The Oregon Trail and the Lewis and Clark Expedition
If you have ever lived or traveled through Oregon, you will notice many references to the famous explorers Lewis and Clark. In case you are wondering, how these famous explorers became such an important icon in Oregon history, here is a little background information.
The Oregon Trail is the name for the main overland migration route in North America which was used by travelers journeying by foot, by wagon, and on horseback to establish new lives in the west. This journey took about 4-6 months and it was about a 2,000 mile trek that followed various rivers and streams along the continent. This ultimate destination, and ending point for this route was Oregon, giving the trail it's name. Extensions of the Oregon Trail brought settlers into the states of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California Washington and Montana. The Trail was used mostly between 1841 and 1869 and the use of it was diminished greatly upon completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. Most of the need for the trail was completely gone by the time the northern Pacfic Railroad had reached Portland.
The history of the Oregon Trail dates back to 1804 when President Jefferson had hoped to find an "easy" route through the Rocky Mountains to discover a water route to the Pacific, via the Missouri, Columbia, Oregon or Colorado rivers as a direct and practicable water communication across the continent. In addition to this, his goal was to explore new territory; unfamiliar territory that was purchased by the U.S.- the Louisiana purchase. Jefferson chose Meriwether Lewis to lead the expedition and Lewis asked William Clark to be his co-leader. The expedition to study Indian tribes, botany, geology Western terrain and wildlife began in May of 1804 with only 33 men, just west of the Missouri River. The journey took such a long time, many feared that the expedition had perished. However on December 5, 1805 they reach the Pacific Ocean, attaining their goal and making a major contribution to the discovery of the west.
There are many noteworthy achievements and stories from the Lewis and Clark expedition. Possibly the best known, is that of Sacagawea, the Indian woman who translated for the expedition among the Shoshone and Nez Perce indian tribes, as well as serving as a guide at times. It's been told that times throughout the expedition, botanical and mineral specimens were sent back to President Jefferson, including a live Prairie dog which he recieved in a box! The journey was a marvel in itself, with travels by boat up the Missouri River, by foot through the Rocky Mountains and by canoe descending the mountains by the Clearwater River, the Snake River and the Columbia River into what is now Portland. The expedition was a marvel in the knowlege learned about the rivers, mountains, plants and animals as well as to the perserverence and stamina of the explorers. The expedition made a major contribution to the mapping of the U.S. continent.
Photos courtesy of Trumansburg Central School District