The Wagon

The most familiar covered wagon crossing the plains and mountains to the promised land of the west was a smaller, lighter cousin on the Conestoga wagon of the east.  This "prairie schooner" was superbly designed for its job of transporting pioneer families and their goods on the five month long, 2000 mile journey west.   The cloth top protected people and possessions from sun and rain, hail and wind, and it could be closed off entirely by drawstrings on each end.  The big wheels rolled easily over the bumps and hole of the rough trails, and wide rims kept the wagons from sinking into the soft ground.  The wagon's 10 - by 3 1/2 foot-  body could take a load of a ton and a half, but experts advised keeping it below this limit.  The lighter the wagon, the less likely it was to bog down in muddy stream-banks or prairie sloughs.  There was not much room inside the wagon, and in decent weather most people cooked, ate, and slept outside.

When you consider the amount of goods that the average pioneer family would have carried with them it is no small wonder that broken axels, wheels and running gear were a common problem on the trail.  Stops were scheduled along the way at groves of hard wood to collect the lumber needed to manufacture replacement parts for the wagons.     

The pioneer wagon carried a huge assortment of goods the families needed to survive the trip and to homestead once they reached the end of their journey.  If you were to take a peak in a pioneer wagon you would most likely see:

Bedding And Tent Supplies

Blankets, feather beds, ground cloths, pillows, tent, poles, stakes, ropes.


Rifle, pistol, knife, hatchet, gunpowder, lead, bullet mold, powder horn, bullet pouch, holster.


Flour, bacon, coffee, baking soda, corn meal, hardtack, dried beans, dried beef, dried fruit, molasses, vinegar, pepper, eggs, salt, sugar, rice, tea.

Cooking Utensils

Dutch oven, kettle, skillet, reflector oven, coffee grinder, coffee pot, teapot, butcher knife, ladle, tin tableware, water keg, matches

Miscellaneous Items

Surgical instruments, liniments, bandages, campstool, chamber pot, washbowl, lanterns, candle molds, tallow, spyglasses, scissors, needles, pins, thread.

Herbal Medicine Kit


Wool sack coats, rubber coats, cotton dresses, wool pantaloons, buckskin pants, duck trousers, cotton shirts, flannel shirts, cotton socks, brogans, boots, felt hats, Palm-leaf sun hats, green goggles, sunbonnets.

Tools And Extra Equipment

Set of augers, gimlet, ax, hammer, hoe, plow, shovel, spade, whetstone, oxbows, axels, kingbolts, linchpins, ox shoes, spokes, wagon tongue, heavy ropes, chains.


Canned foods, plant cuttings, schoolbooks, musical instruments, dolls, family albums, jewelry, china, silverware, fine linens, iron stoves, furniture.

Many of the "Western" movies we have seen show a family riding in the wagon on there way to their new home.  This is an inaccurate portrayal to say the least.  When you consider the fact that a wagon box is roughly a 10' by 3 1/2' container with 30 inch sides there was simply not any room for people in the wagons unless they were injured or extremely ill.  The fact of the matter is - most of the pioneers walked around 2000 miles to their new home.

Many times the travelers found that they were trying to take too many of there belongings with them and the draft animals could not handle such a heavy load.  The trails to the western territories were strewn with the pioneers personal possessions that were left behind in an attempt to lighten the load.  There are even written accounts of pianos and parlor organs seen left behind on the trail.  How hard it must have been to leave behind such a vestige of civilization.  

Oxen, Horses, and Mules

Most of the overlanders chose to use oxen for their draft animals.  Although oxen were slower than mules, they fared much better in muddy conditions and could survive on little food.  most of the pioneers used the oxen from their farms back east and were experienced at handling them.  Oxen were relatively cheap.  They cost only $55 to $65 per yolk while mules might be as much as $100 each.  Horses were not used until the later years of western emigration because they could not work well with such poor feed. 

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