Trails and Wagon Trains

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... ... ... was involved in the westward expansion of the USA.
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As Westward Expansion of major parts of North America became possible with the Louisiana Purchase by the United States from France in 1803, the swell of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere had pushed the population higher, and toward the current boundaries of the United States. Feeling the building pressure of limited space, it was several decades after the Lewis and Clark expedition before most average folk began making the trek west.

From 1840 to 1870 more than 500,000 people made journeys to find a better life in the west. When these people decided to venture out, whether for economic, political or religious reasons, it was usually entire families bringing their possessions by covered wagon. With little exception the travel was made in groups or "trains" of wagons organized by wagon masters hired to guide them to a common midway or end point. From that terminus the individual or family made the short trip to their final destination, typically a homestead.

Oregon Trail Marker Stone

Many of these travelers endeavored to make the entire journey to the Pacific region. However, a good number stopped short in areas that became Montana, Colorado, and Utah. Regardless of their final destination, these "pioneers" or "settlers" were part of a great migration into the wilderness by foot and by wagon. Over time ancient trails became named routes, used repeatedly and becoming well known to contemporaries and history alike.

The most famous of these trails led west. Originating in Independence, Missouri, and called the Oregon Trail, it spanned over 2,000 miles. Other westward paths included the California Trail and Mormon Trail. There were also southern routes including the Santa Fe Trail, Southern Emigrant Trail, and the Old Spanish Trail (not to be confused with the Mormon Trail, the Mormon Road was a successor to the Old Spanish Trail). Stories of these trails and the people who traveled across the vast distance are etched into the culture and folklore of the United States. Whether the journey ended well or in tragedy (e.g. Red BulletDonner Party), their courage and fortitude is still celebrated more than 150 years later.

Listed below are brief descriptions of each major trail with resources and links to WikiTree profiles or pages that explore the lives and stories tied to each route.


Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail is a 2,200-mile (3,500 km) historic east-west large wheeled wagon route and emigrant trail that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon.

Oregon Trail Map


  • The Whitman Party - The first significant wagon train to traverse The Oregon Trail for the purpose of settlement in Oregon Country. Led in 1836 by Marcus Whitman, a Methodist missionary and physician, the party joined with a fur trapping caravan of seven wagons, led by Milton Sublett and Thomas Fitzpatrick. Party members Henry and Eliza Spalding broke off early, settling in what is now Idaho to create a Presbyterian mission in Nez Perce territory. Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa settled in what is now Walla Walla, Washington, to build a mission in Cayuse territory. Whitman and his wife were later killed when Cayuse Indians attacked the mission, in what was later dubbed The Whitman Massacre, which was the start of the Cayuse War.
  • 1844 Oregon Trail Wagon Train - The Cornelius "Neal" Gilliam party blazed a completely new wagon road from St. Joseph westward to intersect the original Oregon & California road from Independence in 1844. Gilliam had advertised in the summer of 1843 that he would lead an emigrant party to Oregon in the Spring, and that the rendezvous would be on the Missouri river's right bank opposite Owen's Landing (present day Amazonia). Camp was set up as scheduled on 9 March, and the journey commenced on 9 May. Eventually the party consisted of 84 wagons and 370 persons when organized west of the Iowa/Sac & Fox Presbyterian Mission.
  • Red BulletDonner Party - were 81 American Pioneers that set out for California in a wagon train and became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada in 1846. Some of these immigrants resorted to cannibalism to survive.
  • Eliza Hart Spalding was born in Kensington, CT, who married Harmon Spalding at age 26 years. They were missionionaries while traveling on the Oregon Trail and joined the Whitman party.. The travel was difficult through the Rocky Mountains which involved traveling on steamboats, horseback as well as wagon train. She was later one of the survivors of The Whitman Massacre. Eliza Spalding was the daughter of Eliza Hart Spalding. Britannica- Eliza Hart Spalding

Eliza Spalding by NPS Wordpress - Eliza Hart Spalding

  • William Henry Gray - Was a writer, cabinet maker, minister, missionary, and later politician. He is often thought of as Oregon's first historian. His book, "A History of Oregon 1792-1849" was the first comprehensive history written of Oregon Territory, and included information from his own personal journal entries, and those of his fellow pioneers.




California Trail

The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about 3,000 mi (4,800 km) across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California.


Mormon Trail

The Mormon Trail is the 1,300-mile (2,092 km) route from Illinois to Utah that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled from 1846 to 1868.

Mormon Trail Map



Santa Fe Trail

The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century route through central North America that connected Franklin, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico.


  • Red BulletOatman Family - were pioneers , in 1851 they joined a wagon train headed for southern California, the group to split up. Royce Oatman and Mary Oatman and 4 of their children were massacred, by a Native American tribe, the Tolkepayas . Royce's son Lorenzo Oatman was left for dead but survived. His 2 daughters Olive Oatman and her sister Mary Ann were captured and enslaved. Olive was rescued 5 years after her capture, during this time her sister Ann died of hunger.


Southern Emigrant Trail (aka, The Applegate Trail)

The Applegate Trail was a wilderness trail through today's U.S. states of Idaho, Nevada, California, and Oregon, and was originally intended as a less dangerous route to the Oregon Territory.



Old Spanish Trail

The Old Spanish Trail (Spanish: Viejo Sendero Español) is a historical trade route that connected the northern New Mexico settlements of (or near) Santa Fe, New Mexico with those of Los Angeles, California and southern California.




  • Red BulletBaker-Fancher Party - 200 emigrants from the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas left in April 1857 for California. By early September 1857 the wagon train was in the south Utah Territory almost to California when nearly the entire party was slaughtered at Mountain Meadows along the Old Spanish Trail. Only seventeen infants and toddlers were left living by their assailants, who assumed they were too young to tell the tale. It took 150 years for the healing to begin.

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The Crigger Wagon train, Started in New York area, made it to Cumberland Gap, some settled in that area. Left the next spring and made it to Irwin Tennessee, on the Cumberland river. Irwin or Erwin, don't remember the way it is spelled. Then the next spring it headed out and made it to Kansas. The Sluss falily was with them to Cumberland Gap. And a history book is written about the Sluss family massacre. Mary Sluss is one of my ancestors in my Crigger/Krueger/etc.. line,
posted by Jim Crigger
I was wondering if the Oregon Trail should have its own project page? I would be willing to help start it.
posted by Cassie (Langley) Wicks
This is a new page an we will be adding more information about trails an overland travel companies.
posted by Paula J