The Oregon Trail

Oregon Trail Wagon Train 6Good morning!  I’m excited to announce I’ve been tapped to write book 3 in a publisher-generated, three-author series coming from Harlequin’s Love Inspired Historical line in 2015.  The series will focus on two sisters and a brother, the Hewitts, and will follow these three siblings as they travel west on the Oregon Trail.


I’ve only just scratched the surface in my research, which is my fancy way of saying I haven’t really started digging into the story of the Oregon Trail.   Thus, for today I’ll share with you an overview of the Oregon Trail.  As the weeks (and months) follow I’ll share more detailed information, another fancy way of saying when I know more you’ll get more.

Oregon Trail Wagon Train 4

So, what was the Oregon Trail?  It was a 2,000-mile wheeled-wagon route that connected the Missouri River to various valleys in Oregon.  The first caravan went to Oregan in 1841.  It’s estimated that 300,000 people crosssed in the twenty years following this first trip.  The epoch years were 1846-1869.




Oregon Trail Wagon Train 2

The route started in Independence, Missouri and ended in either Oregon City or the gold fields in California.  Since my book ends in Oregon City I’ll be focusing on the northern route.  This was not an easy journey, but became easier and faster every year as roads were improved, cutouts were created, and ferries and bridges were added along the way.

The first land route was mapped by Lewis and Clark.  Fur traders followed.  Army outposts were built.  Missionaries soon joined the migration.  Men seeking their fortunes in the California gold mines weren’t long behind.  Eventually emigrants looking for a better life made the journey.

The latter groups traveled by covered wagon, which led to the rapid development of prairie schooners, pulled by four to six oxen or six to ten mules.  As I continue to blog about the Oregon trail I’ll give more detailed mentions of what the emigrants brought with them.  Oregon Trail Wagon Train 3






This picture says it all. Crossing the country on the Oregon Trail was HARD!!!!  What do you think?  Would you have joined in the journey?

Oregon Trail wagon train

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27 thoughts on “The Oregon Trail”

  1. It sounds like it would have been a tough commute. If I lived back then and had the same urge as I do now (to see new things), I probably would have done it.

  2. Renee, congratulations on your new contract. How exciting!

    Would I have done it? I probably would have. It was a tough journey for sure, but life wasn’t all that easy back home. Living on a farm with no heat, electricity or running water wasn’t all that different than living in a covered wagon.

  3. Congrats on the new book deal, Renee. Super excited for you! I’ve always been fascinated by the Oregon Trail. Walking and driving wagons cross-country for months. So exhausting. Yet these people we driven by hope. Hope for a better life, for land of their own, for a future for their children. Hope is a powerful force.

  4. Karen, you’re so right! My characters are leaving Philadelphia after tragically losing everything. Why not take a chance? I need to work harder at getting into that mind-set. I’m finding I’m a stay-at-home kind of gal. Of course, that could be because my husband’s job has moved us six times in twelve years. I want some permanence!

  5. I think it’s hard for us, today, to imagine the lure of the west. I think that pioneer spirit is so quiet in us now because honestly there just is no … oh… like POT OF GOLD at the end of the Oregon Trail Rainbow, you know?

    Imagine though if you were say…an Irish Immigrant, stuck in one of those teeming eastern cities, and you read a sign that says, “160 acres of land free if you live on it for five years and build on it.”

    These people were almost certainly poor in Ireland, maybe the smallest of small farmers there, driven out by the potato famine, to end up in New York City, a place so huge and strange.

    And there’s that sign for land.

    How could you NOT go. How could everyone with a dream of home and land NOT grab that offer?

    And yes it was hard, but thousands of people were going at least by the time the trail was well established. It wasn’t like you were setting off on your own like the fur traders did. Those were a different kind of man.

  6. Hope triumphs hardship and remember many of these pioneers were already living hard lives. They were leaving nothing behind in the cities except poverty and overcrowded living conditions.

  7. Mary, you said it so well I can’t think how to comment! LOL Seriously, land ownership had to appeal, as it still does today. Who doesn’t want a piece of property to call their own?

  8. Yowzers, congratulations to you, my talented friend! As a kid I wanted nothing more than being a pioneer…but as a big girl who likes indoor plumbing and antibiotics and Marriott hotels, I think I don’t have the stamina. Oh, and I’m researching the Donner party too for my next YA. So many decisions to make and so many times, they went wrong.

    But…folks wanting to make their dreams come true need to take risks. So glad they did.

    You can go catch a glimpse of Chimney Rock once in a while for inspiration!

    Hugs and best wishes for more wonderful stories. xoxo

  9. Congratulations, Renee! This sounds like such a great series. I believe I would have joined a wagon train and headed West in search of something better, as so many did. I look forward to your future posts detailing this fascinating history!

  10. WOW, I’m so impressed by all you pioneer-spirited women, including you, Britney! Tanya, I’m with you…give me a Marriott hotel and some Estee Lauder any day over a prairie schooner.

  11. Thanks for your post! I think I would have wanted to go. Even growing up as a kid I was fascinated by this. I know it would have been hard and at times devastating but I think in the end it would have been worth it if you had made it.

  12. Several years ago I did research on the first Continental Railroad and got sidetracked, (as usual) in my research to the wagon trains and the Oregon Trail. I found some fascinating information along the way. The Wagon trains pretty much came to an end with the railroad. That only took a week, (8 day), to go from the Mississippi River to California. It cost a fraction of what the months long trek by wagon cost. ($76.00). But the main reason, early on, was because of the amount of people moving into the East coast cities. The unhealthy city life forced people to move further into the outlying areas and eventually to the wagon trains to the west coast. Also the land was welcome, but the clean air and water was something they were also looking for. A very simple solution: move.
    I am almost 79 years old and if I didn’t have a bad hip, I would be first in line right now to go on a trek.

  13. Cori, what a great perspective. Yes, it would have been so worth the trip…at the other end. 😉 My son played a computer game called The Oregon Trail for hours and hours when he was a kid. Now, I understand you can get the game as an app for your phone. How times have changed!

  14. Mary J, you are an inspiration with quite the pioneer spirit! And, yes, the unhealthy city life was a very strong reason to attempt the trek across country. The railroadds made a huge difference in settling the West, as well as south Florida. Henry Flagler is somewhat a hero in my home state. 😉

  15. I live in Oregon, Renee, so I hear lots of stories about the Oregon Trail all the time. I’ve always lived in the West also so I know lots of “pioneer” stories! I know I couldn’t have done it! I’m such a wimp! I don’t even camp! MANY of my ancestors were pioneers and I appreciate them so much! I’m grateful for all the sacrifices that those pioneers made for us!

  16. Valri, a woman after my own heart. My idea of camping is a motel without room service. I was definitely born in the right generation. I, too, am ever grateful to our pioneering ancestors!!!

  17. Congratulations to you, dear Renee! I would have been one to join up and travel West on the wagon train. The wonder and excitement of a new home and a new land.

  18. Yes, I very likely would have joined up. At least my younger self would have. I had a few adventures under rustic conditions during my 20’s and know I could have handled it. The man I married is much more capable than I am and we brought our children up to be able to handle primitive conditions. That is not to say our daughters would want to at this point, but they could. Our son would relish the opportunity and do quite well.

    It was a long, hard, dangerous journey, but the opportunities that were promised were more than many could hope for if they stayed where they were. As for the me I am today, I am not even close to being in my 20’s anymore. My camping is usually done in an air-conditioned hotel room with a comfortable bed and hot shower. If I had to, I could manage it, but I really have no desire to take that long trip in a covered wagon. Have you ever ridden in one? They are not comfortable. Sitting on a board for 10 hours or so a day is not kind to anyone’s backside.

  19. I’ve always thought of each move my family made as another adventure. Ha,reading what our pioneer families went through is most humbling. On one vacation we went to the “end of the Oregon Trail”, & walked for a little while in their shoes. Seeing the pictures & tools, representations of what was essential for everyday living, not to mention survival, made me appreciate living in this time. I agree, modern medicine, grocery stores, & a Marriott Hotel when I don’t feel like roughing it, is a blessing! One of the travelers featured in the museum’s displays actually made me cry..she started out from Independence, MO with high hopes & a covered wagon filled with essentials (for her & family) like furniture, piano, extra comforts,& as the journey became more difficult, all her treasures were cast beside the trail. The wagon had to be lightend. The “last straw” was when her husband set a box containing her mother’s china beside the trail. She got out of the wagon & sat on that box saying “she’d given up everything else, but she was NOT going on if her china wasn’t going too”. There in the display were pieces of her beloved china, as well as her journal. They both made it! She was one tough lady! It would have been a treat to have a cup of tea & a chat about that adventure with her. I’d like to think I’m made of that same strong stuff, but at my age,as Patricia B. said, I give thanks for all the comforts of our times! 🙂 Good writing ideas to you Renee. I shall look forward to reading this new series.

  20. I haven’t been online for several days so am posting this late but want to share. We had the opportunity to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker City, Oregon, two years ago. It is a marvelous museum filled with dioramas and exerpts from Oregon Trail travelers’ journals. There are also hiking trails near actual trail ruts and hands on activities for kids including how you would pack a covered wagon. The covered wagons are so much smaller than they appeared in all those old movies! It’s no wonder so many families had to “lighten their loads”. When I looked out at the spectacular view of the mountains WEST of Baker City, I thought I would have been one of those who said I’m not crossing another mountain! There is beautiful grass and water here so why go any farther. And yet, so many kept going to the Willamette Valley where it was warmer and hopefully an easier life than they left behind.

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