You are now at Fort Walla Walla. It is a fort and trading post nestled on the foothills of the Blue Mountains and near the banks of the mighty Columbia River, which flows to the Pacific Ocean. Your wagon can resupply here (at the twice the cost of supplies in Independence) for the final stretch to Fort Vancouver and the Willamette Valley. However, before you set off, you have a major decision to make. There are two possible routes from here to Fort Vancouver.
Option One– Take the overland route known as Barlow Road, which runs up and over the Cascade Mountains just south of Mt. Hood. The trail climbs over a mile in elevation and is windswept, stormy and very hazardous, especially if the wagon is traveling after the 1st of November.
Option 2– Sell the livestock, tear apart the wagon, and build a raft to float down the Columbia River. This is also a very dangerous option because this means traveling 200 miles downriver on an open raft and facing horrific rapids along the way. This has been described by some pioneers as the most dangerous part of the entire trip to Oregon.
Your wagon now needs to make a decision. You have traveled too far on this journey to make such a big decision without careful consideration. Use the links below to make an informed decision. Read and watch for information that you can use to make a convincing case for either using the Barlow Road or floating down the Columbia. Respond to this post with your opinion and provide reasons that support your choice. Include at least two facts from your research.
Resources to Help you Make an Informed Decision
To view the above video, type in wilps as the username and rivers as the password. Then click on the Play Arrow to watch. Please use your earbuds while viewing the video clip. X out of the screen to return to this page.
Read a few short journal entries from actual pioneers who traveled both the Barlow Road and floated down the Columbia. Click the back arrow to return to this page.
Barlow Road Information
“The Barlow Road was the last overland segment of the Oregon Trail before reaching the Willamette Valley. This road provided an alternative to the dangerous and expensive route that used rafts to transport wagons down the Columbia River. But it was not free. The Barlow Road was the first place on the 2,100 mile Oregon Trail where tolls were charged. When the road opened in 1846, tolls were $5.00 per wagon and 10 cents for every head of livestock. Five dollars was about one week’s wages, but consider the alternative — floating down the Columbia River in boats or rafts cost nearly $50.00! By 1863, tolls had changed to $2.50 per wagon and team, 75 cents for horse and rider, and 10 cents for other livestock.
The Barlow Road operated under many owners as a toll road from 1846 to 1919. There were no tolls after 1919 when the estate of the final owner deeded the road to the State of Oregon. …”
Source: U.S. National Park Service website, 2009
“Following an Indian trail, Barlow managed to get his wagons about halfway around the mountain before being forced to admit defeat. At the crest of the Cascade Mountains, Joel Palmer climbed the glacier now named for him and scouted a route off the mountain. Palmer saw that there was little chance of getting the wagons through, so the party sent some of their wagons back to The Dalles and cached the rest of their possessions at a spot they christened Fort Deposit. Most of the party and their livestock was able to enter the Willamette Valley by following the Lolo Pass Trail, an old Indian trail around the northwest flank of Mt. Hood that was too narrow and steep to allow wagons to pass. Thus free to proceed on foot, Palmer, Barlow, and Barlow’s eldest son attempted to walk off the mountain.
Exhausted, footsore, and cold, Palmer and the Barlows stumbled into Eagle Creek and met local resident Philip Foster. Rejoining his wife and family in Oregon City, Barlow spent the winter contemplating his route over Mt. Hood. He approached the Provisional Government and obtained official permission to build the Mount Hood Toll Road in early 1846. The Provisional Government allowed him to charge $5 a wagon and 10¢ a head for livestock to use the Road.
With Philip Foster as his financial backer and a crew of forty men, Barlow hacked out a narrow road through forests, rivers, and marshy meadows from The Dalles to Oregon City, a distance of about 150 miles. Reuban Gant is recorded to have driven the first wagon across the new road in 1846; Barlow reported to the Oregon Spectator — the first newspaper published west of the Rockies — that 145 wagons and nearly 1600 head of livestock made it over the Road that first year.”
Source: Oregon-California Trails Association website, 2011, “Final Leg of the Oregon Trail”