How Many People Died on Oregon Trail?

January 12, 2024

How many people died on oregon trail

While it is impossible to know for sure, an estimate of up to half a million people pulled up stakes and headed west through the Great Migration. The majority of travelers went to Oregon, but a significant number traveled to California and other western states.

It was a dangerous, difficult trek. The long journey was physically taxing and a scourge of disease ravaged the travelers. The arduous trek also was psychologically trying. It was not uncommon for travelers to resign themselves to their fate and resorted to self-mutilation or even cannibalism in order to survive. The Donner Party stranded in the Sierra Nevada in November 1846 was one such instance.

The cholera epidemic slowed traffic to the point of near-stoppage. Still, 30,000 emigrants hit the trail. Most were California-bound but some of them changed their minds mid-route and decided to settle in Oregon. A number of travelers turned to the newly-established Pony Express. Russell, Majors, and Waddell began service from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.

With the arrival of stagecoaches on the trails, travel became much faster and safer. Cholera, however, re-emerged and claimed more lives. From 1849 to 1855 a cholera epidemic was responsible for about 3 percent of all deaths on the trail. The remainder of the fatalities on the trail were due to accidents, weather, and Indian wars. The route across the mountains was especially treacherous. In addition to navigating the rough Barlow Road, emigrants had to cross the steep, dangerous climb over the Blue Mountains.


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