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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT

National Historic Oregon
Trail Interpretive Center

Homework Helpers (FAQs)

Frequently Asked Questions from Kids


When did the Oregon Trail start?

The first large wagon train of pioneers bound for Oregon was in 1843.

When was the last wagon train?

The last wagon trains came in the 1880's, when other methods of transportation (such as railroads) were developed in the West.

Why did the pioneers use oxen to pull their wagons?

Oxen were used because they could pull heavy loads. Oxen could survive on eating the grass along the way. Oxen didn't cost as much as mules.

What were "buffalo chips"?

Buffalo chips were the hardened manure droppings of the buffaloes that the pioneers used for fuel.

Did the children on the wagon trains have to go to school?

On some wagon trains an older person would go over lessons with the children when they stopped for lunch or dinner. On other wagon trains, children would study with their parents or older brothers or sisters. For most children, there was no school while traveling with the wagon train.

Who led (guided) the wagon trains?

Some wagon trains were led by a trail guide that was hired to show the way. Often these guides had been fur trappers and traders for many years and had traveled the Oregon Trail many times. In some wagon trains, all the members voted to have one person be the captain or leader.

Why did people go to the Oregon Territory?

Many people went to the Oregon Territory to get free farm land. Some went hoping to find better health or better living conditions. Some went to escape problems. Others went for adventure and to seek new experiences.

Where did the pioneers sleep?

Pioneers slept in or under their wagons. Some slept in a tent and some slept just out under the stars.

How did they cook?

They built a campfire and cooked their food in iron pots and skillets. Many times they cooked only in the evening, and ate cold leftovers for breakfast and the noon meal.

What did they eat?

They took food that would not spoil along the way. Beans and rice, dried meat and salted bacon, dried fruit, hardtack or crackers (hard dried bread which had to be softened in water to eat). They took flour and sugar and sometimes baked bread, biscuits, or pies. They drank coffee and tea, and sometimes took lemon extract to make lemonade. Many families took along a milk cow to have fresh milk and butter along the way. As they traveled, they would hunt and fish along the way for antelope, buffalo, deer, elk, rabbit, birds, and trout. Many wagon trains traded with Indians for salmon and vegetables.

What was it like to ride in a covered wagon?

Bumpy! The sturdy wagons had no springs, and the roads were not smooth paved roads but were full of potholes and rocks. Every time the big wheels rolled over a bump, everything in the wagon got bounced and jostled. The dirt roads were muddy when it rained, and dusty when it didn't rain. Most of the people walked, and only rode in the wagon when tired or sick.

Can we still see the Oregon Trail?

There are many places where we can still see ruts from the Oregon Trail, but most of the trail has disappeared where farms and towns have been built over the years.

How many wagons were in the wagons trains?

Some wagon trains were very large. The 1843 migration had 120 wagons. Others were very small, with only three to five wagons. The size of the wagon train usually depended on how fast the group of people wanted to travel and how well they got along with each other. Sometimes groups formed large wagon trains when they wanted security and help from others to get past a difficult part of the trail, and then they'd split up later.