Not a 19th century RV


Replica of a covered wagon

When movies and novels show pioneers traveling west across the country in a covered wagon, the people are always sitting on the wagon as the oxen pull them along.

I strongly suspect that the people who wrote those books and movies had never seen a covered wagon. A covered wagon was not the 19th century equivalent of an RV.

The first travellers to cross the country learned early that the larger the wagon and the more you carried, the less likely you were to get your wagon over the mountains.

“In procuring supplies for this journey, the emigrant should provide himself with, at least, 200 pounds of flour, 150 pounds of bacon; ten pounds of coffee; twenty pounds of sugar; and ten pounds of salt.”

– Lansford Hastings’ Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California,
published in 1845

People not only packed their wagons with food for the journey, they also packed seeds for planting in the new territory, pans to cook with, quilts and blankets to sleep in, rifles and ammunition for hunting and protection, and any mementoes they couldn’t bear to part with. But they also had to keep the wagons small enough to be hauled for thousands of miles.

In other words, there wasn’t all that much room to sit around inside a covered wagon. Only the very young or the feeble spent much time in the wagon while it was traveling. Women used to prepare dough and set it aside to rise, timing the rising of the bread so that it would be ready to bake when they made camp that evening. At night, some families would spread a mattress on top of the stores and sleep there. But most of the time, the pioneers did not sit inside the wagon all day long just being carried passively along. They walked.

Something to be thankful for, if you’re planning a long car ride to visit friends and family. You don’t have to walk.

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