Oregon Trail preparation
1907 Map by Ezra Meeker, early “opener” of the Oregon territory. The map shows turn-of-the-century geographic names.
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If your education was like most, your history book handled the Civil War, western migration, and the Gold Rush in three separate sections. For many people, this causes a distinct disconnect, and it may take years to realize that all of these major events in American history happened during the same era! While battles raged back east, individuals and households continued to emigrate, prospect, and settle the west. For modern living history enthusiasts, understand the vast pull of the West is a great addition to mid-century context, and can even enter into specific interpretive presentations.
Beginning with white missionary settlement in the 1830s, the western territories that would become the states of Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, and Idaho captured the imagination and hopefulness of a young nation eager to spread out and find new horizons. Land grant programs beginning in 1843 allowed any adult citizen to claim western acreage, provided he lived on and improved the property (called “proving” a claim) for several years; married men were able to claim double acreage. Starting in 1854, acreage could be either “proved” or purchased outright. The Homestead Act of 1862 again granted free claims of up to 320 acres with five years “proving”, or paid claims with six months residency, and $1.25 per acre. With farmland growing more expensive in the northern states, and increasingly tapped out or battle-wearing in the south, “free” land in the west grew more and more attractive. Continue reading