The Oregon Trail

I’ve recently been working on an exhibit that tracks John C. Frémont’s progress West during his Oregon Trail expeditions in 1842 and 1843. Frémont’s journal, published in The Expeditions of John Charles Fremont chronicles his progress, but gives little sense of the space covered. Similarly, the maps that were made from Frémont’s journal give an excellent sense of space, and of the Native geopolitics of the land he passed through, but give the viewer a less good sense of the time it took to traverse the space between the Missouri and Columbia rivers.

This map (powered by Omeka) is a first stab at bringing these two sources together. I have annotated the Frémont maps with excerpts from his journal, and marked every stopping point along the the trail to Oregon. I have mostly pulled out things of interest to me – Frémont took note of meteorological data  in addition to describing his progress West, and while I hope to work with that information in the future, I’ve focused here on encounters with Native peoples, and with wildlife.  Annotations that appear on the map itself are also highlighted and transcribed.

One of the things I wanted to convey with this map is the time it took to cover ground in the early nineteenth century.  Borrowing from Brenda Braithwaite’s work, “The Mechanic is the Message,”  and drawing on story maps (most notably 21 steps) I wanted the user of this map to get some sense of both the unknown ahead of Frémont and his party, and of the many stops en route to Oregon.  Put another way – I wanted to make it difficult for a user to jump ahead without pausing at every resting place that Frémont did along the Oregon trail.  To that end, the right-hand sidebar of this map contains the dates of rest stops, but future dates only become visible once you’ve clicked on the preceding ones.  The timeline at the bottom of the map is a bit of a shortcut – you can scroll forward in time and make all of the points visible – but I’m hoping that users will click through, read excerpts from Frémont’s journal, and (in an incredibly diluted way) get a sense of the experience of westward migration in the 1840s.

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