Thursday, October 18, 2007
THE OREGON TRAIL
Some ordered their prairie schooners brand new from the factory, while others simply had the local blacksmith make the necessary adjustments on the farm wagon.
The Conestoga wagon, which originated in PA in the mid-1700's was the familiar prairie schooner with ends higher than the sides to keep the contents from spilling out going up or down steep hillsides.
The Conestoga had one disadvantage, though; it was big and heavy and for that reason many emigrant guide books recommended the Yankee wagon. The Yankee was much lighter and stronger. It was made of well-seasoned, close-grained oak that grew in the hills of New Hampshire and could be purchased for around $200.00.
Families heading west spent many days reading their wagons, filling them with everything they could possibly need for a five-month journey. When packing was completed. a canvas covered was stretched over the top. If they followed the advice of experienced guides, the coverings were always doubled to provide greater protection against the weather. Many emigrants added their own personalk touch by painting slogans or their destinations on the canvas.
A wagon was worthless unless it had good wheels and Joel Palmer, who led many wagon trains westward, could not emphasize their importance strongly enough. "Wagon wheels", he suggested "should be at least one and three-quarters inches wide; three inches would be best of all for crossing the oftentimes loose, sandy roads. The rims should be, at the minimum, three-quarters of an inch thick and fastened to the felloes with bolts rather than nails. Hub boxes should be at least four inches thick."
If prairie schooners were well-seasoned and well-made and the oxen faithful and strong, the pioneer had a fighting chance to arrive in Oregon with a wagon that could be used for chores and transportation on his new farm.
My great great grandmother David was a cook on the Oregon trail. She traveled in a Prairie Scooner like this one. Can you imagine the months it took to get anywhere back then? Can you imagine being in the hot sun or the cold snow for months? Can you imagine cooking and trying to keep your dishes clean? Can you imagine not being able to take a bath for months? Can you imagine being attacked by Indians?
Makes a person more appreciative of what we have these days doesn't it?