A Long, Hot Dusty Trail – The Oregon Trail in Idaho

“…it is nothing less than a wild, rocky barren wilderness, of wrecked and ruined Nature, a vast field of volcanic desolation..”
Journal entry describing Southern Idaho 1843

An early wagon from The Oregon Trail

It was the time of the great migration west and by 1840 the frontier was pushing permanent Indian territory in the SW. The most enterprising of travelers looked for a route into Oregon and found it by following old fur trapping routes.

The answer was a long, hot, dusty 2,000 mile (3,200km) journey that connected the Missouri river to the lush Oregon valleys and it became known as “The Oregon Trail“.

Like all the big migrations west this was no picnic. The trek took 6 months to complete, and most did it in a wagon box loaded with supplies and pulled by oxen. The travelers, all except the too young or the too old typically walked beside their load on foot. From ~1840 up until the Transcontinental Railroad paved rails to the West in 1869 over 300,000 souls passed this route.

The 1843 Oregon Trailmap from historyglobe.com
The 1843 Oregon Trailmap from historyglobe.com

As you can imagine I love all this old history. It’s sometimes hard in our modern day and age to imagine the dedication and physical hardship people went through for a better life back then, and driving through the dry, forbidding wasteland of Southern Idaho gives it a whole new perspective.

We planned a stop right here to experience this very thing. The route through Idaho is actually one of the best preserved sections of the Oregon Trail and you can drive most of it by car. One of the most dangerous river crossings was at Three Island Crossing on the Snake River and there’s both a great State Park and a fabulous interpretive center (sadly closed when we were there) to discuss it.

The Snake River was a dangerous crossing
Birdseye overlook of Three Island Crossing
Birdseye overlook of Three Island Crossing

The Three Island Crossing was typically done in the very heat of summer and was always difficult, reflected in the many lives recorded as lost in the attempt. Those who failed were doomed to follow a more difficult route further South. Many relied on Shoshoni Indian guides to get them across and the entire crossing was done manually right up until 1869 when Gus Glenn built a ferry crossing 2 miles upstream.

One of the old Snake River ferryboats. In 1878 it cost $1.50 to cross a wagon and two oxen.

We had a total blast staying at the park, walking the old trails, viewing the displays and marveling at the rugged landscape. This area beautifully preserves the history of some of the very first mobile homes on wheels. We’ve certainly come a long way since 1840 and it’s rather amazing that we can drive in only a few hours what it took so many months of labor to walk back then. And all of that with mechanical horsepower and air-conditiong too. I’m thankful to those that paved the way, but certainly happy to be on this long, dusty trail today rather than then.

Another of the old wagons on display at Three Island Crossing State Park
Another of the old wagons on display at Three Island Crossing State Park
Early pilgrims faced a hot, forbidding wasteland
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. Sandie says

    I would have made a lousy pioneer. I can’t even begin to imagine walking all that way through all kinds of weather, having children and husbands and wives die along the way, fighting Indians and bugs. I am such a wimp. But I so admire those strong people. They paved the way for us to be able to travel in such luxury.

  2. says

    Ni, Nina! We’ve been away from you for a week or so. Glad to be back. We have visited several parts of the Oregon Trail, including the end of the trail in Oregon City, OR, trail ruts in Wyoming, etc. You tell your story so well! Thanks for ideas for future places to visit!

  3. says

    I love this “old” history stuff too. This sounds like such an awesome area. I remember studying so much about the Oregon Trail. Whenever we do anything that is related to history, I try to image myself as one of the participates. Sometimes it is very scarey…this would be one of those times with Indians, snakes, disease, very cold weather, etc. Did you ever hear Woody Guthrie – Oregon Trail lyrics…he is a hoot. Great blog. Thanks for taking me back to about 6th grade.

    • libertatemamo says

      I too try and put myself in their shoes. It’s always quite an enlightening experience.
      I can’t imagine even half the hardships of walking these old trails!

  4. says

    There’s a computer game called Oregon Trail I played back in the 80s. You had to decide how much money to spend on which supplies, decide how to respond to approaching people when on the trail, hunt for game, etc. If you made it all the way you got to listen to the teletype print out a congratulatory note. It was fun to do as a game but I would not have liked the real life situation.

    • libertatemamo says

      Hey I think I remember that game!! There was also a documentary and film on the Oregon Trail.
      Lots of old memories there!

  5. Jeff says

    Heading west, there is a great county park at Boardman, OR. This is west of Pendelton a few miles. Pull-thru sites, shade trees, walking trails and right on the bank of the Columbia. Via con Dios.

    • libertatemamo says

      Thanks Jeff!!
      We ended up splitting south of I-84 and taking the 20 across, but this looks like a great stop for the future if we ever go across that route. Appreciate the tip!

  6. says

    Idaho is one of those states were really looking forward to seeing next year, the more we see the more we want to go, thanks. Glad to see the slide is holding together so you can at least enjoy the rip to Oregon.

    • libertatemamo says

      Yeah, I wish we had more time here. Our original plan was to spend at least a month here. Alot of really cool stuff up towards the North (McCall).
      We’ll have to come back!

  7. Christy @ Technosyncratic says

    I grew up in Oregon, so the Oregon Trail was obvious a huge part of my elementary-school education. And that computer game was ridiculously popular! We’d crowd around the two huge computer screens in the library and watch how many of our oxen we lost crossing the river, or how many people died from dysentery. Kind of morbid, actually. 😛


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