Students learn about the history of the Oregon Trail and its impact on Westward Expansion and the early growth of Oregon. They then label a map of the trail with surrounding states and compass directions.
This lesson is part of "Great States: Oregon | Unit 5: The Oregon Trail and Settling Oregon." Oregon’s unique role as the ultimate destination of the heavily traveled Oregon Trail will be considered in this unit.
4.2: Explain how key individuals and events influenced the early growth and changes in Oregon.
SS.05.GE.01.01: Know and use basic map elements to answer geographic questions or display geographic information.
- Map: USA Map in Zones and Its Territories | Clipart
- An interactive whiteboard, projector, or another type of screen to show maps to class
- Class set of Oregon Trail Map handout
- Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
- Provide students with copies of the Oregon Trail Map handout.
- Describe the Oregon Trail history to students, as it is one of the most important events in American History:
- The Oregon Trail covers approximately 2000 miles of the western United States, stretching between Missouri and Oregon or California (depending on the western branch of the trail).
- The origins of the trail were made by beaver trappers and traders, who hunted along the great rivers of Oregon, and sought the best paths back through the mountains and plains to get their furs to the cities of the east.
- Husband and wife missionaries also traveled west through the Great Plains and Mountain West, and helped plot out paths that wagons could travel because they were bringing all home items necessary to permanently settle in Oregon. The early missionaries encouraged permanent American settlement of families in Oregon.
- The US government also wanted Americans to settle in Oregon in order to keep British settlers out of the region. To accomplish this, they paid explorers to learn about the land, map it, and promote it for potential settlers.
- Oregon proved to be very attractive for potential settlers (particularly compared to the Great Plains, which had few rivers and trees). Oregon offered fertile land for agriculture, seaports and large rivers for commerce and fishing, and abundant forests for hunting and logging. In all this, Oregon had everything families could want to survive and thrive.
- The first organized wagon trains (wagons used to transport entire families and home contents) began in 1841 and 1842.
- In the spring of 1843, approximately 1,000 pioneers made the journey at one time—this journey is called the Great Migration.
- Because wagons could travel the entire trail, families looking for land and a way to make a living were able to relocate permanently to Oregon. Having entire family units arrive together enabled Oregon’s early growth.
- The mass influx of people settled in Oregon’s early population centers, especially in the fertile Willamette River Valley.
- The average journey by wagon took four to six months (at 15 miles a day).
- To encourage more settlement in Oregon, the early settlers in the Willamette River Valley granted new settlers hundreds of acres of land for free.
- Around 300,000 to 400,000 pioneers traveled the Oregon Trail between 1840 and 1860, many settling in Oregon.
- The journey started in Independence, Missouri, although people came from around the world.
- About one-third of the way through the trip, the settlers would pass the landmarks of Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff.
- The next major milestone was Fort Laramie, which is now in the state of Wyoming.
- From Fort Laramie, travelers would cross the Rockies to Fort Bridger, to Fort Hall, and then to Fort Boise.
- The last leg started from Fort Boise, from where they would cross the Blue Mountains into Oregon.
- On their maps, instruct students to label the compass and each state as they “travel” along the Oregon Trail westward from Independence, Missouri, to Willamette Valley, Oregon. Project the map, USA Map in Zones and Its Territories | Clipart for students to reference while labeling their maps.
See for more information, see: