By the mid-1800’s, the ideology of Manifest Destiny encouraged further expansion in the United States. It was a widely held American belief that it was their right to colonize and take all of North America (a right to expand).
As settlers set out to stake out the west, they traveled in covered wagons in groups called “wagon trains,” as it was safer to travel in groups. The dangers along the way included terrain, Indians, and food scarcity. Generally, all families only had one wagon unless you were rich and could afford a second. All the worldly goods one owned (that they wanted to take) had to be loaded into the wagon AND still leave enough room for passengers and all the food and water one would need for the journey. Of course, water could be obtained from springs and food from wild animals (such as the buffalo), but one would want to be prepared.
Let me be clear: these wagons were not very large. To be exact, the Prairie Schooner (which was the most commonly used 19th century wagon for long distance transportation) was typically about 4 feet (1.2 metres) wide, 9 to 11 feet (2.7 to 3.4 metres) long, and 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 metres) deep. With the bonnet (the tarped covering), the wagon was about 10 feet (3 metres) tall.1
In other words, you would have to leave almost everything of your former life behind (e.g., most of your possessions, friends, culture, etc.). This was not an easy trip at all.
There were several trails that could be taken, the most popular of which was the Oregon trail. It was the longest trail at 2000 miles long, and was desirable because of the cheap, or free cost on the land. However, due to the distance, it was a life-time commitment to make the trek; and unless your family came with you, you may not see them again.
Another trail, the Mormon trail, was famous in particular with the Mormons. It is called such because of the religious ostracism that occurred that forced them to move westward to Salt Lake City.
There is another famous trail which is known today as The Old Spanish Trail. Those of you who know your history will know that, before the Louisiana Purchase was made (that gave the possession of the greater portion of what is today the United States to America), Napoleon had conquered the area from Spain; consequently, its name. What made this trail particularly unique was not only its age, but also its location. While the other main trail started in the Missouri area, The Old Spanish Trail started in the west near where Los Angeles is located today.
There was also one last trail, only, this trail wasn’t for humans, it served animals. This trail, the Chisholm trail, ran from the Texas ranches all the way to Missouri. The trail was made so that Texan farmers would not bring their cattle through the other ranches and spread ticks to the Missouri farmers’ cattle (of which the Texan cattle were immune).
These trails were used up until 1869, at which point the Transcontinental railroad replaced them.