Trail Facts

Questions & Answers About the Oregon and California Trails

The trail facts which appear on the OCTA website are the work of Dr. Robert Munkres, our resident historical expert, who compiled them from various sources.

These trail facts may be downloaded for personal reading convenience or to be used in the classroom. For all other uses you must first obtain permission. Contact: 816-252-2276

How many emigrants followed the trails to California, the Pacific Northwest, and Utah?

Probably about 500,000. Perhaps 1 out of every 250 emigrants left some kind of written account. [Merrill Mattes, Platte River Narratives, p, 5.]
painting by William Henry Jackson of covered wagons pulled by oxen in a rocky landscape

How long was the journey from the Missouri

Read about how the journey along the trail was for the emigrants, what they they did to get ready and experienced.

Other questions to ponder: How long did the trek take, on the average? How long did emigrants “lay by” after arriving at the Missouri River before beginning the trek west? When did travel on the Oregon-California Trail begin? Which type of draft animals were most frequently used by overlanders?

aerial overview of confluence of two rivers with light and darker colors

How severe was the threat of Indian attack during the first half of the journey west?

Read about the experiences on the trail the emigrants had when they crossed paths with Indians.

Other questions to read and ponder: Were any white wagon train emigrants ever massacred by Indians? How many emigrants were killed by Indians and vice versa? Many emigrant diaries note the sighting of buffalo. Does anyone know just how many bison actually did exist before whites penetrated the American west?

If they traded, what were some of the things that they traded?

Most accounts describing life on the trail indicate that accidents were an ever-present possibility.

Read some of these questions about what happened on the trail as the emigrants traveled west.

Artist: William Henry Jackson, Scotts Bluff National Monument, National Park Service

Timber was noticeably absent on the Platte-Sweetwater route.

Read about the the emigrants went through on the trails to survive to make a fire, where the crossed rivers (how many times), and the kind of provisions were brought on the wagons.

Read about other questions and ponder: Just how effective as fuel were the buffalo chips most emigrants used as a substitute? Emigrants traveling the south side of the Platte River through central Nebraska had to ford to the South Platte somewhere beyond the forks of the Platte. In terms of present towns, where did they cross? What kind of a load did the average wagon carry? What kind of provisions, daily menu and fuel predominated on the trail?

painting by William Henry Jackson of covered wagons crossing a bridge

Read about what happened on the trail to the emigrants when it came to dealing with crime

man and boy dressed in pioneer clothing walk with group of women in desert landscape