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Death on the Trail

Death was a constant companion for emigrants headed west. It is estimated that 10,000 to 30,000 people died and were buried along the trails between 1843 and 1869.

Cholera and other diseases were the most common cause of death. People didn’t know that cholera was caused by drinking contaminated water. Poor sanitation and burial practices perpetuated the disease. People infected long before might die by a river crossing and would be buried near the river which would in turn infect more people. Cholera kills by dehydrating the body. Unfortunately, many of the recommended cholera remedies such as wearing flannel shirts, increased body temperature and dehydration.

Remedies for other ills also decreased the likelihood of survival. Amputation was often the treatment for broken bones, and bleeding the sick was a common practice. Some treatments for dehydration and heat exhaustion cautioned against giving the patient water—when in fact it was lack of water that was killing the patient!

Accidental gunshots, drownings, murder, starvation, and exposure also took their toll. The very young and the very old were the most likely to perish. Whatever the cause of death might have been for each grave passed, it was a grim reminder to the emigrant of the hazards of overland travel.

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This historic marker is located on a walking path loop on Highway 28 just west of Farson, stopping here you can see all these markers: