Oregon Or the Grave! (And Other Lessons from the Oregon Trail)


If you read my posts even occasionally, you know that I am a genealogy nerd. So it should be no surprise to anyone that I am a fan of the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” on TLC. It’s one of three shows I am willing to pay for when I can’t get it online for free.

A recent episode featured Kelsey Grammer. At some point he follows his family line from California back to Illinois, and is surprised to learn that his ancestors traveled west along the Oregon Trail. I’m just going to go out on a limb and assume you all know about the Oregon Trail- and if you don’t, you should at least have a vague concept about this bit of history from the computer game. Kelsey’s family lost a son to Cholera along the way. (You probably could have guessed that.)

I have been thinking about the Oregon Trail ever since. Mostly I have been comparing my own world to the world of those early trail blazers. One of the first Oregon pioneers was a group of sixteen men from right here in Peoria, IL who called themselves the Oregon Dragoons. Their intention was to colonize Oregon on behalf of the United States; and in the spring of 1839 they set off to claim Oregon Country from the English fur traders.

I imagine Oregon seemed at least as exciting as anything happening in Peoria in 1839. Or even in 2014. The Dragoons carried a flag that said, “Oregon or the Grave!” because that’s the kind of slogans our ancestors liked. And because one of the wives sewed it for them. It may have been a bit dramatic, considering several of the group’s members only made it to Missouri before heading back to Peoria unharmed. Continue reading