The overland journey westward began in Omaha, Nebraska, and followed the Platte River and then the north branch of the Platte all the way into central Wyoming, leaving just a short overland trip to the top of South Pass. This part of the trip often acted as a shakedown journey, where the pioneers got to test firsthand just how durable their wagons and beasts of burden were. They also quickly learned if they had "overpacked." Some did and had to discard excess items along the way. Indian problems were mainly in the form of thievery and were minor affairs, as long as the buffalo were plentiful.
The Snake River section had to be the most treacherous part of the journey. Two problems loomed large, and they were the desert and the Indians. The desert and terrain were by far the biggest problems, with disease and death by accident also contributing to much loss of life. Some of the cholera outbreaks (these occurred all along the trail) were particularly bad. As use of the trail grew in the 1850s, Indian problems became more numerous, with two massacres occurring in the years before the Civil War. In an article by the Oregon History Project, "Snake River Massacre Account by One of the Survivors," it states, "[John] Unruh estimates that just over 360 emigrants were killed by Indians from 1840 to 1860, most of them during the 1850s. In comparison, he estimates that more than 425 Indians were killed by emigrants during the same period."
The Columbia River must have been a welcome sight for the travel-weary pioneers. The presence of this river meant the end of the desert, where lack of water was a problem, especially for the livestock. Also, it meant the arrival to safer lands were ahead and a reasonably sound realization that dangers from Indian attacks were now minimal. According to John Unruh Jr. in a book titled, "The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60," "Of the emigrants who were killed by Indians, about 90 percent were killed west of South Pass, mostly along the Snake and Humboldt Rivers or on the Applegate Trail to the southern end of the Willamette Valley." However, once on the river, the settlers faced another intimidating task--they had to build rafts to float down the untamed Columbia River. This was a dangerous trip that also took lives.
Article Written By Henri Bauholz
Henri Bauholz is a professional writer covering a variety of topics, including hiking, camping, foreign travel and nature. He has written travel articles for several online publications and his travels have taken him all over the world, from Mexico to Latin America and across the Atlantic to Europe.