When Thomas Fitzpatrick led
the first group of missionaries across the continent on what would
soon be known as the Oregon Trail, no one would have imagined the
confluence of events that would produce the longest continuous
migration in recorded human history. Within years, hundreds
of thousands of emigrants were heading to the California and Oregon
territories in search of cheap land and a new life in the fabled
Garden of Eden known as the Willamette Valley.
Thomas Fitzpatrick leads the first group of settlers over the
Oregon Trail in 1836 to Walla Walla Washington, where Marcus and
Narcissa Whitman open their mission among the Cayuse Indians.
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But most of
this road traversed country that was still owned by the
Indians. White wagon trains devastated the countryside.
They killed the game, ran the buffalo off, chopped down timber, and
brought killing plagues into Indian Country where there had been
none. These inevitable frictions did not take long to break
out in violent encounters. Treaties secured safe passage for
the emigrants, but the federal government rarely made good on its
promises to the Indians, and depredations by whites escalated over
time and enraged the owners.
that eventually led to the Indian Wars of the second half of the
century, and the final dénouement at Wounded Knee in 1890.