Map of Oregon, Mormon and California Trails.

Map of Oregon, Mormon and California Trails.

How Once Upon a Time
Indian Trails Became





"I will send a Prophet to you,
A Deliverer of the nations,
Who shall guide you and shall teach you,
Who shall toil and suffer with you.
If you listen to his counsels,
You will multiply and prosper;
If his warnings pass unheeded,
You will fade away and perish!
"Bathe now in the stream before you,
Wash the war-paint from your faces,
Wash the blood-stains from your fingers,
Bury your war-clubs and your weapons,
Break the red stone from this quarry,
Mould and make it into Peace-Pipes."




HE government sent several exploring expeditions to this unknown country, one of which, under Stephen H. Long, returned with discouraging reports. The great trail of earlier days, known as the Oregon Trail, was begun by the trappers and fur traders who travelled over the Indian trails to make known the way for those who came after. The first wagons to pass over the trail as far as the Rocky Mountains, were taken out by Captain Sublett in 1832, who left Saint Louis with a train of ten loaded wagons and two dearborns, entering what is now Nebraska, at a point where Gage and Jefferson counties meet. He probably followed the Blue river and reached the Platte river about twenty miles east of Kearney, followed along the south bank of the






Platte river, crossed the South Platte near the present site of Megeath, west of Ogalalla, and upon reaching the south bank of the North Platte followed it to Fort Laramie beyond the state line.
     Frontiersmen were always ready to push forward to discover the mysteries of a new country, finding passage through the mountains into the country beyond, now known as Oregon, until this route came to be known as the Oregon Trail. All emigrants going to Oregon reached the Platte river, where they were sure of water for six hundred miles, and thus established a permanent route.
     The Indians having heard of the white man's religion counseled together, and sent, in 1832, four young Flat-Head Chiefs to the trading post at St. Louis to learn of this religion which was better than theirs. The account of this visit, reaching the Missionary Board at Boston caused it to send Dr. Marcus Whitman and the Rev. Samuel Spalding with their wives to occupy the field as missionaries and their long journey to the far west was begun in March, 1836. They reached the Ohio River by way of the Pennsylvania Canal, then down the Ohio and up the Mississippi and Missouri to Bellevue, then known as Council Bluffs. Here they joined a party of the American Fur company, who were starting for Oregon, following the north bank of the Platte River.
     When well on their journey, this little band selected a spot, carefully spread their blankets






and as the sun illuminated the western sky, they lifted the American flag and with the Bible in the center, they knelt and with prayer and praise, took possession of the western side of the American continent in His name who proclaimed "Peace on earth, good will to men."
     These, being the first white women to cross the plains, were a great curiosity to the Pawnee Indians, who called them White Squaws from over the trail.
     John C. Fremont was sent in 1843 to explore the Nebraska country, and in this year about one thousand emigrants, led by Marcus Whitman, who had gone to Washington on a mission relating to the possession of the Oregon territory by the United States, crossed the plains and mountains to Oregon. In 1844 and 1845 about four thousand, in 1846 over three thousand, and in 1847 five thousand, made this same journey to establish homes in this far away land.
     Each spring found hundreds of canvas-covered wagons waiting to follow the trails along the Platte, and the Missouri was crossed in many places, but all emigrants finally reached the Platte valley.
     A day's journey was only from ten to twenty miles. The roads were cut from three to fifteen feet deep, by the heavy wagons and the washing of the rains, and can now, after more than half a century, be traced along both sides of the Platte River.
     These companies of brave pioneers who






sought their fortunes in the great wilderness had many thrilling experiences with Indians, wild animals and bandits, who were lurking to destroy life and steal their cattle.
     After crossing the Missouri River they were outside the pale of civil law, and the instinct for fair play caused them to organize a high court, which made murder punishable with death, and stealing was attended by whipping with a long ox lash, which brought the blood with every stroke.
     Fatigue, hunger, sickness and death from cholera left great numbers in unknown and unmarked graves. Too much cannot be said of the sacrifices and fortitude of the women, their help and good cheer.
     There was one, Mrs. Rebecca Winters, who was so loved her friends sunk a wagon wheel to mark her lonely grave, and all coming after, went around this hallowed spot, and now a fitting monument, only a few miles from Scotts Bluffs, marks the last resting place of this pioneer woman. In the same locality is an historic landmark known to the early travellers as Chimney Rock, one hundred and forty-two feet above the base, which looks like a factory chimney.
     In 1846, fifteen thousand Mormons were expelled from Nauvoo, Illinois, on account of their religious belief. Starting west about thirty-five hundred spent the winter on the west bank of the Missouri in Winter Quarters now known as Florence. In the spring of 1847, Brigham Young






led them westward, following the north bank of the Platte River, making the Mormon trail parallel with the Oregon trail on the south. Markers are being placed along the trails.
     In 1849 word came of the discovery of gold in California, which caused another rush of people, who mostly followed the Mormon trail, now known as the California or Overland trail.
     In 1852 Ezra Meeker, with his wife and month-old baby, started with an ox team and canvas covered wagon from Eddyville, Iowa, crossed the Missouri River at Kanesville, now Council Bluffs, and joined the wagon trains crossing the plains over the Oregon trail into the new country of Oregon.
     His book, "Ventures and Adventures of Ezra Meeker," gives a detailed account of this long and toilsome journey and describes his home on the Columbia, where he lived until the territory of Washington was formed. Near Seattle, he started the growing of hops and, becoming a millionaire, was a familiar figure on the Stock Exchange of London. He was known as the "Hop King" until an insect destroyed the hop fields of the whole northwest country.
     He travelled back over the Oregon trail fifty years afterward, and through his influence many markers have been placed.

Contributed by Mrs. Edgar Allen.


Previous page
Next page

© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller