Overland pioneer route to the northwestern
United States. About 3200 km, about 2000 mi long, the
trail extended from Independence, Missouri, to the
Columbia River in Oregon. Part of the route followed the
Platte River for 870 km (540 mi) through what is now
Nebraska to Fort Laramie in present-day Wyoming. The
trail continued along the North Platte and Sweetwater
rivers to South Pass in the Wind River Range of the Rocky
Mountains. From there the main trail went south to Fort
Bridger, Wyoming, before turning into the Bear River valley
and north to Fort Hall in present-day Idaho. In Idaho the
Oregon Trail followed the Snake River to the Salmon Falls
and then went north past Fort Boise (now Boise). The
route entered what is now Oregon, passed through the
Grande Ronde River valley, crossed the Blue Mountains
and followed the Umatilla River to the Columbia River.

Shorter and more direct routes were developed along
some parts of the trail, but they were often more difficult.

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Originally, like many other main routes in the United States,
sections of the Oregon Trail had been used by the Native
Americans and trappers. As early as 1742, part of the trail
in Wyoming had been blazed by the Canadian explorer
Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Verendrye; the
Lewis and Clark Expedition, between 1804 and 1806,
made more of it known. The German-American fur trader
and financier John Jacob Astor, in establishing his trading
posts, dispatched a party overland in 1811 to follow the
trail of these explorers. Later, mountain men such as James
Bridger, who founded Fort Bridger in 1843, contributed
their knowledge of the trail and often acted as guides. The
first emigrant wagon train, headed by the American pioneer
physician Elijah White, reached Oregon in 1842. The trip
took the early pioneers four to six months, a journey
fraught with much hardship resulting from poor equipment,
illness, and attack by the Native Americans, for whom the
growing number of pioneers on the trail was an
ever-constant threat. At first, the termination point of the
Oregon Trail was Oregon City, Oregon; later, settlers
continued south to the fertile and valuable land in the
Willamette Valley.

Category: History