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Starvation in the old west

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will briggs

on 30 January 2014

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Transcript of Starvation in the old west

Starvation in the old west
Overview
Starvation was a huge problem for the old wild west. Especially pronounced along the Oregon trail.
Many people were not prepared for the long journey that they needed to make, and did not pack near enough food to make it through the spring.
Because of that, many died from a lack of food or water, I will give examples of this later.
how did it affect people?
"I have seen men on passing an animal that has starved to death on the plains, stop and cut out a steak, roast and eat it and call it delicious." -Clark Thomson (http://www.octa-trails.org/learn/people_places/articles_life_death.php)

This phrase basically describes how life went on for many, those that lived only did so by living off the land, by the time that the settlers reached their destination (usually Oregon or California) they were completely out of supplies.


where did it occur?
Starvation was mainly confined to the Oregon trail, before that, in the pre-19th century it was a problem.
Along the Oregon trail, many settlers died simply out of stupidity for leaving around the wrong time of year and not packing near enough supplies for the trip, those two factors alone were more than enough to ensure a few deaths
It is of note to mention that most of the instances of starvation happened along the sierra Nevada strip of land or in eastern Oregon/Idaho, probably because it is near the end of the journey
Normal diet of Americans along the trail
who did this affect most?
most of the deaths came from small children or animals, especially animals, to quote J.G. Bruff (1849): "Counted 150 dead oxen. It is difficult to find a camping ground destitute of carcasses."
"The canyon was strewn with dead cattle, broken wagons, beds, clothing, and everything but provisions, of which latter we were nearly destitute. Some people were in the canyon two or three weeks before they could get through. Some died without any warning, from fatigue and starvation. Others ate the flesh of cattle that were lying dead by the wayside."
(from http://www.octa-trails.org/learn/people_places/articles_life_death.php and http:// and www.thefastertimes.com/slowtravel/2009/11/02/travels-with-laphams-quarterly-starvation-on-the-oregon-trail-1846/ respectivly /slowtravel/2009/11/02/travels-with-laphams-quarterly-starvation-on-the-oregon-trail-1846 respectively)
Analysis
The starvation that occurred ensured that the "wild west" maintained its "wild" nature, as it was always seen by the rest of the world as the bottom of civilization, where people just barely got by with their means.
Starvation helped paint the bigger picture of the "wild west", it helped give America a vibe of "new and extreme", like the austalia of today (except not, you know, formorly a prison camp for britain) as well as set the tone for the rest of american history (poverty followed by short bouts of triumph)
and, really, if everyone was fed and always had food, all anyone would need to fear from the Oregon trail were snakes, cholera, and maybe an occasional attack by (rightfully) pissed off indians.
by now you will have probably seen something on the Donner party, the famous party that consisted of 90 people, 42 of which died. To quote one of the survivors, an eight year old girl named patty reed describes how her mother " "took the ox hide we had used for a roof and boiled it for us to eat" when the party was stranded by an early snowfall in the high Sierras. (http://www.octa-trails.org/learn/people_places/articles_life_death.php)
another example would have to be that of the Utter-Van Ornum Massacre of 1860 (as covered by the newspaper Oregon Argus from 1860s, which was attained at http://ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/historical_records/dspDocument.cfm?doc_ID=5A99EACC-C709-746C-92D5469398A0502D) in which, after an indian attack killed off 11 members of the Utter-Van Ornum party, five of the immigrants (note: four of them were children) died because of a lack of food, the other members were forced to eat their corpses, because cannibalism, yay?
Citations:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Trail#Food
http://www.octa-trails.org/learn/people_places/articles_life_death.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunger_in_the_United_States
http://www.thefastertimes.com/slowtravel/2009/11/02/travels-with-laphams-quarterly-starvation-on-the-oregon-trail-1846/
http://oregon.untraveledroad.com/Malheur/89NSign.htm
http://www.csun.edu/~asr15199/westwardexpansion/oregontrailnotes.pdf
http://www.kshs.org/p/kansas-historical-quarterly-the-grave-of-sarah-keyes-on-the-oregon-trail/12680
http://ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/historical_records/dspDocument.cfm?doc_ID=5A99EACC-C709-746C-92D5469398A0502D
In the words of the Wikipedia on the Oregon trail (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Trail#Food): "Their (Oregon trail travelers) typical flour and salted pork/bacon diet had very little vitamin C in it. The diet in the mining camps was also typically low in fresh vegetables and fruit, which indirectly led to early deaths of many of the inhabitants"
also, while hunting for game was a good way of getting food along the way, the same cite (look up for the link) claimed: "wild game could not be depended on for a regular source of food"

Notable examples
Full transcript