Oregon Trail: Superhighway to the Pacific Northwest


Ezra Meeker dedicating Oregon Trail Monument, 1906, State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives.


Starting in the 1830s the Oregon Trail served as the major route for settlers bound for the Pacific Northwest.


Start with secondary sources 

Use secondary sources to gain basic knowledge of your topic, its significance, and historical context.

Ask a Librarian online at Washington State Library to get expert help in locating useful secondary sources. 


Then use primary sources

Use primary sources to deepen your understanding of the topic, and assemble evidence to support your own analysis and interpretation.

Ask an Archivist online at Washington State Archives to get expert help in locating useful primary sources.


Some key historical research questions:

  • What role did the Oregon Trail play in the contest between the United States and Britain to gain control over Pacific Northwest frontier?
  • How did the length and conditions of the trail affect the settlers themselves?
  • How did these conditions limit the numbers and types of people who were able to complete the trip and settle in the Northwest?
  • How can the experiences of individuals and families be used to tell the story of the Oregon Trail?
  • How can the Oregon trail be used to interpret and explain the settlement of the Pacific Northwest?
  • Consider other possibilities for historical questions as you analyze and interpret this topic.


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