Friday, April 4, 2008

Jumping-Off Places

In grade school we all learned that the Oregon Trail began at Independence, Missouri. However, that is an incomplete explanation.

The Independence/Westport, Missouri area is where the Santa Fe Trail began so it was quite natural when the first immigrants decided to go to Oregon that they would start from the Independence/Westport area.

This especially became true after John C. Freemont’s report was published in 1842. Fremont’s route west through “South Pass” began at Independence/Westport. But soon businessmen in Weston, Missouri [which was across the Missouri River from Fort Leavenworth] and Joseph Robidoux of Saint Joseph, Missouri were competing to be “outfitting locations” or as they were often called, “Jumping-off Places.”

North of St. Joseph were Oregon Crossing and Harney’s Landing; they to were used by some immigrants and freighters as “Jumping-off Places.” After the President Franklin Pierce signed the “Nebraska Bill” [Kansas-Nebraska Act] on May 30, 1854; Atchison and Leavenworth, Kansas as well as St. Deroin, Brownsville, Nebraska City, Plattsmouth, and Omaha City, Nebraska promoted themselves as the best “Jumping-off Places.”

Some of these places became significant “Jumping-off Places” for immigrants and freighters. Others were primarily starting points for independent freighters. Brownsville and St. Deroin, Nebraska fall into the latter category. The trails from Brownsville and St. Deroin joined together near present-day Beatrice, Nebraska and joined the main trunk of the Oregon Trail a little north of present-day Fairbury, Nebraska.

These “feeder” and freight trails often moved locations as shorter routes or better stream crossings were established. Possibly the routes changed as land was settled and farmers refused to allow the immigrant and freight wagons to go through their land.

On the other hand, some settlers liked being near the trails. The trails offered companionship from passersby and a market for farm products. One of the first to file under the regulations of the Homestead Act of 1862 was Daniel Freeman. He said he choose his location west of Beatrice, Nebraska partly because a freight trail went through the property [the St. Deroin/Brownsville Trail at one time went through what is currently Homestead National Monument of America].


Houk, Rose. Homestead National Monument of America. Fort Washington, PA: Eastern National.

Lass, William E. From the Missouri to the Great Salt Lake: An Accounting of Overland Freighting. Lincoln: The Nebraska State Historical Society.

Lavender, David Sievert. The Overland Migrations: Settlers to Oregon, California, and Utah. Washington D. C: National Park Service.

Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Utley, Robert M. Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848-1865. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc.

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