The Way West — The Oregon TrailThe Legend of Windlass HillMany stories are built around the idea that wagons were let down this grade with a windlass. Others say a "snubbing post" was used.No evidence, historical or archeological, found to date tells of any such device here. Historians class the legend of "Windlass Hill" as an interesting folktale created during later years.Covered wagon emigrants were often skilled in taking wagons through rough terrain such as this. Some of their methods are shown in an adjacent exhibit. Wagon breaks were inadequate for hills such as this, and for the many steeper grades further west. Faced with such slopes, wagon drivers locked the wheels with various devices and sometimes had all available hands hold back on ropes attached to the wagon.Stream crossings posed the worst hazard for the wagon traveler. Further upstream the North Platte had to be crossed several places. Along the trails, crude ferries and log-rafts served the traveler until a few bridges were built by traders.Far more emigrants, freighters and soldiers were drowned attempting river crossings than were killed by hostile Indians.
For the wagon-traveler, the road from Independence, Missouri, to the Far West was "2,000 miles, one step at a time."Wagon BrakesThe most common wagon brake was the rough-lock. It slowed the wagon by making the wheels drag on the ground.Uphill travel could be still more difficult. Sometimes wagon drivers lightened their loads and made double trips on difficult grades.