What Was the Purpose of the Oregon Trail?

purpose-oregon-trail Credit: Geoffrey Clifford/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The Oregon Trail was a series of trails that led from Missouri to the Columbia River and Willamette Valley. It was used by missionary families, settlers, fur trappers and farmers to open a route of trade. The trails were originally used by Native Americans. During the late 1800s, the Oregon Trail was used for eastward cattle drives. By the 20th century, it became a key part of American iconography.

Large scale migration along the Oregon Trail began during the 1840s, fueled in part by Mormons seeking to escape religious persecution and fortune seekers responding to the discovery of gold in California. The next three decades saw military posts, trading posts, shortcuts and spur roads appear along the various trails that made up the Oregon Trail. The route was expanded by the Central Pacific Railroad and Oregon Shortline to connect the trails to California and Oregon.

While a great deal of the trail has vanished beneath modern construction and the development of towns, the National Park Service and other organizations have preserved and maintained 300 miles of the original paths, making it possible to hike or drive along the Oregon Trail.

In 1974, an educational computer game about the Oregon Trail was developed. Its aim was to educate children about the realities of the journey.