reading 200 The first passage is mostly about The first passage is mostly about

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The Oregon Trail

     Americans have long been thought of as a restless group of people. They seem to have always been on the move, searching for a better place to live. From America's first colonies small groups of people uprooted themselves, migrating westward to look for better farmland. They built pioneer roads, or trails, such as the Cumberland Road that led into the Ohio Valley, and the Genesee Road that led across New York to the shores of Lake Erie. Many of these roads and trails have disappeared. Others can still be traced, revealing artifacts along the way that help us to recreate their story.      The Oregon Trail is one of these trails. Even today you can retrace its path, walking beside wagon ruts that were gouged almost a century and a half ago. The Oregon Trail was different from the earlier trails and roads that had crossed the Appalachian Mountains in the East. It was longer and more difficult than most pioneers had experienced. Unlike the eastern trails, the Oregon Trail crossed nearly 2,000 miles of unfamiliar prairie, desert, and mountainous regions. There were no settlements along the way that could offer friendly hospitality, and emigrants couldn't scout out their new homeland before they moved there. Oregon Country was so far away, it took from four to six months to get there. When people moved there, they moved to stay.      The story of the Oregon Trail and the people who used it begins when the trail was an ancient Indian footpath used by explorers and fur traders. Independence, Missouri, was the frontier town that served as the starting place. The trail wound westward, following the banks of the Platte, North Platte, and Snake Rivers. It crossed the Rockies through the South Pass, crossed the Blue Mountains further north, and ended in Oregon Country at a place called The Dalles. From The Dalles, anyone continuing on to the Williamette Valley floated down the Columbia River. Up until the mid-1830s, no wagon had ever made the trip.      It is difficult for us to imagine Oregon Country as it was a century and a half ago. A vast wilderness that stretched from the crest of the Rockies to the Pacific coast, it included the present states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The area was inhabited by several tribes of Indians, including the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Nez Perce. There were some trappers and traders in the region, but to most, the area was too far away and too strange for them to consider settling there.      President Thomas Jefferson was the first to actively encourage exploration of Oregon Country. After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, he sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark into the area to seek a trade route to the Pacific. Jefferson knew that their explorations would help the United States strengthen its claim to the Pacific Northwest.      It is important to remember that for the first half of the nineteenth century both Great Britain and the United States occupied the Pacific Northwest. Great Britain already had a strong claim to the land that was to become Canada, and the Hudson's Bay Company had many fur trading posts in the Pacific Northwest. There were American fur trading posts as well, such as the American Fur Company organized by John Jacob Astor in 1808.      In 1818, Great Britain and the United States signed a treaty that allowed both countries to occupy the area, but it was not until the 1830s that Americans began moving in. Missionaries, such as Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, were among the first settlers. When people learned that the Whitmans had journeyed successfully over the Oregon Trail in 1836, they began to think differently about Oregon Country. The fact that a woman had made the journey safely, and that the Whitmans had traveled with a wagon, encouraged others to think that they could make the journey, too.      In fact, when Dr. Whitman returned East in 1842 to help promote his missionary work, he found many people who were eager to travel to Oregon Country. In 1843, some 1,000 people and 2,000 animals joined Dr. Whitman and a surveyor named Jesse Applegate as they led a wagon train over the Oregon Trail. The "great migration" ? one of the greatest migrations in recorded history ? had begun.      Why were so many people going to Oregon Country? Some said they had Oregon fever, a "disease" that made them restless, hungry for new land, and eager for adventure. But why were they going all the way to Oregon Country? One very important reason was that the United States government was encouraging them to do so. Since Thomas Jefferson's presidency, our government had come a long way toward believing that the United States should stretch from coast to coast. If Americans were to settle the Oregon Country in large numbers, our claim to the land would be strengthened.      One man in particular wrote reports about the Oregon Country that were designed to make people want to go there. His name was John Charles Frémont (1813-90). He was a soldier, explorer and political leader who, in 1838, was asked to be the chief assistant in mapping the upper waters of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. He wrote very detailed descriptions of his explorations, and his reports were reprinted and read by many people. It was Frémont who wrote guidebooks for emigrants who were encouraged to settle in Oregon Country and help wrest it from British control.      As Americans began pouring into the Williamette River valley in the 1840s, a dispute between Great Britain and the United States almost caused a war. The biggest disagreement was over the northern boundary of the Oregon Country. The British wanted the boundary to be on the north bank of the Columbia River. The Americans wanted it further north on the 54th Parallel. After careful negotiations, war was prevented when the two countries signed the Oregon Treaty of 1846. They agreed to compromise, placing the boundary on the 49th Parallel extending to Puget sound and leaving Vancouver Island as a part of Canada.      The Oregon Treaty gave the United States undisputed claim to the Pacific Northwest, encouraging even more emigrants to move west. By the 1850s, the Oregon Trail had become a series of parallel wagon ruts that could be seen even in solid rock. Oregon Country officially became the Oregon Territory in 1848. In 1859, the state of Oregon was created and admitted to the Union as the 33rd state. Twenty years earlier the area had been an unknown wilderness!      What was it like to travel on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s and 1850s? Fortunately there are many accounts that have survived, written by the people who used the trail and who wanted to preserve their experiences for later generations. The story of the Sager children was preserved by three of the Sager girls who survived. Diaries, such as the one handed down to Jean Burroughs, provide eyewitness accounts of the daily travel. When we read these accounts, we can easily imagine the hardship, the anxiety, and the excitement the emigrants must have experienced.      According to several historians, at least 30,000 emigrants died on the Oregon Trail between 1843 and 1859. You might say that there is an average of one grave for every 100 yards of trail from the Missouri River to the Williamette River! Why did so many people die? Cholera, a disease that spreads when there are filthy conditions caused by garbage and sewage, claimed thousands of lives. Emigrants passed through, and sometimes camped near, the refuse left by earlier wagon trains. Other diseases caused people to die, but cholera was probably the most common.      Accident was another common cause of death. Children often hurt themselves as the wagons rolled along. Doctors were not always available, and even when they were they often lacked necessary supplies. Most of the emigrants were simply not prepared for the difficult journey ahead, and they were careless.      There were some problems as the emigrants passed through Indian territory. Indian attacks usually took the form of raids on the livestock, but few people were ever killed. The Indians owned much of the land on both sides of the Oregon Trail, and the emigrants were trespassing. Some tribal leaders demanded payment as the wagon trains rolled through, and, if the emigrants cooperated, there was no further trouble. In other instances, the Indians made a surprise attack, took livestock, and left the wagons unharmed.      It would be several years later, in the 1860s, when the Indians would finally realize that their homelands had been lost forever. Tribal chiefs, such as Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, both of the Oglala Sioux, devoted their lives to trying to save their homelands and people. But the idea that the United States should stretch from coast to coast had already taken hold. The Oregon Trail, no longer just a footpath, had opened the way to the West.

From Cobblestone's December, 1981, issue: The Oregon Trail. © 1981, Cobblestone Publishing Inc., Peterborough, NH 03458. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Nettie's Big Fish

by Jean M. Burroughs

     "Here's your baited hook and line, Daughter. See what you can land. Every family in our wagon train needs fresh fish for supper." Nettie Emory's father stood by her on the banks of the North Platte River late one evening in June, 1863. "And mind you keep your shoes on this time, Pet."      Nettie drew down the corners of her mouth in disappointment. She'd been counting on cool water and squishy mud to cool her feet, hot and sweaty from her high?topped, laced shoes. She knew her father was referring to the time she had wandered from camp to gather "yellow roses," the enticing blooms of prickly pear cactus. Stepping on dozens of stickers in her bare feet was a painful experience she would never forget. She'd never seen cactus before so how was she supposed to know?      Now, holding her line and hook high, Nettie edged closer to the water, hoping against hope she would catch a fish. Otherwise, it was going to be salt bacon and corn pone for supper again. After several weeks on the Oregon Trail, their supply of meat was used up. Even wild game had been scarce, and they had not yet reached the plentiful buffalo on the plains. She was certainly tired of the monotonous diet.      Nettie's father called back over his shoulder. "Remember there's quicksand and sinkholes. Test the ground before you step. Stay close to me. Good luck, Blackie."      Nettie grinned at her father's use of her nickname, given because of her unusually dark hair and eyes. Her French mother preferred Minette, but had agreed to the shortened form of Nettie. An only child, the nine?year?old girl answered to all the names that her loving parents called her. She was proud that her father had been chosen wagon master to lead the train over the plains and mountains to faraway Oregon. Perhaps if she caught a fish, he'd be proud of her too, just as he was when she drove the ox team safely during her mother's illness. She wanted to help him during this difficult journey as much as she could.      She watched him and the other men choose places to cast their lines at the water's edge. Some waded into the shallows near the sand islands in the river where the current was running swifter because of a recent rain. Through a thicket of willows she edged closer to where a quiet pool had formed under the tree roots. Just the place for a fish to hide, she thought. She quietly dropped her hook, watching it sink to the bottom. Then she waited, swinging her sun-bonnet strings back and forth to brush off the gnats and mosquitoes that hummed around her face.      She waited. She waited, but no fish rose to her bait. As she slid down the riverbank she kept her father's black hat in sight. Her line drifted faster with the fresh current. Fishing can be tiresome, she fretted, but it's better than just watching the trail from the back of our crowded wagon.      None of the men had caught a fish so far. She squinted at the sun, well above the horizon of the summer sky. There's plenty of time before supper fires are lighted, she thought. With her left hand she slapped at a pesky mosquito again; her right hand tightened its grip on the pole. A sudden jerk on the line caused her to stumble forward to keep her balance. A bite! A bite! The pull on her line was steady and strong. She lifted her pole and it bent forward. It surely must be a big one.      And it was a big one, big enough to pull Nettie dangerously toward the water. Her breath came in gasps. She dug in the heels of her sturdy shoes, glad now that she wasn't barefoot. She couldn't back up because the end of the line was moving fast toward the center of the river. She could no longer see her father's hat because of the tall rushes growing at water's edge.      Grimly, she held on. Her feet were already soaked. Would her next step be into quicksand? The line moved downstream, dragging Nettie into ankle?deep, then knee?deep water. She was excited about the catch and dared not let go. She also was becoming a little frightened.      "Papa, Papa, I've got a big one!" she cried. "It's pulling me into the river!" Her voice was lost in the evening breeze that stirred the rushes. "Papa, can't you hear me?"      How much longer could she hold on? She used all her strength. Her shoulders ached from the strain. "Help! Help!" she shouted to anyone who might hear her. She turned her body so that the line wrapped around her hips. Her legs sank deeper into the sandy bottom. Muddy water billowed out her full skirt. "I'm like an umbrella," she laughed to herself. "Now maybe they'll see me."      Fresh fish or dry salt bacon: the very thought gave her extra endurance. Not just for her own family, but the other wagon people who were also hungry for a change in diet. Drawing a deeper breath, she called hoarsely, "Save me! Save my fish!"      An answering shout gave her courage. She heard footsteps splashing nearer. "Blackie, hold on. Pull back," called her father. Other men dropped their poles and ran to help. Josiah Emory placed his body in front of his little girl's, grabbing the line with his strong hands. Nettie clung to the pole while her father slowly, steadily, pulled in the line. Soon a flashing, grey body flapped in and out of the water. "It's a big catfish, Blackie, a really huge one. Good girl! I'm proud of you." Only then did Nettie let go. He lifted the pole with a grunt at the unexpected weight. Indeed, it was a huge fish. Her father guessed it was over three feet long and more than twenty-five pounds.      Sloshing back to the wagon, muddy and exhausted, Nettie wondered what her mother would say. Her dress and petticoats were caked with red mud. Her shoes squished water through the laces. Now perhaps I can go barefoot until my shoes dry, she thought. She hoped her mother would be so glad over the fish that she wouldn't scold.      News of Nettie's big catch spread among the wagons. A hungry crowd gathered to watch while Nettie's father dressed the fish. "Build up the fire," he said. "We'll all feast tonight. No ration of salt pork but fresh fish for all."      "And biscuits and syrup instead of corn bread?" Nettie asked her mother.      "Yes, Minette. All the biscuits and syrup and fish you can eat."      Nettie grinned a happy, tired grin. "I'll always remember how that fish almost swam away with me. I am going to write about it in my diary."

A Note from the Author:

     This is a true story. A copy of Nettie Emory's diary was given to me by her granddaughter. From Nettie's entries about her trip on the Oregon Trail, written in 1863, I have retold her exciting adventure with the big fish. Of course I used imaginary conversation and descriptions. This is what Nettie wrote in her diary:      "I was allowed to fish with the men in the Missouri River. Suddenly a fish took my bait, and I was pulled to the water's edge. My father heard my call for help. He began to run when he saw me splashing in the water. Other men helped him land the fish while I went back to the wagon to dry out. The fish was over three feet long and weighed about 25 pounds. I was the only one who caught a fish that day but we shared it with the others."

From Cobblestone's December, 1981, issue: The Oregon Trail. © 1981, Cobblestone Publishing Inc., Peterborough, NH 03458. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

The first passage is mostly about

AnswerChoose the correct answer.Choose all that apply. Correct Partially correct Incorrect Don't Know

  1. A
    Correct Answer
    the settling of the Oregon Territory
  2. B
    Correct Answer
    the development and use of the Oregon Trail
  3. C
    Correct Answer
    reasons that people wanted to move to Oregon
  4. D
    Correct Answer
    the plight of American Indians
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