The Oregon Trail

View of the Oregon Trail near Split Rock in Natrona County, Wyoming. Grace Raymond Hebard papers, AHC.

You might remember this game; it was a classic facet in many an elementary school classroom.  It was released in Wii format last week, bringing the joy of cholera and “fording the river” to a whole new generation.  While this is exciting indeed, there is much to be said for reading up on what it was really like to travel the Oregon Trail.

The American Heritage Center has got you covered!  We have diaries, maps, personal histories, and photographs that reveal what life on the trail was really like.  May we suggest the W.W. Morrison papers, a passenger agent of the Union Pacific Railroad who was also a historian of emigrant trails and pioneer graves.  His collection contains all sorts of goodies for someone interested in the authenticity of the trail, including photographs of several of the Donner party’s graves.  Or, perhaps the Oregon-California Trail Association records, which contain many diaries from travelers on the Oregon and California trails.  Or take a sampler approach, and see what we have available in digital form.  Try searching with terms like “Overland Trail” or “Oregon Trail” to get a feel for the nitty, gritty side of life on the trail.

Oregon Trail Route through Wyoming, Reproduction of information sheet, 1976, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Paul and Helen Henderson Oregon Trail Collection, Accession Number 10188.

So, while you can now simulate the experience of the Oregon trail with the Wii, you can also take a step or two back in time and relive the journey with photographs and diaries of those who actually traveled the trail.  Happy travels!

W.H. Jackson drawing of Oregon Trail, University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center, Photo File: Trail – Oregon.

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