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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"The Oregon Trail"
Includes ... Oregon Trail ...Oregon National Historic Trail ... National Register of Historic Places ... Columbia River ... Prairie Schooner ... Barlow Road ... The Dalles ... Oregon City ...
Image, 2009, Mount Hood, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Mount Hood from Highway 26. Parts of Highway 26 follow the old Barlow Road, part of the Oregon Trail. Image taken August 16, 2009.


Oregon Trail ...
The Oregon Trail ran approximately 2,000 miles from Missouri to the Rocky Mountains and then to the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The trip took four to six months. Independence, Missouri, is considered the beginning of the Oregon Trail and Oregon City, Oregon, is considered the end. The trail was busy, lasting from the early 1840s and ending with the coming of the railroad at the end of the 1860s. Large scale migration began in 1843, when a wagon train of over 800 people with 120 wagons and 5,000 cattle made the five month journey.

The General Path ...

"The road began in Missouri, followed the North Platte River until it reached the Sweetwater River. The river offered relatively easy travel and a close water source. The Sweetwater River banks led the wagon trains up the gentle slopes of South Pass, where pioneers crossed the Rocky Mountains. The trail then crossed the rugged Snake River Desert and treacherous Blue Mountains before reaching the Columbia River. Here, pioneers chose either to use rafts to transport wagons down the river or follow the Barlow Road around Mount Hood to their final destination in Oregon City. ...

The standard date for departure from any of the jumping-off places was April 15 - give or take a week or two, with expected arrival in Oregon or California hopefully by September 1, but not later than October 1. An ideal crossing was 120 days, April 15 to August 15, a daily average for the 2,000 mile long trail of 15 miles per day, a typical crossing took about two weeks longer. On a good day more than 15 miles could be covered, on a bad day, much less."

Source:    U.S. National Park Service, Whitman Mission, Oregon Trail Teachers Guide.


Oregon National Historic Trail ...
In 1978, the entire Oregon Trail, including the Barlow Road, was named a National Historic Trail by the U.S. Congress. The Trail crosses through six states -- Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wyoming.

Image, 2011, Oregon Trail, Signal Hill, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Oregon Trail below Signal Hill, east of The Dalles, Oregon. Information via volunteer guide, Horsethief Lake Park (Columbia Hills State Park), Washington. Image taken October 15, 2011.
Image, 2012, Oregon Trail kiosk at Government Camp, click to enlarge
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Oregon Trail kiosk at Government Camp. Image taken August 14, 2012.


Prairie Schooner ...

"A prairie schooner is a relatively small covered wagon averaging 10-12 feet long and 4-5 feet wide. Most were converted farm wagons, although a few individuals such as freed slave Hiram Young and the Studebaker brothers made a living crafting wagons in Missouri for the Oregon Trail.

Older and larger Conestogas were built for the freight trade on the National Road or Santa Fe Trail. Some early pioneers tried these large wagons on the Oregon Trail but soon discovered they were too heavy for their teams to cross the Rockies."

Source:    Jim Thompkins, 1996 and 2002, "Discovering Laurel Hill and the Barlow Road"


[More]


Image, 2005, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, click to enlarge
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Prairie Schooner, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon. Image taken June 4, 2005.
Image, 2005, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, click to enlarge
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Prairie Schooner, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon. Image taken June 4, 2005.


The Last 200 Miles

  • Umatilla and Irrigon ...
  • Willow Creek ...
  • Alkali Canyon ...
  • Arlington ...
  • John Day River crossing ...
  • Biggs Junction ...
  • Deschutes River crossing ...
  • The Dalles ...
  • "Decision at The Dalles" ...
  • Land Route, Barlow Road ...
  • Land Route, Discovery Center Exhibit ...
  • River Route, Chenoweth Creek and Crates Point ...
  • River Route, Discovery Center Exhibit ...
  • River Route, Cascades of the Columbia ...
  • River Route, The Dalles to Troutdale ...
  • River Route, Fort Vancouver ...
  • Destination, Oregon City ...

Umatilla and Irrigon ...
During the heyday of the Oregon Trail, both Umatilla and Irrigon had portions of the Oregon Trail turning north and reaching the Columbia River.
[More]

"... The main route generally followed the Snake River across much of southern Idaho. At the place called Farewell Bend, near Ontario, Oregon, the pioneers veered away from the Snake River, bidding it farewell as the name implies, and struck out overland across the Blue Mountains. Arriving at what is now the City of Echo, Oregon, the trail took several branches. The main trail proceeded westward through a stage stop called Well Springs and then onward to the Columbia River near The Dalles.

Another branch of the trail followed the Umatilla River from Echo down to its confluence with the Columbia River at what is now the City of Umatilla. A third branch traversed down through present-day Umatilla Army Depot and joined with a Columbia River shoreline trail here at Irrigon. This trail segment intersects almost exactly at the campsite of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, thus the city logo “Where Lewis and Clark & the Oregon Trail meet”. ..."

Source:    City of Irrigon website, 2014, "Irrigon History"


Willow Creek ...
The Oregon trail wagons crossed Willow Creek, approximately 15 miles upstream, near the town of Cecil.

Alkali Canyon ...
Between Willow Creek and the John Day River, the wagons of the Oregon Trail traveled down the flat valley of Alkali Canyon. Alkali Canyon extends south from Arlington, Oregon for approximately eight miles before turning west and heading to Rock Creek, a tributary of the John Day River.

Arlington ...
The main route of the Oregon Trail passed approximately eight miles south of today's community of Arlington, staying on the plateau before dropping into Alkali Canyon and heading west to the John Day River. Many wagons however turned north at Alkali Canyon, reaching the Columbia River at the location of today's Arlington. From there the settlers rafted down the Columbia in Hudson's Bay Company bateaux (boats) or Indian canoes.

John Day River crossing ...
The Oregon Trail wagons crossed the John Day River approximately 20 miles upstream from its mouth, at a flat location known as "McDonald Ford". Later this was to become a ferry location.

"After three days of sand, rock, blustery winds, and shortages of wood and water while crossing the Columbia Plateau, emigrants were relieved to arrive at the John Day River. This was the first of several major rivers flowing north toward the Columbia that would have to be crossed, but the McDonald ford provided an easy crossing. The river is normally only 8-12 inches deep during late summer, and the ford has a smooth, pebbly bottom. Esther Belle McMillan Hanna arrived at McDonald Ford on September 1, 1852: We had a very steep hill to descend in coming to it [John Day River]. ...   We have encamped on the river bottom, which is large and very level. Will remain here until tomorrow to rest our cattle and ourselves and conclude on the route we will take." After ascending the west side of the canyon -- "one of the most difficult hills have have met on the whole journey across the plains" -- emigrants could take the right fork of the trail to go the the Dalles, or, after 1848, they could take the left fork and follow a cutoff to the Barlow Road."

Source:    U.S. National Park Service, Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement, Oregon National Historic Trail.

Image, 2003, John Day River looking upstream, click to enlarge
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John Day River, Oregon, looking upstream. John Day River, looking upstream, as seen from LaPage Park, Oregon. Image taken September 26, 2003.


Biggs Junction ...
"After crossing McDonald Ford, the Oregon Trail slowly wound its way through the hills towards the Columbia River. About 25 miles west of the ford, emigrants abruptly toppped a ridge and saw spread out before them the magnificent Columbia River Valley, with Mount Hood rising from the western horizon. This was one of the most impressive and joyful sights along the trail, for the Oregon country was finally beginning to resemble its publicized beauty, and reaching the Columbia River meant the long overland journey was almost at an end. Michael Fleenen Luark wrote on August 23, 1853, "4 miles further we reached the Columbia river for the first time after going down a long but not a steep hill. ... the river is quite low at this time leaving large banks of beautiful white sand showing that the river is extremely high at some seasons of the year." A one mile section of trail ruts cross a bench above Old Highway 30 west of the present-day town of Biggs Junction. This is one of the last remaining stretches of the Oregon Trail along the Columbia River not destroyed by highway and railroad construction in the past century."

Source:    U.S. National Park Service, Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement, Oregon National Historic Trail.

Image, 2012, Biggs Junction, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Biggs Junction, Oregon, as seen Maryhill Museum, Washington. Image taken May 29, 2012.


Deschutes River crossing ...
"Emigrants frequently camped at the mouth of the Deschutes River before attempting the difficult crossing of this "considerable tributary of the Columbia." Some parties crossed at the mouth of the river, using rocky islands as stepping-stones. Wagons were usually floated across, while the animals swam. Joel Palmer wrote a detailed description of the crossing on September 28, 1845: "The river is about one hundred yards wide, and the current very rapid; the stream is enclosed by lofty cliffs of basaltic rock. Four hundred yards from the Columbia is a rapid or cascade. Within the distance of thirty yards its descent is from fifteen to twenty feet. The current of this stream was so rapid and violet, and withal of such depth, as to require us to ferry it. Some of the companies behind us, however, drove over at its mouth by crossing on a bar.""

(Note:, the original river crossing is now submerged by Lake Celilo.)

Source:    U.S. National Park Service, Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement, Oregon National Historic Trail.

"River crossings were difficult for Oregon Trail emigrants and the Deschutes River was no exception. John McAllister, emigrant of 1852, warned "danger attends the crossage here ... many large rocks and at the same time a very rapid current."   Emigrants, wagons and livestock all had to cross the river and casualties were common. Amelia Hadley, emigrant of 1851, noted a canoes "bottom side up, with a pair of boots tied in the captern."   Early emigrants often hired local Indians to assist at this river crossing. During the 1850s pioneer entrepreneurs seized control of the ford and offered expensive ferry service. A toll bridge was established by 1864."

Source:    Information sign, Oregon Trail kiosk, Deschutes River State Recreation Area.


Image, 2005, Mouth of the Deschutes River, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Mouth of the Deschutes River, Oregon. View from Washington State Highway 14. Miller Island is tip in lower left corner. Image taken May 24, 2005.
Image, 2011, Deschutes River, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Sign, Oregon Trail Deschutes River Crossing, Oregon. Image taken January 30, 2011.
Image, 2014, Deschutes River, Oregon, looking upstream, click to enlarge
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Oregon Trail kiosk, Deschutes River State Recreation Area, Deschutes River, Oregon. Image taken May 12, 2014.
Image, 2014, Deschutes River, Oregon, looking upstream, click to enlarge
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Information sign, Oregon Trail kiosk, Deschutes River State Recreation Area, Deschutes River, Oregon. Image taken May 12, 2014.


The Dalles ...

"Until 1846, The Dalles marked the end of the overland travel on the Oregon Trail. At the mouth of Chenoweth Creek, emigrants embarked on steamboats, rafts, or canoes for the 83-mile journey down the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver. With the opening of the Barlow Road, emigrants at The Dalles faced a decision -- whether to float their families and wagons down the Columbia or to cross the southern flank of Mount Hood by wagon. Neither option was easy. Rafts and livestock were difficult to maneuver along the river's swift currents and the Barlow Road's steep and rocky grades made travel dangerous for exhausted livestock."

Source:    U.S. National Park Service, Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement, Oregon National Historic Trail.


Image, 2004, The Dalles, Oregon, with Mount Hood, click to enlarge
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The Dalles, Oregon, with Mount Hood. The Dalles and Mount Hood as seen from Dallesport, Washington. Image taken April 24, 2004.


"Decision at The Dalles" ...
Once reaching The Dalles, Oregon Trail travelers had to decide whether to take the "land route" and go around Mount Hood, or take the "river route" and raft down the Columbia River. The mural "Decision at The Dalles" was painted by Don Crook in 1992, and is located at E. Federal Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets, The Dalles, Oregon.

Image, 2013, The Dalles mural, click to enlarge
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Mural, "Decision at The Dalles", The Dalles, Oregon. Mural painted by Don Crook, 1992. Image taken May 8, 2013.
Image, 2013, The Dalles mural, click to enlarge
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Mural, "Decision at The Dalles", The Dalles, Oregon. Mural painted by Don Crook, 1992. Image taken May 8, 2013.


Land Route, Barlow Road ...
The Barlow Road is a part of the Oregon Trail, being established in 1845, making its way around the south side of Mount Hood. This road provided an alternative to the dangerous and expensive route that used rafts to transport wagons down the Columbia River. The Barlow Road began at The Dalles, headed south through Dufur and Tygh Valley, then turned west and north through Barlow Pass and Government Camp, passed through "Tollgate #5" and crossed the Sandy River, and continued to the community of Sandy, where it headed west and ended up at Oregon City.
[More]

Image, 2013, Sign, Barlow Road, click to enlarge
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Barlow Road sign, Foster Farm, Eagle Creek, Oregon. Image taken May 4, 2013.
Image, 2013, Sandy, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Barlow Road Mural, "Peaceful Vistas", Sandy, Oregon. Mural depicts pioneer family on the Barlow Road, painted by Roger Cooke, 1993, located in Sandy, Oregon. Image taken June 28, 2013.
Image, 2011, Tollgate Replica, Barlow Road, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Tollgate Replica, Barlow Road, Rhododendron, Oregon. Image taken September 20, 2011.


Land Route, Discovery Center Exhibit ...

Image, 2013, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Exhibit, Oregon Trail "Land Route", Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon. Around the south side of Mount Hood on the Barlow Road. Image taken May 8, 2013.
Image, 2013, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Exhibit, Oregon Trail "Land Route", Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon. Around the south side of Mount Hood on the Barlow Road. Image taken May 8, 2013.


River Route, Chenoweth Creek and Crates Point ...
At the mouth of Chenoweth Creek near Crates Point, emigrants embarked on steamboats, rafts, or canoes for the 83-mile journey down the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver.

"... The last of the emigrants had just left the Dalles at the time of our arrival, traveling some by water and others by land, making ark-like rafts, on which they had embarked their families and households, with their large wagons and other furniture, while their stock were driven along the shore. ..." [John C. Fremont, November 6, 1843]

"At Crates Point, a protected harbor at the mouth of Chenoweth Creek, the Oregon Trail pioneers put into the river. John McLoughlin, despite orders from his superiors, sent bateaux and food here to assist (and occasionally rescue) weary emigrants. Nearby were many pine trees to cut for building immense rafts that could hold up to six wagons. Writing in 1843, explorer John C. Fremont described them as "ark-like rafts, on which they had embarked their families and households, with their large wagons and other furniture, while their stock were driven along the shore.""

Source:   Oregon-California Trails Association website, 2011, "The Dalles, Oregon, End of the Old Oregon Trail".

Image, 2013, Chenoweth Creek, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Chenoweth Creek looking downstream, The Dalles, Oregon. Image taken May 8, 2013.
Image, 2013, Chenoweth Creek, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Chenoweth Creek drainage, The Dalles, Oregon. View looking west at the Chenoweth Creek drainage (trees), approximately 1/2 mile from the mouth of Chenoweth Creek. Image taken May 8, 2013.
Image, 2013, Chenoweth Creek, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Flat area west side of the Chenoweth Creek drainage, looking towards the Columbia River. View approximately 1/2 mile from the mouth of Chenoweth Creek. Image taken May 8, 2013.


River Route, Log rafts, Hudson's Bay Batteau ...

Image, Log raft used by pioneers, click to enlarge
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ILLUSTRATION: "Type of log raft used by pioneers between The Dalles and Cascade Locks". Source: S.C. Lancaster, 1916, "The Columbia, America's Great Highway", p.40.
Image, Log raft used by pioneers, click to enlarge
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ILLUSTRATION: "Hudson's Bay Batteau, used on the Columbia River, below Cascades". Source: S.C. Lancaster, 1916, "The Columbia, America's Great Highway", p.46.


River Route, Discovery Center Exhibit ...

Image, 2013, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Exhibit, Oregon Trail "River Route", Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon. Image taken May 8, 2013.
Image, 2013, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Exhibit, Oregon Trail "River Route", Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon. Image taken May 8, 2013.
Image, 2013, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Exhibit, Oregon Trail "River Route", Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, Oregon. Image taken May 8, 2013.


River Route, Cascades of the Columbia ...
"While the men drove livestock along the river shore, women and children stayed with the wagons and floated the Columbia River as far as the Cascades. This was the last dangerous obstacle on the Oregon Trail for those traveling the Columbia River Route. ...  Although these rapids were occasionally run with fully loaded boats, the practice was dangerous and fraught with accidents. Most emigrants resorted to a back-breaking three to five mile portage. Local Indians helped the emigrants transport their loads until portage roads were built around the obstruction in the 1850s."

Source:    U.S. National Park Service, Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement, Oregon National Historic Trail.


River Route, The Dalles to Troutdale ...
Leaving The Dalles, Oregon Trail emigrants who chose the "river route" built rafts to float women, children, wagons, and goods down the Columbia River, while the men and boys drove the livestock along the banks. At the Hood River the cattle crossed to the north bank of the Columbia and at the Sandy River the cattle were driven back across the Columbia to the south side. While many rafts floated all the way to Fort Vancouver, others would unload at the mouth of the Sandy River to wait for the men and cattle. Wagons were reassembled and then went south, climbing the hills and heading towards Oregon City. The Oregon community of Troutdale was settled during this period, not only by Oregon Trail pioneers arriving via the Columbia, but also from pioneers arriving in Portland and heading east towards the banks of the Sandy. In 1863 Joel Palmer established a toll cattle trail on the south side of the Columbia River and established ferries across the Hood River and the Sandy River. In 1872 the Oregon legislature first appropriated funds for building a wagon road from The Dalles to Troutdale, and in 1876 they provided more. In 1883 the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company built a railroad along the same route, destroying the wagon road in many places. By 1925 the Columbia River Highway was finished, giving early 20th century "pioneers" easy access to the Willamette Valley.

"Oregon Trail emigrants arrived at the Sandy River after descending the Columbia or traveling its rugged banks with lifestock. Emigrants camped along the banks of the Sandy River reassembling wagons and recuperating. Crossing the Sandy downstream from this site, and climbing the hill behind the Harlow House, where the trail is still visible, emigrants could look behind at the bluffs that today mark the western entrance of the Columbia Gorge. For emigrants, however, these bluffs marked the eastern gateway to the Willamette Valley. ..."

Source:    Information sign at the Harlow House Museum, Troutdale, Oregon, visited in 2011.

Image, 2003, Sandy River near Troutdale, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Sandy River, Oregon, near Troutdale, from right bank looking downstream towards Lewis and Clark Recreation Area boat ramp (on right). The boat ramp location was once the location of an Oregon Trail ferry across the Sandy River. Image taken October 18, 2003.
Image, 2011, Troutdale, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Path, Robins Way, Troutdale, Oregon, once a wagon road heading from Troutdale towards Oregon City. Image taken September 13, 2011.


River Route, Fort Vancouver ...
"Founded by the Hudson's Bay Company in the winter of 1824-1825 as a fur trading post and supply depot, Fort Vancouver was the most important settlement in the Pacific Northwest for more than 20 years. Dr. John McLoughlin, Chief Factor of the post until 1845, greatly assisted the exhausted, penniless emigrants who arrived at his doorstep. He helped them with transportation, lodging, subsistence, and even extended credit for supplies obtained at the post until they could raise their first crops."

Source:    U.S. National Park Service, Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement, Oregon National Historic Trail.

Image, 2004, Fort Vancouver, Washington, click to enlarge
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Fort Vancouver, Washington. The fort's palisade was built not for protection of the fort, but to protect trading items from theft. View is looking out of the gates towards the Vancouver Barracks. Image taken March 7, 2004.
Image, 2006, Palisades and Bastion, Fort Vancouver, Washington, click to enlarge
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Fort Vancouver, Washington. Image taken August 27, 2006.


Destination, Oregon City ...
Oregon City, located approximately 15 miles south of Portland, Oregon, is considered the "End of the Oregon Trail". This is the home of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, a museum which provides information and "living displays" about the Barlow Road and the Oregon Trail.

"The Oregon Trail officially ended at Abernethey Green in Oregon City. The town was not much to boast of in the 1840s. Maria Belshaw called it the "worst looking place for a City I ever saw." The town was started in 1842 by Dr. John McLoughlin, who chose the site because of its location next to the falls of the Willamette River. The falls prohibited water navigation farther south and provided power for McLoughlin's sawmill. From here, emigrants fanned out across the fertile Willamette Valley to the south in search of the new homes they had come so far to find. Today, the End of the Oregon Trial Interpretive Center is lcoated at Abernethy Green."

Source:    U.S. National Park Service, Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement, Oregon National Historic Trail.

Image, 2011, End of the Oregon Trail, Oregon City, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Sign, "End of the Oregon Trail", Oregon City, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2011.
Image, 2011, End of the Oregon Trail, Canby, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Structure, "End of the Oregon Trail", Canby, Oregon. Image taken October 22, 2011.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, ...
 




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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    Lancaster, S.C., 1916, "The Columbia, America's Great Highway through the Cascade Mountains to the Sea", Samuel Christopher Lancaster, Portland, Oregon;    Oregon-California Trails Association website, 2011, "The Dalles, Oregon, End of the Old Oregon Trail";    U.S. Bureau of Land Management website, 2011, Oregon Trail Interpretive Center;    U.S. National Park Service website, 2011, The Oregon National Historic Trail;    U.S. National Park Service website, 2013, Whitman Mission, Oregon Trail Teachers Guide;    "VisitEasternOregon.com" website, 2014, "Follow the Trail";   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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May 2014