Never in history had so many moved voluntarily over such a distance. Look at the wagon wheel ruts in front of you. During the Great Western Migration more than 400,000 people packed up their goods and dreams and headed out over wagon roads like this.
Timing was crucial. It the migrants did not start by May. they faced the perils of early winter snows in the Rocky and Sierra Mountains. Their seven-month, 1600 mile journey would today take just a few days to drive. In spite of the hardships, many pioneers would later reminisce upon what was, for most, the defining adventure of their lives.
Early in January of 1849 we first thought of emigrating to California. It was a period of national hard times and we... longed to go to the new El Dorado and "pick up" gold enough with which to return and pay-off our debts....
It was with considerable apprehension that we started to traverse the treeless, alkali region of the Great Basin... Our wagons are badly worn, the animals much the worse for wear, food and stock feed was getting low with no chance of replenishing the supply.... It was no unusual sight to see graves, carcasses of animals and abandoned wagons. In fact the latter furnished us with wood for the campfires as the sagebrush was scarce and unsatisfactory... ...like every other pioneer (I) love to live over
again, in memory, those... months and revisit, in fancy, the scenes of the journey. — Catherine Haun, A Woman's Trip Across the Plains in 1849