What life was like on the Oregon Trail

After stocking up on supplies, some settlers striking out from Independence, Missouri, may have been relieved to leave the bustling city. Many were rural pioneer folk — farmers, loggers, miners, and ranchers — ready to risk everything for Manifest Destiny, their chance to lay claim to a slice of the new American frontier west of the Continental Divide. They were simply passing through to find a new life in the unknown of the Northwest Territories. Their relief at leaving civilization was tempered with trepidation as they began an often harrowing journey.

The Oregon Trail proper was nearly 2,000 miles of rugged, barely charted terrain that took settlers on an arduous route from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. From its first heavy use in the mid-1800s, the trail served hundreds of thousands of pioneers emigrating westward. Winding its way from Missouri through present-day Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and — finally — into Oregon, the trail pushed pioneers, their horses, oxen, mules, and cattle through extremes of broiling summer on the plains to frigid high-mountain winters.

The National Frontier Trails Museum is devoted to the history of the three major routes of westward expansion used by early settlers: the Santa FeOregon and California trails. Especially gripping are narratives and diary excerpts from pioneers about life on the trail. However much fortitude it took to make the trek, the case can be made that without the Oregon Trail, and the Oregon Donation Land Act in 1850 — which encouraged settlement in the Oregon Territory — American pioneers may have been far slower to settle the American West.

Striking out for the New Frontier

Credit: Annzee/Shutterstock

Depending on the size of the party, weather conditions they encountered, and delays for broken down wagons, the cross-continent trek could take anywhere from five months up to a year. Having left their old lives behind, most settlers piled everything they needed for the trip into covered wagons, loading up on supplies including staples like flour, sugar, bacon, coffee, and salt. Rifles and ammunition were packed along for hunting and protection from wild animals and skirmishes with Native American tribes. The wagons were also weighed down with extra wheels and axles for repairs along the route.

Early obstacles and endurance

Credit: methowtime/iStockphoto

The best-planned trips had settlers departing Missouri in April or May in order to try and reach Oregon before snow started to fly in winter. That timing also meant there would be ample grass for grazing livestock along the way. Whether headed to Oregon or California, travelers shared the same initial trail as they crossed the Great Plains. Averaging 10 to 15 miles per day, they eventually reached Fort Kearney, Kansas, where their paths diverged. Those with “gold fever” headed to the Gold Rush in California to the south, while others headed northwest into Oregon.

The final push: into Oregon at last

Credit: Jakub Zajic/Shutterstock

Originally laid out by trappers and fur traders starting around 1811, the early incarnation of the Oregon Trail was only wide enough for foot and horse traffic. However, by the time the first wagons rolled out of Missouri, around 1836, a wagon-friendly thoroughfare had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. Continually extended and improved with bridges, cutoff routes, and ferries, the wagon trail eventually reached the verdant Willamette Valley in Oregon, delivering settlers to the rich farm and timberland of the Pacific Northwest.

Towns sprung up along the route, making re-supply possible along the way and the trip much faster and less dangerous. About the time things got dialed in, though, the first transcontinental railroad was completed, in 1869, making wagon travel obsolete. The trail remained a main route for cattle drives and other uses for many years, and although train technology cut short the trail’s use by settlers, its high historical importance is recognized and commemorated by the National Park Service, which declared the Oregon Trail a National Historic Trail in 1978.

Blooms of Love

NIV 365 Devotional 1

(Isaiah 27:1–6)

My husband makes our yard look good. Both of his thumbs must be green, because we have an explosion of color around our house. I have flowers in the house virtually the whole year round. In the late winter David forces early daffodils and tulips in our little greenhouse. That’s followed by a constant parade of garden flowers—irises, peonies, poppies, roses, dahlias, asters and the like—until the first freeze in late fall.

Gardening takes a lot of work. David regularly waters our flowers. Sometimes he takes a minute or two to quickly yank up a pile of weeds. Other times he’ll set aside a whole morning or afternoon for yard work and for making a mysterious concoction of fish guts, mouthwash and dish soap that he sprays over his plants so that the bugs and bunnies will leave them alone. His blooms look good enough for the county fair.

It’s a blessing for me that my husband cares as much for cultivating the fruitfulness of our marriage as he cares for cultivating the fruitfulness of our garden. Some of this cultivation takes place in a couple of minutes of “pulling weeds,” making sure we’re on the same page on financial decisions or parenting issues. We build our relationship in daily courtesies, affection, attention and joint prayer. Sometimes we give a whole evening (date night!) to marriage cultivation.

In Isaiah 27, God talks about cultivating the fruitful garden that is his chosen people. He keeps an eye on that garden. He waters it. He makes sure that nothing can harm it. His intention to go beyond protection and provision to fruitfulness is evident.

David and I like to share our garden blooms. This year flowers from our garden helped make a glorious, enormous Easter cross of flowers for our church sanctuary. Flowers from our garden end up on coworkers’ desks, neighbors’ kitchen counters and sickroom bedside tables. People walking their dogs wander up our driveway to get a glimpse into the backyard.

We don’t want to be stingy with the fruit of our marriage either. The point of cultivating our marriage goes beyond simply protecting ourselves and our togetherness. We want our marriage to bear fruit. Some of the fruit it’s now bearing is the secure, God-directed home environment that we’re creating for our children. But our marriage bears fruit in our careers too; neither of us would have the creativity and energy required for work if we were emotionally drained by a damaged marital relationship. Our marriage also bears fruit in our church family life, as we live a testimony of faithfulness before others and as our support for each other enables us to serve in various ways.

David and I are determined to take time, whether it’s five minutes or five evenings, to cultivate a marriage that keeps bearing fruit.

—Annette LaPlaca

Taken from NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible

New life in Christ

Dallas Willard

But the new life in Christ simply is not an inner life of belief and imagination, even if spiritually inspired. It is a life of the whole embodied person in the social context. Peter’s great revelation of Jesus being the Christ was genuine. But subsequent events proved that it alone did not transform his life. What he lived through did that, as was also the case with our Lord, who “learned obedience by the things he suffered” (Heb 5:8-9). An adequate psychology of redemption must make much of this crucial point, and St. Paul’s writings, as well as the rest of the Bible, must be read in the light of it.

From The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Copyright © 1988 by Dallas Willard. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

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