Encounters with Native Americans

One of the biggest worries of the travellers was the threat of Native Americans. Stories of the savages had scared the emigrants, leading them to believe Native Americans would be waiting to attack them at every turn. This turned out not to be the case, as Native Americans were more likely to aid the settlers than harm them. Trading with the different tribes became a popular way to obtain necessary items the emigrants desperately needed.

Perhaps it was the Native Americans who should have been worried about the settlers, as the livelihood of tribal communities parished under the hands of the travellers. Emigrants cut down any woodland they came across for firewood. They hunted nearly all the buffalo on the plains. They overgrazed the praries with their cattle. All of these added up to the decline of Native American's sustenance and food, causing starvation to run rampid throughout the different tribal nations.

Peter Hardeman Burnett recalls many separate meetings with different Native American tribes in his manuscript Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer (1880). In one particular memory, the wagon train he was a part of was travelling up the South Fork when they came across some Native Americans. "[They] kept at a distance," he stated, "and never manifested any disposition to molest us in any way" (Burnett, 1880). They recognized that the newcomers were just travelling through and meant no harm. Additionally, they may have kept a distance due to the mass amount of wagons, cattle, and men.

Burnett, P. H. (1880) Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer. New York, D. Appleton & company. [Pdf] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/01006673/.

Life and Death on the Oregon Trail. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.octa-trails.org/articles/life-and-death-on-the-oregon-trail