AncestorNews: Trailing Behind

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

In 1843, only 1,000 settlers followed the Oregon Trail west. A decade later, 70,000 were on the move.

If your ancestors were among those who walked the trail, they probably left their eastern homes in time to reach jumping off spots by March. They waited in towns like St. Joseph and Independence, Mo., until mid-April, when the grass was tall enough to ensure feed for the livestock. During the layover period, more than 10,000 oxen grazed in surrounding fields.

Twin sisters Ceclia Adams and Parthenia Blank traveled the trail in 1852. Their diary noted seeing Indian graves, the loss of a wool dress to hungry oxen and dozens of graves of cholera or smallpox victims. “This afternoon we passed seven new-made graves,” they wrote. “One had four bodies in it and to all appearances they were laid on top of the ground and the dirt thrown over them.”

West-bound settlers passed the landmarks of Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff, Fort Laramie, climbed the Continental Divide, passed Fort Bridger and on to Oregon. If your ancestor was one of them, you will enjoy the diaries, maps and other resources on these sites.

Oregon-California Trail Association

The Oregon Trail

In Search of the Oregon Trail

Scotts Bluff National Monument

The Letters and Journals of Narcissa Whitman