Covered Wagon Trails:
Modern Highways Followed Them

Established covered wagon trails were the only way the caravans of wagon trains could transport the new pioneers westward.

Land west of the Missouri River was raw forests, mountains and plains with no established routes until hearty explorers blazed these trails.

Keep in mid that our country's history was just developing.  In the 1760's, population was limited to the east coast.

In the late 1790's, migration could be seen a little further west into the now established states of West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Early 1820's showed the population slowly moving further west into Ohio, Indiana and the mid-west.

Finally, in the mid 1800's, westward populations grew quickly along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

By 1850, travelers had a wide variety of trails from which to choose.  All were long, dangerous and tiring.

Many pioneers would quit the journey along the way and settle in areas near the wagon trails or in newly established towns.

wagon trails courtesy of Time Life Books

The most popular route was the Oregon Trail, which started in Independence, Missouri and ended in the northwest U.S.

Another route from Independence was the California Trail, traveling west and ending in Sacramento California.

The Mormon Trail took new settlers into the Salt Lake Valley of Utah and they set up their homestead.

However, the main route southwest, popular with wagon masters and cattlemen alike, was the Santa Fe Trail.

This road intersected with the Gila River and Old Spanish Trails, to bring settlers into the vast expanse of southern California.

These early wagon trails were the predecessor of our modern highway system.  In fact, many paved roads run parallel to these historic and protected early wagon roads west from the Missouri River.

If you happen to be traveling west by car, you will find historic markers along the way, pointing out trails the early pioneers used to their destination not so long ago.

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