Overland Trail

Overland Trail

[oh-ver-land, -luhnd]
Overland Trail, any of several trails of westward migration in the United States. The term is sometimes used to mean all the trails westward from the Missouri to the Pacific and sometimes for the central trails only. Particularly, the term has been applied to a southern alternate route to the Oregon Trail used by the Overland Stage. It branched from the parent trail at the junction of the North Platte and South Platte rivers and followed the South Platte to near the present Greeley, Colo., where it left the river and went largely overland, crossing the Laramie and North Platte rivers and rejoining the parent trail east of Fort Bridger. The term is also particularly applied to a route to California that went west from Fort Bridger to the Great Salt Lake (thus duplicating in part the Mormon Trail), then on to Sutter's Fort in California; it was much used by California-bound immigrants.

See J. M. Faragher, Women and Men on the Overland Trail (1979); D. L. Smith, ed., Survival on a Westward Trek (1989).

The Overland Trail was a pioneer trail beginning at several different points. Parts of it were based on traditional Native American trails, and it connected to the Great Trail which led back to the East Coast.

Beginning in Omaha, Nebraska, the Overland Trail followed the Great Platte River Road and the Sweetwater River in the Nebraska Territory across the plains to the South Pass of the Rocky Mountains. There it crossed the Continental Divide, eventually splitting near Fort Hall. Between 1840 and 1860 more than a quarter of a million emigrants (immigrants) used a variety of transportation, including stagecoaches and covered wagons, to make the trek.

The journey across Overland Trails took pioneers 2,000 miles and around seven months. Most groups traveled at a pace of fifteen miles a day. Few traveled the Overland Trails alone . Most of the settlers traveled with their families. Large groups of pioneers joined together to form "trains." Groups were usually led by "pilots" who were fur trappers or mountain men that would guide them on the trails. The journey over the trails usually began in the spring to avoid traveling in the winter. Many people died on the journey due to disease or accidents. Attacks by Native Americans were rare. Many made the journey to California and Oregon because they saw these new lands as a place of endless opportunity. Once the Transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, the wagon train era ended because settlers could now journey to the west coast safely in a fraction of the time.

Fort Ruby, near Hobson, Nevada was established in 1862 to protect the trail's important connection between California and the Union states during the American Civil War. It was located at the east entrance to the Overland Pass into Ruby Valley.

The Marriott Library at the University of Utah holds a collection of diaries describing the treks of Mormon settlers and pioneers from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah via the Overland Trail in the mid 1800's. These dairies provide insight into everyday life during this time period as well as numerous tales of life during the trek westward. Also included in the collection are U.S. Army maps which were used to navigate during the trek.

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