According to a historical plaque on I-80 in Central Nevada, the Donner Party, an expedition of settlers and pioneers travelling the California trail, stopped at a spot not far from a current highway reststop. Here, at a spot called Gravelly Ford (a crossing of the Humboldt River) some sort of altercation broke out between James Reed and John Snyder. Snyder apparently tried to whip Reed, but missed and lashed Reed's wife instead. In retaliation, Reed killed Snyder. Reed was banished from the crew, but his daughter kept him alive by smuggling him food during the nights. Later, when the fated party was trapped in the snows of the Sierra, Reed would take part in their rescue.
The history of overland travel in the American West is filled with such stories, and surely there are many more that went unrecorded. The experience of crossing the continent, facing hostile terrain, hostile natives, and potentially hostile members of one's own party, is nearly too much for us to comprehend. What sort of combination of bravery, desperation, self-reliance, manifest destiny, and faith would it have taken to motivate a person to set out into the unknown wilds of the West for a multi-month journey into a vague promised land?
I don't know. I live in the 21st century, and I can cross the entire continent in a matter of days (or hours) in the safety and comfort, with the confidence of cookie-cutter rest stops, gas stations, and fast food at set intervals. To find adventure now, one has to go looking.
The mess wagon of the new pioneer