Family History: the Basics – Were We the First Wagon Train to Oregon?


In September 1840, Robert Newall, Joseph L. Meek and their families reached Fort Walla Walla with three wagons they had driven from Fort Hall. Their wagons were the first to reach the Columbia River over land and opened the first leg of the Oregon Trail to wagon traffic.

In 1841, Bartleson-Bidwell Party was the first emigrant group credited with using the Oregon Trail to emigrate west. They set out for California but about half of the party left the original group at Soda Springs, Idaho and proceeded to the Willamette Valley, leaving their wagons at Fort Hall.

On May 6, 1842, the second organized wagon train set out from Elk Grove Mission with more than one hundred pioneers led by Elijah White. The group broke up after passing Fort Hall with most of the single men hurrying ahead and the families following later.


Called “The Great Migration of 1843” or the “Wagon Train of 1843”, seven hundred to one thousand settlers, including our family, left for Oregon led initially by John Gantt, a former U.S. Army Captain and fur trader contracted to guide them at one dollar per person.

The winter before, Marcus Whitman had traveled from Oregon to St. Louis to appeal the closing of several Oregon missions. He joined the wagon train at the Platte River for his return trip. He volunteered to lead the travelers when they were told by Hudson’s Bay Company agents at Fort Hall that they should abandon their wagons and just use pack animals. Whitman said they had enough travelers to be able to get their wagons through and they did. They made it all the way to the Willamette Valley, meeting all the obstacles, thanks to Sticcus, a Native American friend of Whitman’s.

It was three years later, in 1846, that the Barlow Road was built around Mt. Hood providing a rough but completely passable wagon trail from the Missouri River to the Willlamette Valley, approximately 2000 miles or 3200 kilometers.


The 1843 Wagon Train was not the first wagon train to come west, but we were the first to drive our wagons all the way to the Willamette Valley.

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