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The Old Reliable Shuttler Wagon, ca. 1800s; handcolored lithograph; courtesy the Bancroft Library, U.C. Berkeley

Tales of a rich new land began to spread throughout the United States in the 1840s, drawing Midwesterners from rural states such as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri to California's fertile valleys.

Between 1840 and 1860 nearly 200,000 migrants journeyed to California following a series of paths called the Overland Trail. The Overland Trail was 2,000 miles long; travel to California from the trail's origins in the Midwest took most travelers six to eight months. Many made the journey with mules and oxen in tow, along with enough supplies for months of sleeping and cooking in makeshift camps.

The Hard Journey

The early pioneer journeys were dangerous. Families had to cross unknown trails and mountainous terrain in rough and rickety covered wagons. They faced harsh weather, from extreme heat to snowstorms. Those who made the journey came to be known as overlanders because they traveled by foot or in covered wagons. Only well–to–do travelers were able to travel by stagecoach or, after 1869, train.

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