from the ritualized mourning and burial practices typical of nineteenth century United States culture.