“In places, the Lander Cutoff was a steep up-and-down ride, but the route offered cooler, high terrain and plentiful water, an advantage over the scorching desert of the main ruts to the south. Eventually an estimated 100,000 pioneers took this route, and the 230-mile Lander Cutoff was considered an engineering marvel of its time.
“This model of government support for a major development project became popular and was accepted as the new norm for western growth. Each new phase of frontier growth-the railroads, ranching, mining-was also supported by either outright government subsidies, land giveaways, or federally supported irrigation and bridge-building projects. That was the tradition established by the Oregon Trail and it has always amused me that the myth of ‘rugged individualism’ still plays such a large role in western folklore and American values. In fact, our vaunted rugged individualism was financed by huge government largesse.”