In March 1848, Abigail Malick of Tazewell County, Illinois, set out with her husband, George, and six children for the Oregon Territory. Rumors abounded that the U.S. government would give 640 acres to families who settled the new region. And, indeed, in 1850 Congress passed the Donation Land Act, which granted 640 acres to a settler and his wife after they had lived on and farmed the land for four years. The promise of free farmland beckoned the Malicks and thousands of others to the Pacific Northwest, a region with an abundance of natural resources and fertile land. For these homesteaders, the prospect of land ownership meant better economic opportunities, an escape from harsh eastern winters, or simply a chance to try a new way of life.
Like other travelers, the Malicks endured a six-month, 1,800-mile journey by covered wagon over muddy paths, treacherous mountain passes, and dangerous river crossings. They crossed a land that was poorly marked, with few roads, and no towns along the way where they could replenish their supplies. Only a few U.S. military forts connected them with their fellow citizens. To make matters worse, Abigail Malick reluctantly left behind a married daughter and three grandchildren.