1843 – A thousand pioneers head West as part of the Great Emigration


The first major wagon train to the northwest departs from Elm Grove, Missouri, on the Oregon Trail.

Although U.S. sovereignty over the Oregon Territory was not clearly established until 1846, American fur trappers and missionary groups had been living in the region for decades, to say nothing of the Native Americans who had settled the land centuries earlier. Dozens of books and lectures proclaimed Oregon’s agricultural potential, piquing the interest of white American farmers. The first overland immigrants to Oregon, intending primarily to farm, came in 1841 when a small band of 70 pioneers left Independence, Missouri. They followed a route blazed by fur traders, which took them west along the Platte River through the Rocky Mountains via the easy South Pass in Wyoming and then northwest to the Columbia River. In the years to come, pioneers came to call the route the Oregon Trail.

In 1842, a slightly larger group of 100 pioneers made the 2,000-mile journey to Oregon. The next year, however, the number of emigrants skyrocketed to 1,000. The sudden increase was a product of a severe depression in the Midwest combined with a flood of propaganda from fur traders, missionaries, and government officials extolling the virtues of the land. Farmers dissatisfied with their prospects in OhioIllinoisKentucky, and Tennessee, hoped to find better lives in the supposed paradise of Oregon.

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