Pioneers on the Oregon Trail ‘Nervous, Intelligent, Brave, and Determined’
By 1843 the Oregon Trail was developed enough that wagons could travel its entire 2,000-mile length, from Missouri to the Oregon Country, and America’s westward expansion began in earnest. Around 900 settlers reached the Oregon territory via the Oregon Trail in 1843, and many more followed in the years to come, tipping the balance of power in the region from Great Britain to the United States.
Newspapers were quick to fill the public’s appetite for news about the Oregon Trail and the rich, fertile land in the Oregon Country. In its June 14, 1845, issue the New York Herald (New York, New York) published a series of letters and excerpts from Missouri papers:
[From the St. Louis Era, June 3]
[a letter written from an emigrant camp on the Oregon Trail]
The whole form as nervous, intelligent, brave, and determined a body as ever launched themselves upon the hazard of an untried and arduous enterprise, surrounded by known difficulties and freckled with unknown dangers. Amply equipped with provisions, arms, excellent vehicles, abundance of animals, experienced guides and true rifles, the sight of this train of moving houses as breaking from camp and stretching onward one by one, they form a moving line of two miles in length, flanked by herds and horsemen, inspired in our breasts the most stirring emotions.
This morning the warlike news from England reached the camp, at the announcement of which all declared that they went equally determined to settle and to conquer. Should they be called to rally around the Star Spangled Banner, and plant the national standard forever firmly on the sublime heights that overlook the Pacific, we shall know that truer hearts or better soldiers never primed a rifle or drew a deadlier bead.
We cannot too highly appreciate those who thus depart with such intentions, or too highly value the services they go to render to their country without remuneration. They go to plant a new people in a new and active country – to create new states – to give us a new commercial empire – to open a new field to the growing energies and wants of our expanding Republic – to carry civilization around the world – to dissolve the spell that has estranged the Asiatic from the European portion of mankind – to propagate the knowledge of human rights to the timid, lively and intelligent people of Asia and Polynesia – to teach them sciences, navigation and commerce, &c. – to spread education and happiness – in short to commence that last revolution over the world which will embrace and elevate all mankind, by bringing all nations familiarly in contact, and making them rivals in the race of improvement. They go to confront and dislodge British invasion and stop British conquest, which vanquished in front upon the Atlantic, has gone round our flanks and round the world to crush and destroy us from behind – to counteract British spleen which has heated our enemies, soured our friends, concerted for us domestic strife and servile war, and intrigued to sow the seed of enmity against us in every foreign breast.
…It is a wonderful impulse this, combined of patriotism, curiosity, and a warlike spirit of adventure, which is pressing our people onward to the Western Seas. They depart burning with high hopes of benefits to accrue both to themselves and the general country. In both they will be gratified. There is everything in the settling of Oregon which is calculated to fan into activity the spirit of emigration: wild adventure for the young; solid gain for the more sober; health and a fair climate for females, to lighten their domestic duties and give vigor to their offspring.
Success to those who have gone! Success, too, to those who may follow during succeeding years! We may expect a continual annual increase in their numbers as the importance of Oregon and California becomes more fully known, the intervening difficulties removed, and the connexion with us more fully confirmed. Let us cheer the brave pioneers to whom we bid adieu, and animate ourselves, that each succeeding year may eclipse its predecessor.
[From the St. Louis Reporter, June 4]
From the number of applications made to Captain Fremont on Monday to join his company, it may be judged how readily a Government expedition to take possession of Oregon would meet with volunteers. The West can occupy and defend that territory whenever the Government can get ready to authorize and encourage the movement. Hundreds have been soliciting Captain F. for situations in his company, although he can employ but few persons, and if he wanted thousands a few days notice would suffice to bring them to his standard. The novelty of the trip to Oregon arouses the adventurous spirit of the West, and new zest is given to the enterprise by a probability of a brush with the British. The administration will find men enough in the West to carry on any operations which may be necessary in Oregon. Let it be bold, and all difficulties will vanish.
[From the St. Louis Era, June 4]
The party that came in with Captain Finch state that the whole trace from fifteen miles beyond the Big Blue to the State line, was lined with emigrants to Oregon. In that distance they met at least 500 wagons and the usual proportion of emigrants and cattle. This is the way to fortify our right to Oregon. Actual possession and occupancy by the right kind of men, will be the best guarantee for our rights to that region.
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