When people think of how the country of America came to be, they usually remember the founding fathers who formed our government and organized our country, but not many give credit to the people who made the treacherous journey to the west. Many citizens called “pioneers” decided to travel to the western United States in order to start a new life. The pioneers traveled along a trail called the Oregon Trail. Traveling on the Oregon Trail brought with it many dangers such as severe illness, rivers and weather, and lousy general traveling conditions. The Oregon Trail was a dirt path originally paved by trappers, fur traders, and missionaries. It was one of two trails heading west, the other being the Santa Fe Trail. The Oregon Trail was 2,170 miles long and spanned from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon.
The trail was not easy though, and pioneers’ lives were constantly at risk. From vicious wildlife to spreading diseases, nobody knew what could come upon them at any moment of the day. Illness could spread like wildfire on the Oregon Trail. With no vaccines and barely any medicine, just about everyone was susceptible to disease. Vaccines were not available because little was known about the human body and health in the 1800s. In fact, 90% of all deaths on the trail were caused by illnesses, and most of those illnesses were caused by the quality of the water that the pioneers drank. Some of the diseases that plagued people on the trail were cholera, smallpox, flu, measles, mumps, and tuberculosis. Cholera was the most common illness and maybe even the most harmful.
Cholera emitted many effects such as rapid dehydration, nausea, diarrhea, and cramps. The worst part is it could attack anybody, even a perfectly healthy pioneer, and there was not a very good cure for it at the time, so once a person got it, it was almost certain death. Within several hours of experiencing the effects, they were dead. If someone was lucky to even live through the first day, they would most likely die within seven days. Another disease to spread around the trail was called typhoid fever. This disease caused about 20% of all illness-related deaths. The most common dietary illness was called scurvy. Scurvy is caused by a lack of Vitamin C in the body. The main reason people got this disease is that the crops from which they received their Vitamin C were not always available. To prevent this disease, pioneers often drank citric acid. Some other minor causes of illness were rotting produce, nasty weather, and unreliable hunting seasons, where pioneers could not find enough animals to hunt down and kill for food.
Overall, illnesses were a major factor when traveling on the Oregon Trail, and pioneers always had to be aware of them. One task that pioneers frequently encountered was crossing rivers. The river crossing was one of the most dangerous things that pioneers had to do. Most rivers were fairly deep, and the current was usually rapid. Some major rivers that pioneers on the Trail came across were the Kansas River, Columbia River, and the Green River. When crossing these rivers, water could rush into a wagon and flood it, potentially damaging very important valuables that the pioneers kept in the wagon. Fast-moving water also had a big effect on the animals transporting the wagon. If the current was fast enough, the animals could fall over, causing the wagon to tip over with it. Animals like oxen or horses could panic in the water, and jump around damaging the wagon or injuring people. Sometimes, the animals could go crazy and throw people out of the wagon! If this happened, it became even more dangerous for the pioneers. People who did not quite know how to swim could drown or be swept away by the water.
The river crossing was extremely difficult and most people were not able to cross the river alive. Another factor that affected the traveling pioneers was the weather. The weather could range anywhere from calm and sunny, to severe hail and thunderstorms. Thunderstorms were the most common form of severe weather, and when they hit, it was not a pleasant experience. The heavy rains often collected on the tarp of the wagon, causing it to leak. The tarp was usually the only shelter for the pioneers, which meant that once it started leaking, they had to tough it out in the pouring rain. When the wagon collected too much rainwater, pioneers were forced to walk alongside the wagon in the terrible weather. Overall, weather and crossing rivers were two dangerous obstacles that occurred on the Oregon Trail. Illnesses, weather, and crossing rivers were responsible for most of the deaths on the trail, but some of the general conditions on the trail also caused a struggle for the pioneers. To start, the animals transporting the wagon could cause some injuries or even deaths. Animals could throw people off the cart or even crash the entire wagon. Lots of wagon related accidents also occurred on the trail. The most frequent wagon related injury/death was being run over by a wagon wheel.
These deaths were mostly caused by the negligence of the other pioneers in the wagon. Because children were so small, they were usually the people to fall out of the wagon, resulting in the most tragic of deaths when they were run over. Interestingly enough, accidental shooting was another occasional cause of death. Pioneers on the trail would pick up a gun, not realizing it was loaded, and accidentally shoot themselves, a friend, or even one of the animals. Wild stampeding animals could trample the wagon and injure everybody inside of it. Each and every day was not easy for the pioneers. A typical day lasted from before dawn to about 5 o’clock pm. These long days left many pioneers exhausted from all the constant work they were doing. Sadly, exhaustion was a big cause of death on the trail. People would become dehydrated and then pass out from working without enough water.
Overall, the travel conditions for these pioneers were far from easy and a regular day was filled with constant struggles. In conclusion, the Oregon Trail posed many dangerous obstacles that the pioneers had to overcome such as illness, river crossing/weather, and lousy general traveling conditions. Illnesses were responsible for 90% of deaths on the trail. Cholera was one of the major illnesses on the trail; it spread rapidly and killed people within several hours. Rivers damaged valuables in the wagon and even drowned some of the pioneers, while weather flooded the wagon, creating great discomfort for everyone. Wagon accidents and other general traveling conditions also were responsible for death on the trail. Getting run over by the wagon wheels and accidentally shooting someone were very common. Americans need to remember the important contributions that pioneers made and the courage they must have had to overcome all of these obstacles in order to form the western part of the United States.
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