One of America’s Epic Journeys in History was and is the Oregon Trail. What makes this particular journey such an important period of time for America (1840-1870), which was less than a hundred years in existence as a sovereign country? The British Empire in the 1700’s conquered and subjugated many vulnerable states and islands around the World. These colonies became a replication of British Society but in reality they were enslaved to the Empire. A major revolt by the colonists, in defiance of the Tea Act of May 10, 1773, evolved over the next three years, being a spectacular and successful revolution ending in America becoming a Country in 1776. Fast forward to the 1830’s where there was a movement attempting to expand across the continent.
By this time there were territories as far West as the mighty Mississippi River. The major population settled between Boston and New York City to Chicago and St Louis. This was only Phase I
of a long migration West. Pioneers, as they were titled, started treks across in small groups following trails described by their predecessors in books and newspapers for sometime. At the beginning, the major obstacles were rivers and valleys in Missouri and Nebraska. They foraged and hunted for their meals. Some had crafted wagons and used the original “Horse Power” to pull the wagons forward. Following the rivers and in some cases crafting boats out of tree trunks to river-raft following the currents westward. On the western edge of Missouri they came to an encampment eventually called Independence, Missouri. This community was the origin of the Oregon Trail and Santa Fe Trail. There had by that point many entrepreneurs raising draft horses, mules and oxen, building various wagons, storing supplies, supplying guns, organizing wagon trains and offering the services of trail guides and soldiers for the trek west.
Who were these people on this journey? Many of these pioneers were looking for a “new life” for themselves and their families. There were opportunities as well as challenges. Many journalized their journeys and sent them back to their home communities back East to be published in local papers throughout the Eastern Territories. Others found their new life out west and sent back stories of the wonder of what they experienced. These stories were passed on to many others, which motivated new pioneers and new stories. These stories were sometimes embellished to levels of heroic stature. Thus, there were many more following in the footsteps and wagon wheel tracks of the earlier pioneers (Outdoorists).
The 1840’s brought an epic “Gold Fever Rush” for fortune seekers who were unique unto themselves. Religious groups, fleeing from discrimination and looking for their “Promise Land” as depicted in their religious writings and biblical passages. Contrasting both of the above groups were the dreamers looking for the heaven of Buffalo, Grizzly Bear, Beaver and Elk being considered “Trophies” for their living rooms back East. Like oil and water, these three groups were not on the same page in any matter. Trading Companies emerged throughout the West. Phrases such as “Go West Young Man” turned into patriotic songs and poems that moved many others to consider these new ventures.
This period of American Patriotism brought men and women introducing new ideas to create and enhance our culture across
the vast western region of this New World. Ideas turned in to Innovation, Creativity and Change and nudged our country to levels never before envisioned. James K. Polk, the US President from 1845 to 1849, was the engenderment for the movement west. He was considered an “expansionist” as well as a “Protectionist”. Two large issues concerning Polk were the Invasion by Mexico and the challenges with the Native Americans who were considered uprising and in attack mode in states like Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Nebraska to which became a serious threat to the migrations west by pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail. From 1845 to 1860 defiance by these tribes became very violent and life risking. Protection by the US Military created Forts like Ft. Laramie and many others. The concept describing this movement was “Manifest Destiny”. The number of deaths due to Indian attacks rose to tragic levels. With all this carnage occurring brought even more pioneers up for the challenge. The increase of military power only brought more tribes into the “Indian Wars”.
Now, “HOLD ON TO YOUR IPAD” as we fast forward to the decade (1965 -1975) when the Baby Boomers migrated Westward in America towards a “new life”. Instead of Conestoga Wagons and
Oxen Carts, the Boomers traveled in Volkswagon Vans, Ford Econolines towing all their “things” in an Airstream Trailer. Those choosing to head towards The Rockies to travel, trek, river raft and scale the 14,000 footers was the first step to becoming a “Westerner”. At the peaks they signed the scrolls nestled in rocks at the peaks where GPS markers reside and some of the most breath taking views in the World.
If Boomers veered toward the Northwest, they traveled parallel to the Oregon Trail. If they veered toward the Southwest, they traveled parallel to the Santa Fe Trail. In many cases the Boomers were aware that 100 years earlier the Pioneers trekked over the same pathways west. Boomers, in essence, were the Pioneers of their own accord discovering communities like Denver, Cheyenne, Santa Fe, Boise, Salt Lake City, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. These towns were infused with a youthful perspective for outdoor values and respect, keeping aware of the respect for the historical significance that the earlier pioneers planted. The boomer movement, over time, affected the desire to explore the Great Outdoors by supporting Sustainability to protect the beauty and balance of the West.
The Boomers were the Outdoorist Pioneers. They brought the early stages of the Outdoor Industry and planted pitons to ascend mountain faces, mapping trails, discovering white water rafting and kayaking on waterways within the National Park System. Present day Outdoorists owe gratitude for what Boomers discovered and captured in the soul of the the Outdoor Experience.
Now hang on for one more time warp forward to 1980-2000. Into the wild come the Millennials who have taken the foundation of respect and appreciation of the Outdoors laid by the Boomers. They ramped up the challenges and records awaiting their outdoor activities armed with new age “gear”. Millennials look at things
from a collaborative and group oriented foundation. Group gatherings, in the outdoor wilderness, like Burning Man, X-Games, Single Track, RAGNAR, Tough Mudder Runs and Geocaching all being group activities. GPS availability and the Outdoor New Age Gear gave Millennials the right away to outdoor challenges unimaginable to Boomer Outdoorists.
The Oregon Trail, in particular, has become the new challenge for these new Outdoorists. Thanks to Adventure Cycling Company there is a new challenge called TransAmerica Bike Trek. Mapping trails, overnight camping accommodations, Natural Feature locations are all online accessable for the group riders, and in some cases individuals, following the tire tracks from Astoria, OR, following the Oregon Trail, to Independence, MO, a 2,170 mile journey. Then East to Yorktown, VA completing a “Sea to shining Sea” bike trek totaling 4,228.5 miles.
Outdoorists are fascinated with the Northwest part of America for it’s Mountains, Rivers, Ocean and a very vibrant culture. Since Congress designated The Oregon Trail as a National Historic Trail in 1978 and managed by the National Park Service, the fascination with the history of the Pioneers, Native American Culture and the Outdoor Challenges associated with the Oregon Trail has grown significantly. The trail has attracted Boomers, GenX, Millennials and Gen Z generations having found collaborative ventures along the Oregon Trail on equal footing. Between Outdoor Adven
ture Companies teaming up with the National Park Service are offering Outdoor Experiences on every level of difficulty along with volunteering efforts to maintain and improve this National Historical Trail.
Remember OutdoorLoyalty.com’s Tagline: “Reward…Outdoor…Activities”
Below is a link to a great article by AdventureCycling.org about the present day activities on The Oregon Trail. Check it out…