How Often were Wagon Trains Attacked by Indians?

marshall trimble ask the marshall true west magazine

How often were wagon trains attacked by Indians?

Larry Runge
Falcon, Missouri

wagon train attacked by indians illustration true west magazine
Newspapers sensationalized Indian attacks on wagon trains crossing the country on the Overland Trail, but they were actually much rarer than their portrayal in popular culture.

It’s hard to give a precise number because records are sparse. Surprisingly, considering how many wagons went West, very few faced attacks by the Indians. A well-led and disciplined train was more likely to get through without problems. The opposite was often true for small trains where discipline was lacking. The goal was to reach California, Utah or Oregon, but many were forced to turn back because their animals played out or they just gave up. Some decided to stop in Colorado or other territories and make their homes.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu.

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Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.