Fort Walla Walla and the Homestretch- Off to Oregon

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

Review the Journey Video

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 Journal #1

Columbia River Journal #1

Barlow Road Journal #2

Click on the map above to enlarge.  You may zoom in on the map to see Barlow Road and the Columbia River.

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”


Into the Oregon Territory- Off to Oregon

As you leave South Pass, your wagon company begins the gentle descent into the Oregon Territory.  But you’re still a long way from the fertile farmland of the Willamette Valley.  After traveling for another 20 miles (calculate how many days you have traveled and subtract the appropriate amount of food), the wagon company must make a decision.

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Which route do you think your wagon should take?

1. Stop by Fort Bridger

2. Take the Sublette Cutoff

Respond to this post by writing what you think your wagon should do and why.  Be sure you think about the pros and cons of each choice and weigh them carefully.

Meeting the Shoshone- Off to Oregon

Your wagon rolls on into the Rocky Mountains.  After traveling 160 miles you reach Independence Rock.  Calculate how many days you have traveled and subtract the appropriate amount of food.

Thousands of names have been written or chiseled into this rock.  This landmark was referred to as, “The Great Record of the Desert,” by an 1841 missionary.  Your wagon company walks over to add their names for future pioneers to see. Click here to read more about Independence Rock.

Suddenly you hear a sound behind you and turn to see half a dozen Shoshone Indians on horseback.  Carrying spears and tomahawks, they slowly approach your group.  Your wagon company has three options:

1. Run to your wagon and try to get away.

2. Walk up to the Shoshone and try to talk to them.

3. Run to your wagon and grab your guns.

What do you think your wagon should do ,and why is that the best option?Choose wisely. Your lives may depend on it.

Journey to South Pass- Off to Oregon

After leaving Fort Laramie your wagon begins the steady climb into the Rocky Mountains.  The steep climb is a great strain on your wagon’s animal team.

If your wagon load is greater than 2,000 pounds, then for the next 260 miles, your wagon can travel only five miles per day with oxen teams or ten miles a day with mules. 

Calculate how many days you have traveled and subtract the appropriate amount of food.

Then you meet this fella:

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Storm at Scott’s Bluff-Off to Oregon

Weather is one of the great fears for the pioneers.  Rains, snow, and high winds can result in long delays, difficult travel, injuries, wagon accidents and even death.  Watch this video to see what’s brewing over Scott’s Bluff.  Have your wagon member ready to make a Common Sense roll.

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Crossing the Platte River: Off to Oregon

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Your wagon has already traveled 100 miles to reach the ford that crosses the Platte River.  Here are your options:

1. Ma’s Idea: Wait and hope that the river level will drop so that you can ford the river without having to float your wagon across.

2. Pa’s Idea: Try to cross the river now by floating your wagon across.

Which option is the best one for your wagon? Be sure to support your opinion with reasons.

Snake Oil Salesman- Off to Oregon

Your wagon train has followed the wide, slow-moving Platte River for another 240 miles. The river is a brown silt-filled waterway, so muddy that it is nearly unfit to drink. Many people on the wagon train are becoming sick. You have made it to Fort Kearney which is a collection of wooden buildings where all sorts of people, from Native Americans who live in the area to fur trappers and snake-oil salesmen, gather together.  Here is a photo of Ft. Kearney today:

Your wagon company meets Professor Thaddeus Fox, a snake-oil salesman. He makes you this offer:

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Your wagon has three options:
1. You decide to pass and not buy the doctor’s Miracle Elixir.
2. You decide to negotiate the price with the doctor.
3. You’re eager to try the Miracle Elixir, so you buy it and drink some.

Please respond by choosing an option and explaining why you feel that is the best choice for you.

Crossing the Big Blue River- Off to Oregon

Today your wagons left Independence, Missouri and set off on the adventure of a lifetime- traveling the Oregon Trail to the Oregon Territory.  You have reached the Big Blue River and your wagon has your first decision to make.  Watch the video and respond to this post by telling your wagon members what YOU think your wagon should do and support your opinion with a reason. You can also respond to what others are posting.

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Here are the three options available to you:

1. Use the ferry to cross the river.  The ferryman is charging $15 to cross the river.

2. Ask the ferryman for another way to cross the river.

3. Float your wagon across the river yourselves.

What do you think your wagon should do and what are your reasons?