Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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May 16th
The Oregon Trail
On May 16, 1842, about 100 pioneers with 18 wagons set out from the Independence, Missouri, area in one of the first wagon trains to the Northwest. Over the next two decades, tens of thousands would follow on the Oregon Trail, the longest of the great overland routes to the western frontier.

“Oregon or the Grave.” “Patience and Perseverance.” “Never Say Die.” Such were the slogans that pioneer families painted on their wagons before striking out on the Oregon Trail, which began at Independence and stretched 2,000 miles across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains to the valleys of the Oregon Territory. The journey usually took four to six months. The settlers started out in the spring so they could get through the mountains before snow blocked the passes.

They packed as much flour, bacon, salt, dried fruit, and other supplies as they could into the covered wagons, called “prairie schooners” because, from a distance, their white canvas tops looked like ship sails crossing the plains. Once on the trail, the settlers averaged about 15 miles a day. Many walked the whole trail beside the wagons.

Along the way, they faced blistering heat, biting cold, pounding rainstorms, and howling blizzards. They crossed flooded rivers and waterless plains. At times they endured hunger and thirst. Indian attacks were a rare but real threat. Cholera, smallpox, and other diseases were more common killers. Thousands died on the trail. The route was lined with broken wheels, smashed wagons, bleached bones of dead oxen, and buried loved ones, making it the nation’s longest graveyard.

“We lost everything but our lives,” wrote one settler after the trek. Yet thousands kept heading west, determined to make better lives for themselves and their children. The ruts left by their wagon wheels remain in some places – a testament to the iron will of the American pioneer.

American History Parade
The first steamboat on the Pacific Coast, the Beaver, is tested at Vancouver, Washington.

One of the first wagon trains sets out for the Northwest on the Oregon Trail.

The Senate fails by one vote to convict President Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial; he is later acquitted of all charges.

In Philadelphia, German immigrant Emile Berliner demostrates the first modern phonograph record.

Emil Jannings (Best Actor) and Janet Gaynor (Best Actress) are among the winners of the first Oscars presented at a Hollywood banquet.

Queen Elizabeth II becomes the first British monarch to address Congress.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb

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