Oregon via Antarctica

ABOVE: Traveling to Oregon or California by sea often meant an incredibly boring year-long trip on a boat like this.

Not everyone who went to Oregon used the Oregon Trail. There were other routes, including one that went perilously close to Antarctica!

Those who did not want to endure a four-month walk across the West traveled to Oregon by ship. However, there was no direct water route to the West Coast. So a ship leaving New York had to travel all the way to the tip of South America--skirting the edge of the Antarctic continent--before heading north to Oregon. It was a difficult trip that sometimes took a complete year.

So, primarily for gold-crazed 49ers who were in a hurry to get West, several shortcuts were developed. The most popular cutoff involved taking a ship to the Isthmus of Panama, then trekking overland to the Pacific side (remember, there was no Panama Canal then) where another ship would, with any luck, pick them up.

When the 49ers got to the Pacific side they waited and waited--for weeks, sometimes even months. When a ship finally arrived, passage would cost between $500 to $1,000, and sometimes there was no space at any price.

Worse yet, many of the Pacific-side ships were unseaworthy and sank en route. In the end, many regretted not taking the overland route.