Love often blossomed on the Trail
There’s a good reason why the Oregon Trail has been used as a backdrop for many a romance novel. It had adventure, it had danger and excitement. And, above all, it was a place where love could blossom. After all, many of the early pioneers were young – many were hormonal teenagers or young adults – and single, and they were forced to travel together in close-knit little communities for weeks at a time. Small wonder, then, that many people fell in love on the way to Oregon, often forging relationships that would last a lifetime.
Many couples decided to get hitched before they set off on the journey of a lifetime – so, in a way, the Oregon Trail was actually a honeymoon journey for countless newlyweds. But for those who fell in love after they set off, they would usually have to wait until their wagons pulled into a settlement where a marriage ceremony could be performed. As a result, the small towns along the Platte River and Fort Laramie especially, became wedding towns, hosting dozens of ceremonies a month.
While young couples may have been able to get married on the Oregon Trail, they certainly wouldn’t have been able to enjoy any privacy as newlyweds. If they were lucky, the couple might get a wagon of their own, at least on the night of their wedding. But even then, their friends and relatives might play practical jokes on them. This was so commonplace, in fact, that there was even a term for it: A “shivaree” was when friends or relatives would make a huge din after the happy couple retired for the night. They might bang pots and pans right outside the marital wagon, or they could even drag the pair out and force them to take part in a drunken, mocking, parade. All in the best possible spirits, of course, and couples were eventually left in peace to consummate their unions.
For those men not lucky enough to have a wife to start the journey with or to find love on the way, there were always the brothels of the Oregon Trail. While many histories – and the classic computer game based on the trail – gloss over this part of history, not all pioneers were clean-living Christian folk. At almost every town and settlement along the way, men could make use of pubs and brothels. At Fort Laramie, for example, while happy couples got hitched, the single men would have gone to the Hog Ranch bordello. Cheyenne was also a hotbed of vice, and the reason why many men arrived in Oregon with much less money than they initially hoped to have.