First Year in Oregon, 1840-1869: A Narrative History

Summary of the Full Report

AUTHOR: Historical Research Associates, Inc.
DATE ACCEPTED: October 2021

The Oregon National Historic Trail commemorates the arduous overland journey—across rivers, through forests, and over mountains—made by thousands of emigrants in the middle of the nineteenth century. While we know a lot about the trip itself, we know considerably less about what greeted emigrants upon arrival. Where did they live? How did they earn money? What did they do for fun? Perhaps most importantly, did their new home meet their expectations?

This report chronicles the conditions that overlanders found at the end of their journey, whether in the lush Willamette and Umpqua valleys or the bustling cities of Oregon City and Portland. Using diaries, newspapers, paintings, photographs, and maps, the authors paint realistic portraits of day-to-day life for recent arrivals. The result is a more nuanced historical picture of westward migration, seen through the hopes, dreams, and disappointments of those who lived it.


Overlanders in the Columbia River Gorge, 1840-1870: A Narrative History

Summary of the Full Report

AUTHOR: Historical Research Associates, Inc.
DATE ACCEPTED: September 2020

Most who followed the Oregon Trail did not traverse the Columbia River Gorge, if they could help it, because the gorge posed numerous dangers for travelers unfamiliar with the rugged terrain and raging river. When Samuel Barlow opened a road around the southern side of Mount Hood in 1846, overlanders going to Oregon City more often chose that route, rather than braving the Columbia River.

This report centers on the Columbia River and its banks, from the confluence with the Snake River (near present-day Pasco, Washington) to the confluence with the Willamette River (near Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington), from 1840 to 1870. Using maps, historical documents, and images, it examines change over time in the landscape of the Columbia River Gorge, hydrological hazards of the river, methods of navigating the river, historical livestock and wagon tracks, American Indian settlements and businesses along the river, interactions between American Indians and overlanders, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s role in overlander travel, calamities and deaths that befell overlanders, alternative routes and how they altered travel on the gorge, and commercial transportation.


Sweet Freedom's Plains: African Americans on the Overland Trails 1841-1869

AUTHOR: Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, PhD.
DATE ACCEPTED: January 31, 2012

Dr. Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, Professor of History at California State University, Sacramento, worked with the National Park Service, National Trails Intermountain Region to create this groundbreaking study about the African American emigrant experience on the Oregon, California and Mormon Pioneer national historic trails. Read her engaging study on this little known component of American history.

"African American men, women and children were western pioneers too. Enslaved or free, they were an integral part of the human tide that undertook the long journey across the continent."

"Black people, like their white counterparts, crossed the plains for myriad personal, economic, social, and political reasons. The lure of free land, new business opportunities, and individual autonomy were aspirations shared by both groups."

"Clearly, the lives, hopes, and expectations of nineteenth century black people differed in critical ways from those of white people. As a result, African Americans understood and experienced the westering journey in ways that white emigrants could not. The study of the African American experience on the trails broadens our understanding of the nature, scope, and meaning of westward migration. The experiences of the thousands of black men and women who came west compel us to reconsider the traditional narrative of our nation's history."

Last updated: March 14, 2022

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Oregon National Historic Trail
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Santa Fe, NM 87505

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