Back to Blog

Episode 77: The Oregon Trail from Westward Expansion to Computer Game with Sharon McMahon

podcast Jan 13, 2022

In this solo episode, Sharon dives into some of the myths vs. facts about Manifest Destiny and the Oregon Trail. What did it really look like, in the mid-1800s, for a family to travel the trail from Independence, Missouri to the beautiful Willamette Valley region of Oregon? All-in-all, about 400,000 people traveled along the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s, hoping to move from crowded Eastern communities to work the riches of the land out West. Much of what we know was probably gleaned from playing the computer game, The Oregon Trail. Chances are, it was one of the first games you played in your youth on a computer, but do you know its humble Minnesotan history?

Links to Full Episode:

This Episode Will Teach You:

  • How to pronounce “Oregon”
  • Manifest Destiny: the US’s god-given right to expand westward
  • Who traversed the Oregon Trail
  • What the risks were along the Trail
  • How land laws encouraged westward migration
  • About the first European woman to successfully travel the Trail
  • The litter, debris, and disease that plagued settlers’ journeys west
  • The history of the Willamette Meteorite 
  • The origin of the Oregon Trail computer game

3 Biggest Takeaways:

  • In the mid-1800s, frustrated with economic depression and spurred on by the Democratic party’s call for Manifest Destiny, around 400,000 people left their lives in the East to travel westward on the Oregon Trail with hopes to carve out a new life. They faced hardships like disease and illness, rough terrain, and being conned by dishonest merchants, but they spent four to five months walking the trail to capitalize on the government's promise of free land acreage in the Willamette Valley.
  •  The Willamette Meteorite, called Tomanowos by the Clackamas Chinook Native American tribe and said to have spiritual significance and healing properties, is an iron-nickel meteorite that was found in the Willamette Valley. The meteorite is currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which acquired it in 1906 from private owner Sarah Tappan Hoadley. The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon (CTGRC) sued the museum to gain back the meteorite, but eventually settled on an agreement to perform spiritual ceremonies around it once a year, and control ownership of the meteorite if the museum removes it from display. 
  • The Oregon Trail computer game was played in schools and homes from the mid-1970s through the ‘90s. If you’re a Millennial, there’s a good chance The Oregon Trail was your first introduction to computer games. The game was created by a Minnesota student teacher when he was teaching middle school social studies classes. His roommates, also teachers, helped him code the game. In its early days, to shoot your prey while hunting, you had to type out the word “BANG”. The trio deleted the game after the school semester was up, printing the code out which eventually helped revive it for classrooms across the country. Over the years, 65 million copies of The Oregon Trail have been sold, and you can still play it online today.

Related Links:

Stay in the loop!

Don't get caught off guard by the latest current events. I'll guide you to know the facts, understand what's relevant, and be informed.