tv Oregon Trail CSPAN November 29, 2015 9:35pm-10:01pm EST
the book is available as a hardcover or e-book from your favorite bookstore or online bookseller. order your copy today. coming up next on american history tv, texas university history professor talks about her current book project on the oregon trail. she provides background on the threats that people faced on the trail and explains how they dealt with death on the journey. atinterviewed the professor the western history association annual conference in portland, oregon, in october. this is about 20 minutes.
always a part of my touchstone. after college when i began to consider graduate school, i realized that this is a story that had not been retold by academics in decades. it was something that i wanted to pursue. most everyone has heard of the oregon trail, can you just give us a brief overview of where it started, where it ended, and what years people traveled it. >> great question. many of the people who traveled wereegon and california, moving from towns on the edge of the western settled united states in places like misery. they're coming from places that are more interior, farming communities in illinois and iowa. they are leaving from misery and going all across the continent.
one of the really key factors of what makes this migration so unique is that in the first place it is so long. 2000 miles across country. it lasts for so long. it is a migration going on in the 1840's, 1850's, and throughout these decades, you have people making this migration. the narrative changes as there are changes going on in the u.s. >> what motivated these people to make this journey? >> there are a lot of different motivations. one of the things about this journey as we often think of it as east to west. that is certainly true. there are farming families going. there is legislation passed to make land cheaply available. that is a huge draw. you also have livestock.
they realize that if they could get cows to the pacific coast, they're going to make a lot of money. there are also people traveling the trail at least once a year for may be a decade or so of their lives. another major factor is gold in california. when gold is discovered in california, that really changes the makeup of the migration because you have more young men were coming from farther east and urban centers like new york. >> have you conduct your research on the subject and what kind of people did you find whose stories discussed the travel? is thatof my research i'm reading people's letters, diaries, and journals. people's personal writings. one is a really fascinating things about this is that many of the people who wrote at towns of this journey, this is the only thing they ever wrote or
the only thing that ever got saved in the archives. this is the one glimpse that we have into their lives. it gives you a sense of how important they thought it was. hase is one family who papers at the huntington library in california. they are in buffalo, new york, and the father and the son decide to go to california in 1849. the mother is absolutely distraught. she is distraught because she is terrified that they are going to perish or they will contract cholera on this dangerous journey. the sad thing for them is that she is right. dies.n fact, the father takes the body home. a few years later in 1851, he takes the journey again by himself and he dies in california.
you mentioned a law that encourage people to take this route, can you elaborate on that? >> to the oregon donation lands act, which granted land thatteaders, the idea is building on this american idea that if we can build families we are creating independent, free, virtuous citizens. an interesting provision is that it allows women to hold -- and increases the amount that a married couple can get. fear ofentioned a disease and death. journeyerous was the for most of the people who took it? >> honestly, it probably was not than if theygerous had stayed at home. in the mid-19th century, you
have growing urbanization, but not a lot of understanding of sanitation and things like that. there is a weird paradox with united states is becoming stronger and more powerful and they are expanding demographically and territorially, but they're also losing citizens at an alarming rate. infant mortality rate is a major cause of concern. there is a major conversation that is happening around death. going to the west is the idea that this is a healthy place, it is clean, and the climate in oregon is supposed to be amazing. there is an old story that is meant to oregon and california you will never be able to die because it is so wonderful. people in some ways think that this could be a journey for something better in terms of health. 1849 thereis that in is a major cholera epidemic along the trails. that inverts the story of
potentially the west as being healthy. instead is associated with an epidemic which has predominately been in urban centers such as new york. thele start to exaggerate fears of dying on the trail around the disease and when they do that they are also building on and transforming earlier misconceptions about indians as being sort of murderers. this is in the met people are aware of because they have heard family stories and then there are also consuming it in the press. threatserious was the from native americans? >> not very serious. in general, most of the interactions are fleeting. they are about trade. they are about getting assistance crossing rivers. ndians offer fairies. they are about those types of interactions. there is a constant discourse of potential indian attacks.
there's is also a constant discourse of rumors that indians have attacked. i mention the people who traveled the trail, one of the things that people will do if they will offer -- we have heard of someone farther west was attacked. they are hearing these things as they are traveling. they have cultural misconceptions and then evidence everywhere on the trail. when cholera comes, it fits into these existing fears because then the rumors shipped more to rumors about cholera. that people up ahead have it. in the towns are competing with each other for which one they want everyone to go through. they will say, there is cholera and that other town, see need to come to ours. >> going back to the family, what more can you tell us about their journey that would give us a sense of what life was like along the trail? the most highly document
aspect of the journey is the journey before they start the actual trail on the edge of missouri. it is indicative of what that experience is like for people. the trail is defined as missouri. people are traveling for weeks and sometimes months before they ever reach that point. this is actually a journey that extends much longer and takes people six months across the continent, it may ask a them eight months to complete the entire journey. the family is interesting because they use this journey as an opportunity to visit relatives who they have not seen for years. one of the things that is happening in the u.s. is that people are moving around a lot. families are dispersing because of economic reasons and all of these other factors. increasing mobility of the population. the family actually use their initial journey as an opportunity to visit relatives in places like pennsylvania as are heading down from buffalo.
in terms of the day to day experience on the trail, it is slow going, it is hard work, and there is a lot of unknown elements and challenges. you have people who need to cross her first with heavily loaded wagons and oxen and livestock. in 1849, when the family left, the trail was very crowded. what this meant was that it was really -- very limited in terms of resources. if you reached a river crossing and there were a whole train of wagons and 15 man, you could be there for days in order to get the proper equipment to cross. >> do you find that many people have stereotypes about the oregon trail and in your research, have you found evidence that there are stereotypes that are not true at all? >> i think that there are
stereotypes. indians andut immigrants as having a range of types of interaction. one of the stereotypes that i'm working on most in my work is the idea that this is sort of an isolated western adventure that does not necessarily connect back to people's lives at home. they go out west and they have this really hard journey and that is their frame of reference for talking about it. the interesting thing about the migration is that it really feeds back into the 19th century. the fear of colorado is already a part of the u.s. culture, but it plays out completely different on the trail. >> your research has focused a lot on steps along this trail. when people did die, what happened? has a big deal with it?
that, for immigrants, is an even bigger challenge than dying. in the 19th century, the idea that you accept death, that this is something that is part of life, it is an opportunity to reflect on your religious teachings, as well as to share your religious thoughts with family and friends. once there is a body, that poses a huge problem, because americans are used to dying at home, and they are used to burying bodies in cemeteries where family and friends can routinely visit to maintain the memory of their loved one. what happens is that on the trail, they do not have coffins. they do not have stone and wood for permanent headstones. they are forced to improvise. that becomes a major part of the not onlyis experience, the loss of the person's life, but the loss of the ability to properly commemorate and mark
the bodies. >> so they always buried the bodies along the trail? >> yes. sometimes they would try to identify a particular landmark feature that was close by that might help them to later visit the grave. if they found a tree, or if there is a slight rise -- in other cases it is simply about expediency, so they pulled up to the side of the road and the body is right there. on theseas the impact people, in terms of their religion? did they have services? funerals? >> that is a great question. they definitely did try to conduct those types of services as much as possible. they hadainly -- bibles with them and other books. even if they were not trained preachers or ministers, they could use that as something to sort of create more of a proper ceremony.
>> you mentioned disease as being one of the major causes of death, how -- what other causes of death were there along the trail? >> disease was definitely the primary cause as you pointed out. accidents. this could take a range of forms. downing's in the river. a lot of people were not very good at swimming. run over by a wagon or actually accidental shootings which increased significantly during the years of the gold rush because there were more firearms on the trail. there was a government subsidy that they were selling arms at cost immigrants as they were heading out west and some of the men were not trained to lack of the problem. >> sometimes there were accidental deaths? >> i mention this with the fear of indians. there is a pattern of instances in which one man may leave the camp to go find a law or say hi
to a friend and he might return after dark and his companions are worried that he may be approaching as an indian and he would get shot. that happens. groups almost always travel in these large wagon trains? >> it depends. one of the things that cholera does is it in spouse people are to break off of the main road. most people traveled in companies in varying sizes. this could change shape as they traveled. 506 month journey, people could get in fights or disagreements and they could break up and reconfigure. onyour research is focused 1840-1860, why do you -- why have you honed in on that and that time frame, wise and important? >> those are the major years of
trail travel. that is when most historians focus on it. my work is really interested in those decades, but i also think that this narrative has to be understood in its longer -- you have a lot of memoirs and commemorations and reminiscences coming out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. the interesting thing about the overland trail is that it traverses the civil war and reconstruction timeframe. it goes through the civil war and through the time of commemorating the civil war. it is totally different. the civil war is about the north and south and the reconciliation and how to move beyond this great rift in the nation and the trail is about expanding the nation. and building in the west. there are ways in which those narratives reflected each other. gold rushhave one immigrant in the late 19th century saying that we are talking all the civil wars but
we cannot forget everyone who lost their lives on the trail to build the pacific coast. it is that kind of narrative that they are having in conversation. >> can you talk a little bit more about where you are finding these stories about these families and individuals that are taking the trail? >> there are some major repositories in the u.s. that have a lot of these documents. they are at major academic institutional libraries such as the huntington library, the library at berkeley, the meineke library at yell, it goes on and on. one of the great things is that people who are into this topic and who spend a lot of time collecting sources and also documenting them. the oregon-california trail association have also done an incredible amount of work in terms of collecting sources that have not been treated and also producing summary notes on these
sources. i have benefited a lot from that, as well. peopleng on where the are, it is likely that some of your immunity has some of these. >> you'll publish this research? >> i do. i'm working on the book. >> do you have any idea what might be finished? >> probably in a few years. >> thank you very much for joining us. >> thank you. >> on the eve of the american revolution, williamsburg, virginia, was a capital city home to trace people, politicians, and a large enslaved pilot -- population. american history tv will turn on december 5 or we will be live from a historic district and we'll see revolutionaries and british loyalists mingle on the streets. the house of burgesses were george washington unserved and the governor's palace, home to king george the third clinton representative.
we will hear about colonial slave life. and a behind the scenes of williamsburg's costume design center for the cities 18th-century luck. ofwers can ask questions historians, curators, and interpreters drop the day. live from colonial williamsburg, saturday, december 5, but living -- getting at 11:00 a.m. eastern on c-span3. each week, american history tv railamerica brings you archival films that help provide context for today's public affairs issues. >> one can hardly walk to a street in france. one cannot live there without partaking of the national institution, the sidewalk cafe. ♪ >> after a days work, soldiers may relax at a table, often with their wives, perhaps a date for the single men. they watch the french world go by.
coincidence,range something to do with money, payday is often the occasion when men begin to most enjoy off-duty time. usually all, they were explore points of interest near their duty stations. places like a castle. . ilt in 1370 the american corps of engineers modeled their insignia after this. off-duty time may be spent somewhere else. itolorful city related to through navarre. the city is dotted with tributes to her memory. go there on joan of arc day, it is a kind of mardi gras and fourth of july rolled into one. off-duty americans are in the crowd watching the festive parade, including a modern joan of arc.
>> there is a french band as brassy as one of our own. playing for the marching men of france. ♪ >> and now, into the square comes an american units, one very much on duty, here in a tribute to a great ally and a great day. ♪ >> all our silence as the -- rings forth. and then. into the heart of town. and into the hearts of frenchmen who lie the streets, march the paying their respects to the memory of joan of arc. the freight is over. the festivities continue on throughout the city.
off-duty soldier may very well run into a street carnival. he feels right at home. the same music. the same kind of kids having a great time. the same atmosphere of fun and frolic. they even have many of the same kind of rides as the carnivals back home. why not go all out? souvenirs toays send him to mother and dad. furlough,t comes to a the soldier in france will always had for paris, there is no end of sites to see. core. the soldier in france will do the town from top to bottom and no better place to start than the top of the eiffel tower. luckily for him, he will not have to climb. there is an elevator on hand to speed him upward.
going up, as the elevator rises in the sky, you get a view to the framework of one of the worlds most beautiful cities. the view stays with you on the way down. it will stay in your memory a long, long time. nearby, another site familiar throughout the world. a soldier on furlough when i dream of passing it by. the arch of triumph, a monument to victory, a memorial to the men who died in its quest. to duty,e over back whatever his rank from general to private, the soldier in france is not only assuring a line of communication to our, he is also working side-by-side with his french allies.
he is friendly with the french and the french are friends to him. for the men, this part of their job, working with the french, is an extremely important one. toward that end, our commemorative occasion throughout the year, just as much a part of things, and the parade of troops moving down past the reviewing -- and a exhibitions of the american army equipment and techniques. french citizens are cordially invited. especially when a young person walks carefully, very carefully across it, may seem a long way
from their basic business, but it is all a part of the effort to maintain close, friendly, sympathetic relations with french people were not only interested in our techniques, but in our welfare, as well. many an american holiday, you will see americans march probably down the street of the french town -- pro udly down the street of the frenchtown. and you will see french people, young and old, watching with a sense of respect and pride. >> each week, american history artifacts visits museums and historic places. next, we visit the library of congress on capitol hill to learn about an exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of the civil rights act of 1964.