A campaign poster for the 11th President, James K, Polk, is seen. Polk beat Henry Clay in 1844 and is considered the least known of the consequential Presidents. He acquired not only the Oregon territory of the Pacific Northwest through negotiation with England, but also the territories of the Southwest (the result of a war with Mexico) and the Republic of Texas. Polk also made an effort to buy Cuba from Spain. He left office on March 4, 1849, and died not long afterwards on June 15, 1849 (most likely from cholera).
This is one of 20 Zane Grey stories, filmed by Paramount in the 1930s, which they sold to Favorite Films for re-release, circa 1950-1952. The failure of Paramount, the original copyright holder, to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film.
The Oregon Trail was accessible only by foot or horseback in its earliest days (1811-40). The first wagon train started out in 1836 when the road was improved to accommodate wagons from Independence, Missouri, to Fort Hill, Idaho. Each year improvements like ferry crossings were added. The eastern portion of the Trail also served as the beginning of other western routes--the California Trail, the Bozeman Rail, and the Mormon Trail--before they broke off into different directions. During its peak years (1846-69) 400,000 settlers, pioneers, trappers, miners, etc., took advantage of the highway. When the transcontinental railroad opened in 1869, use of the trail went into decline.
The film suggests that to deter pioneers from settling in Oregon, Native Americans were encouraged to attack the wagon trains. In actuality, the Hudson Bay Company, which controlled the fur trade, consciously tried to eradicate all the fur-bearing animals of the area by dispatching five brigades of 20 to 40 individuals to go back and forth along the Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue Valleys to the Sacramento Valley of California and the Upper Snake River region, through which the settlers would have to pass. The plan of ecological devastation undertaken by the company was to create an area so devoid of furs that Americans crossing the Rockies would become discouraged and turn back. The Hudson's Bay Company strategy was generally successful in that objective. By the early 1840s, just before this film takes place (1844-45), the fur trade had declined greatly largely because of the precipitous decline in the population of fur-bearing animals and a change in Eastern tastes as the beaver hat fell out of fashion.
This film was re-released theatrically under its original title, but when it was sold to television, it was re-titled 'Caravans West', most likely to protect the theatrical re-release showings which were still in progress in some territories.
Re-titled "Caravans West," this film was first telecast in Detroit Friday 20 November 1953 on WXYZ (Channel 7), in New York City Wednesday 13 January 1954 on WCBS (Channel 2), and in Los Angeles Sunday 16 May 1954 on KNBH (Channel 4); in San Francisco it was first broadcast Tuesday 27 September 1955 on KPIX (Channel 5).
The 20 Zane Grey stories sold by Paramount to Favorite Films for theatrical re-release, and then to Unity Television Corporation for television broadcast are as follows: The Light of Western Stars/Winning the West (1930), Fighting Caravans/Blazing Arrows (1931), Heritage of the Desert/When the West Was Young (1932), The Mysterious Rider/The Fighting Phantom (1933), The Thundering Herd/Buffalo Stampede (1933), Man of the Forest/Challenge of the Frontier (1933), To the Last Man/Law of Vengeance (1933), Wagon Wheels/Caravans West (1934), Rocky Mountain Mystery/The Fighting Westerner (1935), Drift Fence/Texas Desperadoes (1936), Desert Gold/Desert Storm (1936), The Arizona Raiders/Bad Men of Arizona (1936), Arizona Mahoney/Arizona Thunderbolt (1936), Forlorn River/River of Destiny (1937), Thunder Trail/Thunder Pass (1937), Born to the West/Hell Town (1937), The Mysterious Rider/Mark of the Avenger (1938), Heritage of the Desert/Heritage of the Plains (1939), Knights of the Range/Bad Men of Nevada (1940), and The Light of Western Stars/Border Renegade (1940).
The casting of Michael Visaroff makes it appear that Russian interests were involved in the Oregon fur trade. Actually, Russian-American interests were involved in the Alaskan fur trade, not Oregon, which was established by German-born American John Jacob Astor and later British and American interests.