As a child, I was fascinated by stories of Indians, wagon trains, cowgirls and cowboys— and although I'm fairly certain I've never admitted this to anyone before— I used to daydream about living on a ranch in the Wild West back in the days when life was more simple. Mind you, this was likely inspired by the fact that I loved horses and as a teenager could not imagine anything more wonderful than spending all day, every day riding horses! But I digress...
As authors, we often spend copious hours researching topics and period details before we put our first word down on paper. This was the case with a recent book that I wrote for a collaboration with two author friends, one of whom is part of our own Sweet Americana Sweethearts group, Annie Boone!
The particular story, Emma's Epiphany, required research on wagon trains, and I found myself more than a little surprised by some of the facts uncovered during the research phase of this book.
|Photo taken in 2016, Oregon Trail|
Fact #2: The Oregon Trail wasn't a single set path that every wagon followed, for several reasons. In some cases the emigrants realized food and game would be more scarce if everyone followed one another, so they often spread out over several hundred miles for this very reason. As time progressed, people began to spread the word about new routes and ways the wagon trains could save time by using a certain cut offs, etc., yet enough traveled the same paths that we still have the ruts from the wagon trains heading west in the mid-1800's.
Fact #3: The large conestoga wagon was not the typical wagon used by most people heading west because it was too large and unwieldy to be manageable across the rough and challenging trail; rather, most people used a wagon known as the prairie schooner, so-named because the canvas covers resembled the "sail" of a ship.
Fact #4: Most deaths along the trail were caused by illness, not by attacks by Indians, as was often depicted in Hollywood Westerns and dramatizations. The wagons typically formed a circle at night largely to keep the animals from wandering off, and many Native American Indians served as trading partners and guides at various points along the trail. After the beginning of the Civil War, there were more attacks than there had been, but overall historians estimate that only 400 deaths out of over 20,000 were caused by conflicts with Indians.
Fact #5: Although the first major wagon train took place in 1843, it wasn't until 1849 that an actual guide was published that fully described the journey over land to California. Truthfully, I hadn't given the fact that a "map" didn't exist for several years after the wagon trains began much consideration prior to my research, and it was a big surprising that it took five years for it to happen. Yet in defense, it took an average of five months for people to make the trek along the trail, and as you can imagine, the first few trips likely took much longer than that. They were true pioneers!
Researching these facts took a little bit of the "romance" out of the way I had always imagined the wagon trains traveled back in those days, and what that may have looked like, yet in all honesty, those Hollywood Westerns and images are indelible on my mind. At the end of the day, a visual image can often be more powerful than an imagined one.
I hope you enjoyed these facts about the Oregon Trail and the wagon trains that paved the way for settlers in the west.
Kate Cambridge is a bestselling Amazon author, wife, and mother who writes sweet historical and sweet contemporary romance with happily ever after or happy for now endings. She is a hopeless romantic, strong supporter of women's rights, and loves to write stories that inspire, characters who seem real long after "the end", and always with a thread of faith, hope and love.
Connect with Kate on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or on her website at KateCambridge.com
#KateCambridge #historicalwesternromance #suffragettes #suffragetteseries #sweetromance
I absolutely loved reading all of the facts about the Oregon Trail. I have never done much research in this area (or played the Oregon Trail game that used to be so popular) and so enjoyed learning about the trail. Most of my research has been farther south :-)
Thanks, Kathryn! The more I researched, the more fascinated (and surprised) I was by what I found. We've come a long way in 200 years! : )Delete
What fun facts! I loved reading about the Oregon Trail in history, but had no idea that the tracks really are still visible today! Bet they had no idea then how impactful their travels would be!ReplyDelete
I have a picture of my two children when they were very young standing in the ruts cut into the ground near Guernsey, WY. Where those ruts cut into the limestone bedrock, they are so deep the ground level is at my daughter's mid-torso. She was ten at the time. I also read that there is a grave every 100 yards or so along its length.ReplyDelete
Oh my goodness, Lynda- I didn't realize they are that deep! Thanks for participating and sharing your experience. It's fun to connect with our readers here!Delete
The facts are intriguing. Thanks.ReplyDelete
You're welcome, Judy. Thanks for participating in the contest!Delete
Thanks, Teri! I replied to your comment on https://KateCambridge.com, too. Thanks for having fun with us!ReplyDelete
Still watch old re-runs of "Wagon Train" and love it more than ever.ReplyDelete
Great information and thank you for sharing. Doris
Enjoyed the post.. I did not remember that illness killed more pioneers than the Indians had..ReplyDelete
Did not know,that the wagon train ruts still exist today. Have a fascination, with all historical wagon train novels. I did know about the maps not existing, till later. What I did read in one of my novels, was that guides sometimes had hand written maps from a friend or someone they knew, that had traveled west to Oregon. Yes know many settlers died of disease or from contaminated food or water. They also died from snake bite or accidents along the trails. This happened more so than from Indian attacks. Read the latest novel Emma and enjoyed very much.ReplyDelete
Thanks so much, Marie! That means more than I can say, and I appreciate your participation and kind words.Delete
I have never been on the Oregon Trail--your writing all these things make me curious to see it if I ever visit that area. I didn't know any of those 5 facts--I feel pretty ignorant!ReplyDelete
I didn't realize any of the five facts before my research either! Every piece of information leaned takes me down yet another rabbit trail of learning. : )Delete
I can't imagine travelling the route by car on modern highways, let alone by horse and wagon on trails that are barely there and at the mercy of weather. These are some amazing facts, thank you for sharing them.ReplyDelete
So true, Sue. Imagine - we didn't cover the weather at all! Now I have something new to research. : ) Thanks for participating!Delete
Thank you for all the hard work of research. Fact 3 was the most surprising. Now I'm going to look up what a Prairie schooner looks like.ReplyDelete
Ha! I did the same thing, and in fact didn't think they looked that much different from what I imagined in my mind - I guess they were simply smaller.Delete
This comment has been removed by the author.ReplyDelete
My husband, and I traveled out west several years ago. I saw actual ruts in several different areas. You could tell how much rain occurred when these wagon trains passed thru an area by how deep the ruts were. When I stood on these trails it made me feel so much closer to these pioneers.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much for the information, I really enjoyed it.