The Oregon Trail Game
It wouldn’t make much sense to have a website like Visit Oregon and not have one of the most iconic Oregon video games ever made. If you grew up in Oregon during the 70’s and 80’s, you will remember The Oregon trail (1971 video game).
Above is a free version you can play right here for as long as you like. Be sure to bookmark it or share it with friends and family as well.
History & Game Walk Through Of The Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail is an older, very popular computer game that was developed by Bill Heinemann, Don Rawitsch, and Paul Dillenberger back in 1971. It was then put out on the market in 1974 by MECC. The game is simple and was created to teach school children about the life of a 19th century pioneer on the Oregon Trail. You get to play the role of a wagon leader and guide your group of chosen settlers from Independence, Missouri, to the Willamette Valley in Oregon while traveling along the Oregon Trail in 1848. The game has since been released multiple time on multiple platforms by various game makers and publishers who acquired the rights.
One of the most important aspects in the game is hunting. Using a pixelated pioneer with a gun, you must purchase bullets either in the beginning or over throughout the game. As you travel along, you may stop and select the option to hunt. You are then able to hunt wild animals (deer, elk, bears, bison, squirrels, and rabbits) to get more food reserves. In the early release original version of the game, there wasn’t any graphics like the version above. You were basically timed on how quickly you could type out “WHAM”, ”BANG”, or “POW” with misspelled words leading to a failed hunt. In the newer version as seen above, you are able to control a little man who can point his rifle in eight different directions and fire a single shot at the fast moving animals. In other later versions of the game, you are able to hunt with crosshairs that you control by a mouse. Bison are the slowest targets to hit but they offer the most weight in food. Squirrels and Rabbits are super fast yet give you very small weight of food. Elk (western section) and Deer (eastern section) are in the middle in terms of size, speed, and weight of food. Bear are somewhere between deer & bison in all three categories. You can only shoot as many times as the amount of bullets you purchase or trade for in settlements. Keep this in mind when starting off as it is VERY necessary to last through the game. The most bullets you can carry in the wagon is 100 pounds of ammo in the earlier versions of the game. In the later versions, 200 pounds could be carried so long as there were at least 2 living members left. It is normal for players to have to kill several thousand pounds of animals, throughout the game, only to be able to carry 100 lbs of it back to the wagon after each hunt. This is to be considered a realistic representation of what the wild west really was. In the later versions of the game, you are able to hunt in different environments as well. One example is when you hunt during the winter, it would grass covered in snow.
While playing the game, people in your party can suddenly fall ill and die from multiple causes, such as a snakebite, measles, dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and even just exhaustion. You can also die from a simple broken leg or just drowning in a river you may be crossing. Your oxen are also likely to illness or death along your journey. When someone in your party dies, you hold a brief funeral. At the funeral, you are able write an epitaph, then simply continue on down the trail.
At the end of the path and game, points are awarded according to survivors, remaining possessions, cash in hand, and by the profession chosen at the beginning of the game (banker, carpenter, farmer). The points at the end of the game are doubled if you chose a carpenter & tripled if you chose a farmer.
The Oregon Trail Card Game
If you haven’t gotten enough of the Oregon Trail fun here, you can have even more fun at home with the new card game. You and the family can now play at home with the all new card game made by the same makers!
Below is a video walking through the game. The way he puts it sounds gruesome, but it really is a lot of fun:
Oregon Trail T-Shirt
Check out our Oregon Trail Game T-shirt “You have died from dysentery” in our store:
Some Really Great Oregon Trail Books:
History Of The Real Oregon Trail
Most people believe that it’s dead and long-forgotten. However, we see a glimpse of it every time an entrepreneur takes a risk to bring an innovative product to market. It’s the pioneer spirit that helped to establish the contiguous United States. Nowhere was that spirit on display the most than on the Oregon Trail. Let’s trace the steps of those determined men and women who conquered the American West.
What Is the Oregon Trail?
The Oregon Trail was an early-American wagon thoroughfare that spanned over 2,100 miles. The eastern starting point of the Oregon Trail was in Independence, Missouri, and it ended in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Oregon Trail went through portions of these states.
When Was It Used?
While fur traders made their own rudimentary routes in the Pacific Northwest throughout the 1700s, the formal Oregon Trail was mostly used between 1840 and 1870. It became nearly obsolete with the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. By taking the train, settlers from the East could arrive in the Pacific Northwest in one week versus six months.
Reasons for Its Establishment
The fur trade was a major source of commerce in the U.S. and Canadian Pacific Northwest. Beaver pelts were traded for useful supplies and durable goods and sold to merchants across Europe. The fur trade was the primary driver of the establishment of the Oregon Trail, which was to be used for other commercial trade purposes later. As the Oregon Trail was just beginning to be established, the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired most of the independent fur trapping and trading companies. The British-sponsored agency had a monopoly on the fur trade and simply made use of established trade routes along the Oregon Trail.
Many settlers continued south of Oregon to seek their fortunes during the California Gold Rush. They followed the same Oregon Trail between 1848 and 1855 to get to mines in California after gold nuggets were found in the Sacramento Valley.
Hazards of the Oregon Trail
Harsh Natural Environment
Oregon Trail travel was well documented by government surveyors and amateur journalists. According to the statistics, there were 10 graves for every 1 mile of trail. The cause of death for some was simply the harsh environment that they had to pass through. Wagon train members helped each other out, and they usually had plenty of provisions. However, wagons and livestock had to pass through rivers as well as overland. There were many accidental drownings as people attempted to cross rivers.
The Pacific Northwest was looked upon by many as clean and unspoiled. However, the settlers from the East brought diseases with them that spread via unhygienic practices. Some settlers also had difficulty finding clean water sources along certain portions of the Oregon Trail. Many people died of cholera, smallpox, and dysentery before reaching Oregon. The cholera epidemic of 1849 left thousands dead in the Nebraska and Kansas portions of the Oregon Trail.
While early-American settlers looked upon the Pacific Northwest as a land of opportunity, several Native American tribes already considered the region to be their home. As the settlers encroached upon hunting grounds and carried strange diseases to the area, conflict inevitably ensued. Tribes within the Sioux Nation such as the Blackfoot, Oglala, and Santee were hostile to pushy settlers. However, other Native American tribes such as the Arapaho and Cheyenne were friendly to the new settlers and helped them as guides and trading partners.
Besides skirmishes with the Native American tribes, the early settlers were caught in the middle of a war between the U.S. government and the British. The United States wanted to expand its territory to the north and west, but the British still had interests in those North American regions. The United States managed to defend itself against the British and their Canadian and Native American hired guns even as the British captured Washington D.C. for a time. The War of 1812 ended in 1815, and colonization of the Pacific Northwest resumed sporadically after the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent.
Oregon Trail Memoirs
Explorers and Farmers
John Fremont was an explorer who was paid by the government to finish mapping out the region. He joined a wagon party that was on its way to Oregon in 1843. Fremont saw the beginnings of a civilized Pacific Northwest on the journey with the wagon train. He described the campfires blazing warmly and the women cooking delicious suppers. Cattle grazed on the surrounding grass while children frolicked among them. After observing these sights, he said that the remote wilderness valley felt strangely like home.
Farmers were the new fur traders of the Pacific Northwest during the 1850s. The fur trade had slowed dramatically due to changes in men’s fashion in Europe. Farmers such as J.T. Kern set out on the Oregon Trail to escape droughts in the Midwest and to take advantage of fertile lands in and around Bear River Valley. He wrote in his journal in 1852 about a country with rich, fertile valleys, streams that were full of fish, and mountains that contained an abundance of timber.
Enoch Conyers was on the Oregon Trail the same year as J.T. Kearns. Conyers was also a farmer and was impressed by the abundance of grazing land in the Bear River Valley.
The Pacific Northwest had always been attractive to men who sought adventure and fortune as fur traders. The average man’s wages during the early 1800s was $1 per day. Fur traders made $4 per beaver pelt, and beavers were plentiful in the Pacific Northwest. To women, the uncivilized West was far less enticing. The lack of amenities such as stores and cultivated farms meant that their workload multiplied considerably. However, most met the challenges of the journey and subsequent frontier life with gusto. As they said goodbye to friends and relatives and headed west, we can get a glimpse of their feelings about the new environment in which they found themselves immersed by reading their journals and diaries.
Margaret Frink took to the Oregon Trail with her husband in 1850, which was well after the first fur traders carved out their rustic routes. By 1850, previous travelers had already set up feed supply stores, mercantile shops, and high-yield farms. Even with these advantages, Margaret describes a physically difficult journey.
She described fording rivers and climbing steep mountainous terrain with wagons in tow. She said that part of the climb was done on horseback and the rest of it was accomplished on foot. After setting up camp, she reflected on the beauty of the scenery that surrounded her.
One evening in early July, her party was greeted with overnight rain. When she woke the next day, the surrounding mountain ranges were snow-capped. She mentioned that Bear River Valley, the site of their encampment, was stunning and that it would be quite an appealing area after settlers established more towns and farms there.
Abigail Scott was a young woman who traveled the Oregon Trail with her parents and nine siblings. Her father assigned her to be the scribe for their family journal. The girl arrived in the Bear River Valley in mid-July. She described a land of great beauty. Mountains were covered in lush grass and dense groves of fir trees accented their summits. Her wagon party stopped at plenty of streams that provided them with water that was clear, cold, and fresh tasting.
Famous People Who Helped to Blaze the Oregon Trail
While fur trappers laid crude routes throughout the western frontier, it was Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, who was credited with attempting to map out a formal route from the East that led to the Pacific Northwest. He commissioned Lewis and Clark in 1803 to discover a practical, direct route to Oregon to expand America’s commercial interests. Lewis and Clark’s findings were a disappointment to Jefferson as passing over land through the Rocky Mountains was a difficult feat for covered wagons. However, the pair succeeded in mapping out a key area along the Oregon Trail that was helpful for fur trappers and other trades people.
John Jacob Astor was a well-known businessman, and his family made significant contributions to Industrial Age America. We see that his family name lives on at places such as the Waldorf Astoria hotel. In 1810, Astor owned a fur trading company that operated in the Oregon Territory. He hired people to scout out the surrounding area to discover better trading routes. They established an outpost that was called Fort Astoria. Astor’s company, the Pacific Fur Company, weathered deadly Native American attacks and the War of 1812. He finally sold his fur trading company because of feared political opposition from the British who gained temporary control of the area via treaty after the war.
The Oregon Trail has many on and off ramps, and thousands of Mormon migrants took to those routes in 1848. They helped to establish the Oregon Trail by putting down roots along the trail with thriving farms, ranches, and towns. Other travelers who came after them benefited from their efforts. By 1860, a large group of them left those settlements to others and followed Brigham Young to Utah to start one of the most well-known Mormon communities in the world.
Today, Washington, Oregon, and California are known for their cozy coffee shops and overly commercialized retail scenes. It’s hard to believe that such posh surroundings came at the cost of such extreme hardship and struggle. I guess it’s good to remember the trailblazers of the Oregon Trail the next time that your favorite barista gets your latte order wrong or you have to wait a month for a sought-after designer handbag that’s on backorder. Be inspired and count your blessings!