The trials and tribulations of a top Oregon trail player

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Graphic by Charlotte Guy

Charlotte Guy

The day was crisp, just like any other in the homey town of Independence, but today, I was to leave everything I once knew. Some called me a trailblazer, as I packed up my failed carpenter shop with Mr. Besser (and four other friends) to travel a perilous two-thousand-mile trail with no guide, but it was just pure desperation. There was nothing left for me in that small town and I was pulled by the romantic allure of the West. With zero pounds of food, ten pairs of clothes, a couple of spare parts, three yoke, and enough bullets to kill a herd of buffalo, we set off in our white wagon, down the dilapidated dirt path with not a clue of what was in store for us.

Earlier this year my AP Human Geography teacher, Aaron Besser, challenged our class to play the Oregon Trail as homework for part of our migration unit. He hoped the interactive program, which simulates life on the Oregon Trail from the perspective of  Western frontiersmen would acquaint us with some of the problems that come with migration. Whether these problems were geographical barriers, lack of resources, or, for Mr. Besser… two broken limbs, dysentery, and a tragic death due to his inability to cross the 4.2 foot deep Kansas River. As a nationally ranked adventurer (yes, I, Charlotte Guy, am on the leaderboard), I shall catalog my two-hour, two-thousand-mile adventure, featuring horrible graphics and worse music, so you don’t have to.

At the start, the journey was a breeze. The mid-March sun created a balmy atmosphere, not too warm, not too cold—just right. My group members were supplied with ample portions of buffalo meat I’d hunted, defying all sorts of gender roles. I would feel bad for the mild-tempered animal, but there was no room for remorse on the trail. It was every wagon for themself, and I did not take my leadership position lightly. 

Our first major obstacle came at the first river crossing, two days into our journey. I’ll have to say, my arrogance got the best of me. Don’t let the shallowness of the Kansas River fool you, I lost a man to those waters. He was my own teacher too. A ferry would have saved his life, but was the $5 worth it? No. I shrugged off the minor inconvenience because after all, this meant that there was one less mouth to feed.

1,000 miles later, we landed at the halfway point, Soda Springs, and not much had happened. I got a snake bite, but my resilience and iron will kept me safe. A thief also stole all ten of our extra pairs of clothing but it wasn’t too big of a deal. Only our pride was damaged.

Tragically, from there the journey took a turn for the worse. Our trip up the blue mountains was filled with heavy fog and poor conditions. We lost the trail a few times, setting us back over a week. Resources and morale were running low, and it seemed like we might not make it. We thought all was lost, and then all our prayers were answered. Oregon City was in our view! We were on the final stretch.

There were a couple of hundred miles between us and Oregon City and nothing standing in our way. November 3, 1848, we officially arrived in Oregon. The sweet taste of victory was only minutely soured by Mr. Besser’s absence. Although he cannot claim to have survived the journey, he can sleep soundly knowing one of his brightest students will represent his legacy on the nation’s leaderboard of the Oregon Trail forever.