Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Traveling the Oregon Trail

The journey west on the Oregon Trail was difficult and sometimes deadly. 300,000 - 500,000 people traveled to the Pacific Northwest between 1841 and 1884, with about 10 percent losing their lives along the way.

Public domain, Wikicommons

The 2,000-mile overland trip from the Midwest to Oregon and California was lengthy and very difficult. In good weather, a wagon train would complete the journey in five months. The average wagon train traveled about 10 - 20 miles per day, over rough terrains such as rocky land, crossing dangerous rivers, and traversing steep hills and mountains. Of course, the distance they ventured each day was dependent on the weather, the difficulty of the landscape, and unexpected obstacles along the way.

Public domain, Wikicommons

It wasn’t cheap to outfit a Conestoga wagon. The total cost of the trip with supplies could be as much as $1,000. Putting that into perspective, $1000 in 1850 equals nearly $40,000 today. The recommended amount of food for each adult was 150 lbs. of flour, 20 lbs. of corn meal, 50 - 150 lbs. of bacon, 40 lbs. of sugar, 10 lbs. of coffee, 15 lbs. of dried fruit, 5 lbs. of salt, half a pound of saleratus (baking soda), 2 lbs. of tea, 5 lbs. of rice, 15 lbs. of beans, and 25 pounds of green apples or peaches. The travelers enjoyed fresh game when it was available, as well as wild berries.

Here is a price list of some of other necessary items they often had to purchase:

Ox - $30-35 each, with 4-6 oxen needed
Mule - $10-15
Pack horse - $25
Riding horse - $75
Milk cow - $70-75
Cattle - $8-20
Covered wagon $70
Tent - $5-15
Rifle - $15

On the trail there were other things that you had to pay for such as tolls for crossing bridges, ($0.15 - $0.50) ferrying rivers ($2 - $5) per wagon, and Indian moccasins ($0.50) to replace worn out shoes.

Public domain, Wikicommons

The entire Conestoga was narrower than a full-size bed and slightly longer. Including its tongue, the average wagon was 18 feet (5.5 m) long, 11 feet (3.4 m) high, and 4 feet (1.2 m) in width. It could carry up to 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg) of cargo. Every stitch of the family's belongings needed to be packed into the wagon, leaving no room for beds or the comforts we take for granted. The families either camped in the open under the stars or slept on the ground beneath the wagon or in a tent.

Beans, cornmeal mush, Johnnycakes or pancakes, and coffee were the usual breakfast fare. Fresh milk was available from the dairy cows that some families brought along, and pioneers took advantage of the rough rides to churn their butter in a bucket hanging on the side of the wagon.

Painted by Emanuel Leutze, Public domain, Wikicommons

Contrary to popular belief, Indians were among the least of the settlers' problems while in transit, though the settlers themselves certainly believed otherwise. While there were cases of Indian attacks on western wagon trains, the majority of settlers made their cross-continent journeys without incident. Shootings, drownings, being crushed by wagon wheels, and injuries from handling domestic animals were the common killers on the trail. One of the biggest killers was disease, namely cholera, diphtheria, and dysentery. Wagon accidents were most prevalent. Both children and adults sometimes fell off or under wagons and were sadly crushed under the wheels.

Considering everything that wagon train travelers endured, it’s a miracle that any of them made it to trail’s end, but many of them did, and their stories are an intriguing part of our U.S. history.

A woman fleeing her past runs straight into her future.

Laney Dawson is desperate to leave Council Grove, KS. Her abusive father is getting out of prison in a week, and she refuses to allow him to hurt her again. With few options available for a young woman, she poses as Lane, a teen boy, and hires on with a family traveling the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico. Laney regrets lying to the kindhearted Buckley family, especially Ethan, the oldest of the five siblings. As her feelings for Ethan grow, she knows she needs to tell him the truth, but will he leave her at the next town when he learns she's a woman?

Vickie McDonough is the CBA, EPCA and Amazon best-selling author of 54 books and novellas. Vickie grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams penning romance stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie’s books have won numerous awards including the Booksellers Best, OWFI Best Fiction Novel Award, the Inspirational Readers’ Choice awards. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, doing making cards, gardening, reading, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website:


  1. Thank you for posting today, and Happy New Year to you and your family! I love reading stories about the wagon trains, but I know that I romanticize the journey. I am sure that I would not like making the dangerous trip no matter how much I wanted the adventure of finding new land!

  2. I agree with you about making the real journey. There's no way I could walk hundreds of miles or sleep on the ground. I'd miss my super soft mattress way too much.