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On May 16, 1842, a group of more than 100 pioneers left Elm Grove, Missouri, on the 3,500-kilometer (2,200-mile) Oregon Trail. Pioneers had been trickling into the Oregon Territory for decades, but this was the first major wagon train to embark on the famous route.
 
The Oregon Trail stretched from the banks of the Missouri River to what is today western Oregon. The route had long been established by fur traders, missionaries, trackers, and military scouts. It crossed what are today the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.
 
Pioneers packed up all they could in covered wagons, as well as on pack animals such as horses, donkeys and, crucially, oxen. Travelers had to be prepared for flat plains, steep mountains (the Rockies), and dry deserts (the Great Basin) before reaching the fertile valleys of Oregon. Many pioneers feared attacks by hostile Native Americans, but weather, landscape, and disease were much bigger threats.
 
Wagon trains to Oregon usually departed in spring, and took about four or five months to reach their destination. The settlers of 1842 arrived in September. More than 400,000 people migrated west on the Oregon Trail before the transcontinental railroad made it obsolete in 1869.
bank
Noun

a slope of land adjoining a body of water, or a large elevated area of the sea floor.

crucial
Adjective

very important.

decade
Noun

10 years.

depart
Verb

to leave.

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

destination
Noun

place where a person or thing is going.

disease
Noun

harmful condition of a body part or organ.

embark
Verb

to leave or set off on a journey.

establish
Verb

to form or officially organize.

fertile
Adjective

able to produce crops or sustain agriculture.

fur
Noun

thick hair covering the skin of an animal.

Great Basin
Noun

enormous watershed region in the western United States with no drainage to the ocean, including most of the state of Nevada, and surrounding areas in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah.

hostile
Adjective

confrontational or unfriendly.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

migrate
Verb

to move from one place or activity to another.

military
Noun

armed forces.

obsolete
Adjective

useless or outdated.

pack animal
Noun

domesticated animal used by humans for transporting goods.

pioneer
Noun

person who is among the first to do something.

Noun

flat, smooth area at a low elevation.

route
Noun

path or way.

tracker
Noun

person or animal that follows the traces (tracks) of another person or animal.

transcontinental railroad
Noun

railroad that spans an entire continent.

valley
Noun

depression in the Earth between hills.

wagon train
Noun

group of pioneers traveling in covered wagons, often those emigrating to the American West in the 1800s.

Noun

state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

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