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During about 80 years in the 1800s, the Oregon Trail was a natural corridor through the United States as people began to move west. It also became a popular computer game that many of us remember playing on a floppy disc. Just recently, this game and many other original computer games became available online, on archive.org. Before we head to our computers and start hunting game, stocking up on wagon wheels, and avoiding dysentery, here are some facts about the real Oregon Trail:
1. The Oregon Trail ran approximately 2000 miles from Missouri toward the Rocky Mountains to the Willamette Valley. In southern Idaho, a trail branched off to California.
2. The trail began as a series of smaller, unconnected trails used by Native Americans.
3. Joel Walker is credited as the first settler to make the complete trip with a family, in 1840.
4. In 1843, the first wagon train of over 800 people in 120 wagons and 5,000 cattle made the five-month trip.
5. The main vehicle that pioneers used to carry their belongings was a covered wagon. They sometimes called them “Prairie Schooners,” because they were like boats traveling the prairies of the West. They were about ten feet long and four feet wide, and sometimes carried full families.
6. Often, the pioneers walked alongside the wagons that were being pulled by oxen. A loaded wagon could weigh as much as 2,500 pounds, so it was easier for the oxen if passengers walked alongside.
7. The most dangerous part of traveling the Oregon Trail wasn’t Native Americans, lack of food, or getting lost. The biggest danger was a disease called cholera. As soon as a traveler caught cholera, they would be dead within 24 hours. There was no cure or treatment. Because it was important that the journey be finished quickly, funerals became short burials, which became simply abandoning the ill on the side of the trail to die alone. Some even started digging a grave before the travel companion died, meaning they watched their own grave be dug.
8. It took over a thousand pounds of food to feed a family of four during the trip. Most of the food was preserved, including coffee, bacon, rice, beans, and flour. As you can imagine, meals were scarce and far from five-star.
9. The trail was littered with heavy items that people threw off their wagons along the way, including books, stoves, and trunks.
10. Children on the Oregon Trail found interesting ways to entertain themselves – like playing Frisbee with buffalo dung. This same material was also burned like firewood.
11. Through preservation efforts, it is still possible to follow the path of the Oregon Trail, both by driving and hiking. In some places, you can still see ruts from the wagon wheels.