“In the first place, we have in the Oregon migration, which was pretty well developed by 1843, an example of a frontier jumping nearly two thousand miles over an unoccupied country. There has been no other phenomenon like this in American history, and it is doubtful if world history offers a parallel case. It is significant that the immigrants went all this distance to a wooded and well-watered environment similar in practically all respects to that which they had known in the East; in fact, they passed over the fertile Prairie Plains of the Middle West, where, as time has proved, the agricultural opportunities were far better than they were on the Pacific coast. They were bound for the land where the simple plow, the scythe, the ox, and the horse could be used according to the tradition that had been worked out in two centuries of pioneering in a wooded country.
It has been estimated that each mile of the two-thousand-mile journey cost seventeen lives – a total of thirty-four thousand lives. It has been customary to consider the trip over the Oregon Trail as a heroic act, and it was; but in one sense it registered a lack of sufficient heroism to lead the people to undertake to live in the vast country that they traversed. They were in reality seeking the familiar and shunning the necessity of working out new ways in the Plains. The heroism lay in getting to Oregon and not in living there. The deserts, the waterless drives, the sand storms, the treacherous quicksands of the rivers, the prairie fires, the hostile Indians, the stampeding buffalo found on the Plains – all were a part of that great obstacle.