Once their provisions were purchased and the wagons loaded, the eager pioneers started their tedious journey, usually in April or May. In the beginning everything seemed like a fantastic adventure, but it soon became a monotonous routine. At 4:00 o’clock in the morning, the watchman fired his rifle to announce a new day. While the men yoked the oxen and reloaded the wagons, the women-folk lit fires and cooked their breakfast of coffee, bacon, and johnnycakes. On the prairie, trees were scarce and they used buffalo chips (dried buffalo droppings) in place of firewood. At 7:00 in the morning the pilot or wagon master blew a trumpet or bugle to get the wagons started. If a wagon was slow to get in their assigned position they had to ride at the back of the wagon train and would soon be covered with dust. Each day the wagon in front was changed so every family had a chance to be free from the dust of the other wagons. At noon they stopped for the midday meal which consisted of leftovers from breakfast. During nooning, the animals were given a much needed hour’s rest. Continuing their journey, they stopped at 6:00 o’clock in the evening to make camp. The wagons were placed in a circle and attached together using the oxen’s chains. The area inside the circle was used as the campground and also gave the pioneers protection. Soon a crackling fire was blazing and a dinner of rice and beans or bacon, bread, and occasionally a pie, was prepared. By 9:00 a quiet settled over the weary wagon train. As they slipped into an exhausted slumber, the fatigues of the day disappeared and they would be refreshed when morning came. Each day was much like the last.

The early pioneers relied on landmarks to determine their progress and assure them they were on the right track. An average of 12–15 miles were traveled each day. Whenever possible, they followed major rivers such as the North Platte, Sweetwater, Snake, and Columbia. This allowed them to have a constant water supply, but when it was impossible to follow a river they suffered greatly from thirst. Some major landmarks along the Trail included Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, Register Cliff, Independence Rock, South Pass, Soda Springs, and Fort Hall. Once the pioneers reached their Promised Land, the Willamette Valley, they began the grueling work of cutting logs to make shelters for themselves and their animals before winter set in.

The men, women, and children who traveled the Oregon Trail probably never realized that their sacrifices and hardships would be remembered almost two centuries later. In a harsh and vast wilderness they marked out a trail that was followed by thousands of other enterprising pioneers. Soon the number of Americans living in Oregon outnumbered the British. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 set the Canadian boarder at the 49th parallel thus making Oregon a U.S. territory. In 1859, Oregon joined the Union as the thirty-third state. The daring pioneers who settled in Oregon had found their Promised Land, a place of fertile soil with delightful surroundings. Through their bravery and perseverance they carved a home out of the wilderness.

Amy Puetz, a homeschool graduate, loves history, sewing, and working as a computer graphic artist for her company A to Z Designs. She is also the author of the exciting book Costumes with Character.  Visit her website at www.AmyPuetz.com. She makes her home in Wright, Wyoming.

This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr ’07 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com