A Long, Hot Dusty Trail – The Oregon Trail in Idaho
“…it is nothing less than a wild, rocky barren wilderness, of wrecked and ruined Nature, a vast field of volcanic desolation..”
Journal entry describing Southern Idaho 1843
It was the time of the great migration west and by 1840 the frontier was pushing permanent Indian territory in the SW. The most enterprising of travelers looked for a route into Oregon and found it by following old fur trapping routes.
The answer was a long, hot, dusty 2,000 mile (3,200km) journey that connected the Missouri river to the lush Oregon valleys and it became known as “The Oregon Trail“.
Like all the big migrations west this was no picnic. The trek took 6 months to complete, and most did it in a wagon box loaded with supplies and pulled by oxen. The travelers, all except the too young or the too old typically walked beside their load on foot. From ~1840 up until the Transcontinental Railroad paved rails to the West in 1869 over 300,000 souls passed this route.
As you can imagine I love all this old history. It’s sometimes hard in our modern day and age to imagine the dedication and physical hardship people went through for a better life back then, and driving through the dry, forbidding wasteland of Southern Idaho gives it a whole new perspective.
We planned a stop right here to experience this very thing. The route through Idaho is actually one of the best preserved sections of the Oregon Trail and you can drive most of it by car. One of the most dangerous river crossings was at Three Island Crossing on the Snake River and there’s both a great State Park and a fabulous interpretive center (sadly closed when we were there) to discuss it.
The Three Island Crossing was typically done in the very heat of summer and was always difficult, reflected in the many lives recorded as lost in the attempt. Those who failed were doomed to follow a more difficult route further South. Many relied on Shoshoni Indian guides to get them across and the entire crossing was done manually right up until 1869 when Gus Glenn built a ferry crossing 2 miles upstream.
We had a total blast staying at the park, walking the old trails, viewing the displays and marveling at the rugged landscape. This area beautifully preserves the history of some of the very first mobile homes on wheels. We’ve certainly come a long way since 1840 and it’s rather amazing that we can drive in only a few hours what it took so many months of labor to walk back then. And all of that with mechanical horsepower and air-conditiong too. I’m thankful to those that paved the way, but certainly happy to be on this long, dusty trail today rather than then.