The United States originally comprised of the 13 states along the eastern coast. Soon after its independence, the country began to expand westwards.
At the time, the western territories of the country had no roads or infrastructure. So the people migrating towards the west had to make arduous journeys on wagons.
They took different paths to make these journeys. Over time, many of these paths became well-established. These came to be known as the Trails into the West. Most of these trails were first established by fur traders.
California Trail made Traveling from Missouri to California easier, but anyone making the journey had to be well-prepared Read more about the California Trail >>
Mormons realized that they could no longer live in peace in Illinois and the 'Mormon Trail' Began Read more about the Mormon Trail >>
The Oregon Trail began in Independence, Missouri and its end was reached in the Oregon City Read more about the Oregon Trail >>
Traveling on the westward trails was not an easy task. Many of these trails ran for thousands of miles. Along the way, there were little to no places for staying. People migrating westwards had to hunt, cook, and gather food for them along the way. Starvation was a very serious risk when journeying on these trails. Sometimes, the Native American tribes near the trail also attacked the travelers for intruding upon their lands. Accidents, harsh weather and injuries were also common dangers along these trails.
Some of the most popular westward trails were the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail and the California Trail. These trails were used by hundreds of thousands of people in the 19th century during their migration westwards. As the Transcontinental Railroad became functional and people could travel through the west on railroads, the westward trails became less frequently used.
The Oregon Trail originated in Missouri and came to an end in Oregon valleys. It was a very long journey and the trail ran for around 2,000 miles. The trail passed through a very diverse landscape including deserts, mountains, prairies and valleys. Sometimes, the travelers traveled together in groups by banding together wagons. This was known as wagon trains.
The Mormon Trail began in Nauvoo, Illinois and came to an end in Salt Lake City, Utah. The trail was pioneered by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more popularly known as Mormons. The trail ran for around 1300 miles and was used by a large number of Mormons between 1846 and 1870.
The Santa Fe Trail ran between Franklin, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a very important transportation link between the two regions and served as a commercial highway. After United States acquired new territories in the Southwest after 1849, the trail was used by a large number of migrants to reach the new lands.
The California Trail was one of the longest migrant trails of the American West. It ran for around 3,000 miles, originating in Missouri and ending in California. The first half of the route shared the same trail as the Oregon Trail while the second part branched off and headed towards California. When California Gold Rush began in 1848, the trail became an especially popular route. More than 200,000 people used the route to travel to California during the Gold Rush.