Pioneers traveling the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail, which ran from Missouri through Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon, faced many dangers. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimates that roughly 10 percent of all travelers making the trip died en route. This amounts to somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people. Contrary to popular belief, Native Americans did not pose a significant threat to the pioneers.
Pioneers moving along the Oregon Trail had to deal with wide bodies of water blocking their paths. Often the water was deep and fast-moving. The Kansas River, located in northeastern Kansas, and the Columbia River, which begins in British Columbia and ends in Oregon, were particularly large. The Green River, which ran for 65 miles over Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, was hazardous too, causing the deaths of 37 people in 1850 alone.
Cholera may have been the biggest danger facing pioneers along the Oregon Trail. Cholera is a bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract and causes rapid loss of bodily fluids, often leading to death with hours. The disease spread rapidly through polluted water shared by pioneers at common campgrounds. Notable epidemics occurred in 1849, 1850 and 1852, and some wagon trains may have lost two-thirds of their people to the disease, according to Oregon Trail researchers Mike Trinklein and Steve Boettcher. Many pioneers also fell victim to typhoid and tick fever.
Pioneers faced thunderstorms and hard rains. Travelers were exposed to lightning and hail storms. Rain caused great discomfort because there was no shelter and the covered wagons often leaked. Moreover, many pioneers who were forced to walk alongside the wagons because the wagons were so heavily packed had no protection at all from the elements.