More on the Oregon Trail!

raft_ar_waud1600x989FAHopkins_Lumber_RaftI’m taking a break from working on my Oregon Trail story.  I’ve left my hero and heroine on the banks of the Columbia River, which happens to be the last leg of the arduous two-thousand mile journey.  They will have to travel down the river.  They will confront rapids and other treacherous conditions.

Better, still, than the alternative.  The Columbia River is hemmed in by steep slopes and cliffs of hard rock on either side.  The soggy bottomlands are often flooded in October, the month the wagon train would have arrived, leaving the west end of the gorge unsuitable for foot traffic.  The bulk of the wagon trains had little choice but to travel down the river on rafts or bateaus.  If conditions held, they could make it to Oregon City in less than a week.

I bet you’re wondering where these rafts came from.  The emigrants had to make them.  That means I need to know how to build a raft.  In my research, I found out how and thought I would share the seemingly easiest, most effective technique with you.


Step 1: Cut down trees from a nearby forest, create 12-16 equal size logs and bring them to the river.  Line logs up partially in the water since the finished raft will be too large to transport. 

Step 2: Cut two, smaller, thinner logs to be used as connectors. 

Step 3: Position the first larger, longer log in one direction and then set the connector log on top at a perpendicular angle.  Cut a dovetail notch in the longer log on both ends. After choosing one or the other end of your long, fit a connector log in the groove.  Tie rope around the two logs for support, pulling the rope as tightly as possible and making sure to wrap underneath the two logs at least twice. 

Step 4: Tie an additional overhand knot on top of the connector log.  Pull tight. 

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the other end of the longer log with another connector log. 

Step 6: Push the next log in position beside the first (after cutting a dovetail tail notch on both ends). 

Step 7: Again, secure with rope. 

Step 8: Repeat Steps 3 and 4 on the other end. 

Step 9: Continue adding logs, tying them securely, until the raft is complete. 

Step 10: Test in the water.  Climb on and enjoy the ride.

PHEW!  I don’t know about you, but I bet this is much harder than it sounds.

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18 thoughts on “More on the Oregon Trail!”

  1. Melanie, I agree. One of the best parts of my job is the research. I have all sorts of skills tucked away in my mind. I now know how to build a raft, cheat at cards, pick a pocket, pack a covered wagon, drive a team of horses, yoke oxen…and…

    Okay, I admit it. I don’t REALLY know how to do any of those things. But I can describe how to do them. 😉

  2. Oh, I cannot imagine how difficult that trip West was. The pioneers faced overwhelming obstacles at every turn. Yet, the human spirit helped them overcome. The human spirit just won’t let us give up. We fight to the death for a better life. We’ve done it over and over again throughout history. I have so much admiration for all those people who never say die. I’m afraid my raft-making skills would’ve been the final straw for me. I’d have run back where I came from. Excellent blog.

    Good luck on this story! Looking forward to the release.

  3. Linda, how right you are! The human spirit is an amazing thing. Where would this country be if the people before us hadn’t had the motto of: change my life or die trying. Very inspiring!!!

  4. Renee I’ve never heard of this before.
    Did all those wagon trains end in this river ride?

    This is fascinating.

    Also yikes! Hard Work!

    Good grief. I’d have never made it, I’m such a wimp.

  5. Getting to Oregon (or any other western state) was one obstacle after another. I like reading about that time period and overland journeys, but glad I didn’t have to make the trip myself!

  6. Mary, only the emigrants heading to Oregon City took this route in their final leg of the journey. Others split off and went to California. I’m not sure any part of the trail was easy. So glad it wasn’t me faced with the decision to stay or go.

  7. Colleen, it took a few days. The entire trip from Missouri to Oregon City took five months. Since riding in the wagon wasn’t very comfortable, many walked beside them. Talk about a nice, long HIKE!

  8. Wow, Renee, each time I learn more about our amazing, resilient, talented forebears, I realize what a weenie I truly am. My computer mouse died this morning, and I am at present feeling practically helpless. Sheesh. Hugs and best wishes on another terrific story!

  9. Wow, Renee, each time I learn more about our amazing, resilient, talented forebears, I realize what a weenie I truly am. My computer mouse died this morning, and I am at present feeling practically helpless. Sheesh. Hugs and best wishes on another terrific story!

  10. I love all the little tidbits I learn on this blog but they sure make me realize that I would never had made it back then, I am such a wimp!

  11. I noticed in the pictures there were primarily people on the rafts. What did they do with their wagons, belongings, and livestock? Did they ever use their wagons to make rafts? Maybe some of your research resources have the answer. I always seem to have more questions than I can find the answers for. One reason I try not to start researching something. I end up following other sources and links, and never finish.

  12. Sure am glad I was born during the last half of the 20th century rather than the 19th century. Folks had to work from dawn til dusk just to survive.
    Great post.

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