For Time Magazine, by Stephen Lowe
You’ve probably heard of the Indian vs. emigrants shootings, the drowning of the Applegate family, and starvation on the Oregon Trail, but do you honestly know to what extent how hard the journey was for the emigrants to make this 2,000 mile journey (McGill; Wagner, 10-15, 109-110; Life and Death on the Oregon Trail). The emigrants had to go through endless hardship, varying from walking the entire journey to deadly unknown diseases (Boettcher and Trinklein; Life and Death on the Oregon Trail). According to the Oregon-California Trails Association, expected mothers were common emigrants to travel on the trail, meaning that majority of the wagons on the trail had at least one expectant mother (Life and Death on the Oregon Trail). Thousands of babies were on the Oregon Trail. When the food was limited, babies would cry, not understanding why they weren’t getting fed (Life and Death on the Oregon Trail). They would become malnourished and desperately thin (McGill; Boettcher and Trinklein). When the need for food became urgent, babies were passed from mother to mother in order to be fed milk that they desperately needed to keep them alive (Life and Death on the Oregon Trail). Those babies, thin and helpless, often had their lives taken by the trail. The Oregon Trail was a hostile and deadly route, though many don’t know the severity of the conditions on the trail.
There are many stories gone unknown that show a family’s amazing perseverance through the trail. This article covers the eventful but unknown journey of the True family’s trek over the Oregon Trail, providing parts of Charley True’s journal to show what the Oregon Trail was like through the eyes of an emigrant. Having to deal with near starvation, harrowing events, and heartbreaking tragedies, the True family had a little-known experience like no other (Wagner, 109). Ira and Elizabeth True embarked on their arduous expedition in April 1859 with their four children, Charley (16), Carro (11), Jesse (7), and Caroline (4) (Wagner, 109-110). They had to leave their whole old life, remembering that they probably would never see the same people again. They had to gamble their lavish life to see if they could possibly get a better life in Oregon territory. Charley True, the eldest son of the family, kept a journal while on the trail. As the eldest of the family at only 16, he was already responsible for many tasks, which included driving the oxen and helping the family (Wagner, 109-110).
A common cause of death for young children while on the Oregon Trail was falling under
the wagon (Boettcher and Trinklein; Life and Death on the Oregon Trail). They would accidentally fall out or jump out of the wagon, and the big wheels of the wagon would crush their head or neck with a deadly force (Life and Death on the Oregon Trail). Most kids would get used to jumping out of the wagon after awhile and would lose fear of doing so, but if the child...