Trail Hardships

Accidents, exhaustion and disease were common dangers along the trails. A lot of the pioneers did not have experience with guns. Most of the injuries and deaths by guns were accidental because of their inexperience. Riding on horseback and mules for extended periods of time was also new to many pioneers. An inexperienced pioneer riding an animal across rough and steep terrain often led to them falling off and being seriously injured. Falling off a wagon or animal while crossing rivers often lead to drowning, if you fell off the wagon on the trail you may get run over. The steep and/or uneven ground caused some wagons to overturn. 

The weather was also a possible danger. Pioneers ran into rainstorms, dust storms, snow storms, hail, drought, and tornadoes. Unlike today, they did dot have any warnings. And unlike today there was no place to seek shelter. Dry weather and lack of water was bad for the pioneers, their animals and their wagons. Lack of fresh water could mean dying of thirst for humans and animals. Extended dry weather could cause the wagon wheels to shrink and they could loose their metal "tires". Flash floods could sweep the pioneers away and make the trail muddy. Cold weather could lead to frostbite or freezing to death. 

Indians were not a big threat on the trails despite common belief. In fact, they were often helpful. They showed many travelers short cuts and often helped them by trading for supplies or helping them cross rivers. 

Disease was common and one of the leading causes of death on the trail. Common fatal diseases were cholera, malaria, scurvy and head and body lice. You might be surprised at the last one. If a travler became infested with lice they would itch and scratch. The scratching  led to cuts that would become infected and make them suseptable to the other diseases.

The terrain along the trails could be flat and somewhat easy going but they could be treacherous as well. Rivers and creeks posed a drowning danger. Muddy trails could be impossible to pass. Going down a hill could be as hard as going up. The speed of the wagon going down hill could be very difficult to control. 

Usually plains are easy to cross. But the plains of Nebraska were like traveling through a maze because the grass was so high.

It is true that disease, accidents and supply shortages were real dangers on the trail. The biggest danger was reaching and crossing the mountains before winter began. 

The picture below is a painting of the ill fated and infamous "Donner Party" getting stuck in the snow in the Sierra Neveda Mountains.



Many emigrants drowned while they attempted to cross rivers. At times some travelers used ropes to pull wagons across a river, one wagon at a time. Sometimes ferries were available and they would pay a ferryman to load their wagons and take them across.



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The Team at Educator Pages