• Pioneers on the Oregon
Trail found their way by
following landmarks like
Hat rock and mountains
such as the Rockies
• They used the positioning
of rocks, the flowing of
water, the direction of the
wind, and the footsteps of
earlier pioneers that
ventured toward Oregon
• They chose weather
conditions that were best
suited for them to travel in
so that they would not get
caught in storms (used
• The pioneers followed paths that had been gone
over many times by other pioneers before them
following foot prints that were weathered away
over time but still slightly visible to the naked eye
• Moving toward the west on the Oregon trail was
not that hard. The first method to get there was to
use the Sun's direction of movement. Since the
Sun moved to the west, pioneers only had to walk
in the direction the Sun traveled. The sun rays
would eventually shine brighter in one direction so
the pioneers followed the strong rays of light.
• They used an artificial horizon to calculate the
amount of time left in a day
• By using a box is used and filled with mercury.
The mercury has a level reflective surface. To
prevent the surface from being disturbed by wind,
a roof-shaped glass cover made of optically flat
glass is often added
• In this link it will tell you more about the
navigational tools used on the Oregon trail
Navigation tools cont.
• In combination with the mercury in a box
the pioneers used Circle of horizons to find
an approximate time left in the day.
• To find the approximate time you would
use the mercury in a box and the Circle of
horizons to find a triangle. Split the triangle
in half and you have the amount of hours in
day on your Circle of horizons.
• At night, the pioneers had to rely on the
stars. During the night, pioneers had to first
face the North Star, also known as Polaris.
Polaris is the last star on the handle of the
Little Dipper. Another way to find Polaris
is to use the Big Dipper.
• On the front of the dipper bowl of the Big
Dipper, the two bright stars that form the
front the dipper bowl point to Polaris, a
medium bright star. While facing Polaris,
the pioneer's left side would be west and
they could go that way to go west.
• When the trail was wet the wagons got stuck in the muddy
ditches formed by previous travelers.
• Rivers, Native Americans, mountains, and other obstacles
littered the Oregon trail taking time and resources to cross
or go around them.
• Other troubles such as broken wagon parts, sickness, or
lack of food presented major problems as well
• This link provides useful information along with plenty of
journal entries in which you can learn a lot more about the
In this activity you will need:
• A box with a mirror inside
• A Circle of horizons
• An adult supervisor
Activity 1 cont.
The scenario – You are a pioneer on the
Oregon Trail and you have just woken up
and you want to find out how many hours
of daylight there are so that your wagon
group can plan for the day.
Use the mirror in the box and the Circle of
horizons to figure out how many hours of
daylight are left.
You will need another sheet of paper to complete
this test. If you answer at least two questions
correctly then you pass.
#1. How did the pioneers travel on the Oregon trail
in the daylight?
#2. Which instrument(s) did the pioneers use to
figure out how many hours of daylight they had
#3. How did the pioneers find their way on the
Oregon trail at night?
A particular slide catching your eye?
Clipping is a handy way to collect important slides you want to go back to later.