During the 1830s, many Americans began to travel westward to Oregon, using what was commonly referred to as the Oregon Trail. This journey was fraught with difficulty, and therefore many travelers died, suffered serious mental and physical health issues, or were severely injured before arriving. It is estimated that one in ten people who made the journey died along the way.
The majority of travelers moved their belongings in covered wagons, which carried one driver, as the rest walked alongside. The average daily walk of about 15 miles was strenuous for vulnerable travelers, including young children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Accidents along the route were a leading cause of death. These accidents included gun misfires, injuries sustained while taking care of domestic animals brought on the trip, drownings, and being run over by wagons.
Other hardships occurred when travelers had an inadequate amount of supplies. For instance, when travelers failed to pack enough food, spare parts for their wagons, or adequate clothing, a wide range of problems occurred, including being stranded and/or left vulnerable to inclement weather and attacks from other people and wild animals. These types of hardships also occurred when travelers did not properly ration their money or resources throughout the entirety of the trip. If they expended too much of their resources and finances at the beginning of the trip, they could be left in a vulnerable position later on in the journey.
Other travelers were injured or died fighting with Native Americans. Though many Native American tribes assisted and traded with travelers, others were not as friendly and routinely attacked travelers.
Finally, many of the travel conditions were unsanitary; therefore, sickness, especially cholera, was common.