The Oregon Trail

“There is such thing anymore as the Oregon Trail. There never was a single Oregon Trail. After Fort Kearny on the Platte in eastern Nebraska, some wagon trains hugged the north side of the Platte along the edge of the Sand Hills, and some took the south banks. To avoid each other’s dust and to hunt for game, the wagons fanned out widely across the prairie all day. The trains generally followed a set of central ‘ruts,’ or the rivers, for navigation, but the trail west was often five miles wide on either side of the river, or as much as twelve miles total, including both banks. By the 1850s, western Wyoming was a sprawling network of wagon tracks and shortcuts—the Lander Cutoff, the Farson Cutoff, the Sublette Cutoff, the Hams Fork Cutoff—that extended more than a hundred miles north and south, all of it considered the Oregon Trail. By some counts there are as many as forty cutoffs and alternate branches from the main ruts along the 2,100-mile route. The ‘trail’ was really just an aggregated landscape that the pioneers followed across the plains and then the high deserts.”