On this day May 16, 1843, the first major wagon train heading for the Pacific Northwest set out from Elm Grove, Missouri. It was the beginning of the "Great Migration" West via the Oregon Trail. Thousands more would make the trek every year, greatly expanding both America's geography as well as its economy.
There was skepticism regarding their ability to survive the journey. The New York Tribune reported
"we do not believe that nine-tenths of them will reach the Columbia alive...
Regarded in its individual aspect, this migration of a thousand persons in one body to Oregon wears an aspect of insanity.
What seek they? A good climate? There is none finer in the world than the one that they leave behind.
Good soil which they can own and till? There is none better than the millions of acres they pass unheeded, which they can posses without molestation, and only pay ten shillings an acre for it when they please.
Good schools, churches, markets, bridges &c., &c.? All these they cast away, and cannot expect to find them again for many years. Cattle are very scarce in Oregon, and a plow there will cost as much as a horse here.
For what then do they brave the desert, the wilderness, the savage, the snowy precipices of the Rocky Mountains, the weary summer march, the storm-drenched bivouac, and the gnawings of famine? Only to fulfill their destiny!"