Alcova Area, Natrona County, Wyoming

National Historic Trails in Natrona County, Wyoming

Salt Creek Oil Field Tour

      The emigrants followed the Trails System westward during the great 19th century migration to what is now Oregon, California, and Utah. Farmers bound for the fertile valley, and adventurers bound for the Salt Lake Valley, and adventurers bound for the California gold fields all ventured across the plains and mountains by way of the Trails System. This route was also used for the first transcontinental telegraph, the Overland Mail service, and the Pony Express. From Independence, Missouri, to western Oregon, a wagon traveled 1,932 miles. For a journey of such magnitude, emigrants needed dependable sources of water and grass and a passable grade through the mountains. The low topographic relief of the Continental Divide at South Pass provided a "gentle" passageway across the mountains. It became the favored route of the emigrants.
      Travelers followed the same "Emigrant Road," to just beyond South Pass, where, at the "Parting of the Ways," the trails diverged. Here travelers bound for the Salt Lake Valley in Utah, or beyond to California, headed southwesterly while most of those bound for Oregon turned to the northwest. Although "Oregon Trail" is the name often used today, emigrants who followed it commonly called it "the road."
Origins of the Trail
      The Oregon Trail was originally blazed by fur trappers and traders who were following the well-worn trails of the Native American Indian. To exploit the rich fur country of the Pacific Northwest, the American fur Company established a trading headquarters in 1810 at Astoria near the mouth of the Columbia River. Wilson Price Hunt led the company's first overland expedition to Astoria in 1811. He crossed the Wind River Range by way of Union Pass and the Rocky Mountains via Teton Pass, then followed the Snake and Columbia Rivers to Astoria. A return expedition in 1812 was led by Robert Stuart, who followed the Columbia and Snake Rivers and crossed Teton Pass, then crossed the Wind River Mountains over South Pass, and continued east on the Sweetwater and North Platte Rivers. In November 1812, Stuart established a winter camp in the vicinity of Red Buttes on the North Platte River. Stuart not only "discovered" South Pass, but also traveled west to east along a large portion of what would become the Oregon Trail.
      England claimed Oregon as its territory, but after the War of 1812, the United States attempted to curb British interests by encouraging American settlement and competition with the Hudson Bay Company. The federal government later offered free land to emigrants willing to make the trip. This incentive, as well as economic hardship and social upheaval, induced emigrants to go west and start anew.

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