It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 pioneers died along the arduous Oregon Trail. That is the equivalent of 10 graves per mile. As we were driving across some of the most challenging obstacles the pioneers faced, we were amazed that so many people survived the journey.
As we drove across the Craters of the Moon National Park in southern Idaho, gazing at 618 square miles of lava, we thought of the pioneers and their wagons, trying to figure out how to get around this massive obstacle:
It was a desolate, dismal scenery. Up or down the valley as far as the eye could reach or across the mountains and into the dim distance the same unvarying mass of black rock. Not a shrub, bird nor insect seemed to live near it. Great must have been the relief of the volcano, powerful the emetic, that poured such a mass of black vomit. – Julius Caesar Merrill, a pioneer traveling Goodale’s Cutoff in 1864
As we stood at Three Islands Crossing in Glenns Ferry, Idaho, we tried to visualize the process of turning wagons into boats. It could take up to three days to get an entire wagon company across all three islands. The wagons could capsize and livestock could drown as supplies washed away with the deceptive current. This was only one of the Snake River crossings necessary to reach a safe place to prepare for winter.
In the early days of the Oregon Trail, pioneers were offered 320 acres of land per adult to make the journey. The woman and children walked an average of 20 miles per day, as the wagons were designed to carry only supplies.
We decided that we would have probably signed up for the journey, but after standing at many of the major crossroads on the trail, we are not certain we would have arrived at the finish line. What we do know is that arriving isn’t everything and that the exhilaration of adventure, even if only for a moment, is a life lived to its fullest.