The Greenhorns Guide to Surviving

By Annabelle & Marisa


  • Do not overpack! Nearly all emigrants has majorly over packed their wagons. Their only choice was to throw things out. The trail has so much debris that scavengers from neighboring towns would collect massive amounts of supplies.


  • Make sure that you have the right wagon. Huge Conestoga wagons were never used by the pioneers. These wagons would often be too heavy or big. They instead used small farm wagons. Though they may seem simplistic, in the 1840s, they were technology-advanced vehicles. These wagons were able to turn easily and round sharp corners.


  • Do not leave too early! In mid April, the prairie outside Independence was packed to about three miles worth of emigrants. They were waiting there for the grass to grow. Leaving too early would be fatal because the grass wouldn’t be long enough for the animals to graze along the way.


  • Make sure to have the right animal pulling your wagon. Horses will not work because they cannot live off the prairie grasses. Oxen would be a better option because they can live off the prairie grasses, and are less expensive, but they are very slow. So, use a mule. Mules are faster and they too could live off the grasses.


  • Make sure that your animals are trained and you know how to control them. There was often a huge traffic jam at the time to leave because everyone wanted to leave at the same time. The beginners who had never yoked an oxen before or driven a mule team were the worse. Since they didn’t know how to drive their wagons would go all over.

Native Americans

  • Do not expect attacks from Native Americans. In fact there were many cases of Native American kindness--helping pull out stuck wagons; rescuing drowning emigrants; even rounding up lost cattle. Most encounters with Natives were business transfers. Emigrants offered clothes, tobacco and rifles in exchange for Native American horses of food.


  • The biggest problem on the Oregon Trail was cholera. Cholera was a disease that was fatal. Someone could start feeling unwell and die within hours. Some had proper burials, but others were abandoned on the side of the trail in their beds. There was no cure for cholera, so some wagons lost over half of their people.

River Crossings

  • Be careful when crossing rivers. Rivers have caused major problems for many pioneers. In 1850 alone 37 people drowned trying to cross the Green River. Ferry can take you across the river but only if you have 16 dollars, practically the price of an oxen.


  • Be very careful during thunderstorms. During this time there was no T.V. or radio stations to warn people about the weather. Many emigrants were injured or killed during great thunderstorms. Some people were killed by lightning strikes while others were just injured by hail. Hail could be the size of apples and there was no protection in the middle of plains. Rain would also eventually start to leak through covered wagons.


  • Beware of buffalo! As the emigrants travelled west along the Platte River, they would encounter buffalo. Buffalo are very strong and dangerous animals. There were over hundreds of buffalo that could pass at a time and could delay a whole day’s travel. The emigrants would often abandon their wagons to hunt the buffalo for a few hours.