You could find God on the road
The Road to Damascus it wasn’t. But still, like St Paul in the Bible, many people did indeed ‘see the light’ and converted to Christianity on the Trail to Oregon. This may have been in response to the natural beauty they saw all around them. Or it could have been that the vast expanses of empty land made them feel small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But in the vast majority of cases, however, people turned to God on the Trail after meeting, or even traveling alongside one of the many, many Christian missionaries who headed west during the Trail’s heyday.
In fact, the history of the Oregon Trail – and indeed, the history of North American exploration – is closely linked to the spread of Christianity throughout the country. As soon as explorers and pioneers started heading West, missionaries started to follow. Inevitably, they would try to convert anyone they met to Christianity. The mountain guides working along the route would call these missionaries ‘crazy do-gooders’. However, they both benefitted from their close connections: The guides could show the missionaries the directions to settlements, including Native American settlements, for which they would be paid. Notably, one of the first missionaries to make the journey was Marcus Whitman. He traveled the Oregon Trail in 1836. Accompanying him was his wife, Narcissa. She would become the first European-American woman to cross the Rocky Mountains, all because of her faith.
For their part, the missionaries not only saved souls along the Oregon Trail, they also served as an early-day advertising agency for the route. Many of them sent letters back to their families in the East. In them, they would praise the beauty of Oregon and the fertility of the soil. They even maintained the rumor that new settlers would automatically receive 640 acres of land just for making the move.