The ‘Queen City of the Trails’, Independence was the furthest westward point navigable to steamboats on the Missouri River. Thereafter, migrant trails used fur-trading forts as their way-stations. Fort Laramie became known as ‘Camp Sacrifice’, because travellers abandoned so many of their less portable goods there. Fort Kearny was set up specifically to provision passing wagon trains (1848). As traffic escalated, water supplies became contaminated, with frequent outbreaks of cholera. In Wyoming Territory, trails split, either bearing north for Oregon, through Fort Boise (set up by the Hudson’s Bay Company and manned by Hawaiian islanders), or south to California, through Salt Lake City. In the winter of 1846–47 the Donner Party, bound for California, became snow-bound in the Nevada Rockies, resorting to cannibalism to survive. With this chastening example, the Forty-Niners tended to favour the snow-free southern route. The Santa Fe Trail was pioneered by merchants trading with Mexico, then became an alternative route to California.
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