During the crossing of rivers, emigrants often lost their possessions and sometimes livestock or their lives. While going through the mountain regions travelers had to abandon many of their valuables in able to get over the steep slopes. In addition, while going through the mountain passes some people got trapped and died of starvation and cold like the Donner party. Furthermore, the 40 mile trek through the desert weeded out many travelers due to the lack of water for both the cattle and people. The broken ground and canyons also made it difficult to pass with the wagons in tow. Of those that started the adventure, it is estimated that up to ten percent perished along the way.
Most Indian tribes were tolerant of the settlers passing through their lands heading west. In fact, there is no record of any attacks by the Shoshone tribe, who controlled large sections of the trail. The natives often just followed the wagon train. Others swapped buffalo robes or moccasins for knives, clothes and other items.
Not all tribes along the trail were friendly however. Some tribes were notorious for stealing from the emigrants. Others were lethal. Indian attacks were the second leading cause of death along the California trail. From 1841 to 1870, it is estimated that somewhere between 500 and 1,000 emigrants were killed. After 1860, Indian attacks increased significantly due to the withdrawal of army troops and the miners and ranchers fanning out all over the country, encroaching on Indian Territory. As a result, of the significant increase in attacks along the Humbolt, travelers were forced to take the Nevada Central route.
According to the newspaper accounts, books and maps, the journey west was supposed to be a quick and easy overland voyage. The reality was much different. For six months, they traveled mile after mile on bumpy trails that coated their throats with dust in the dry weather. If they left too late, they faced freezing cold