I have a lot of respect for the men and women who first made the trek across this great land of ours. I don’t know if I would’ve had the grit and stamina to take the chance of settling in a new life in a strange part of the country. Researching for my first western historical romance helped me understand the many sacrifices these pioneers made.
My first published western historical romance was Fiona’s Journey. It was the story of Fiona Webb, her young nephew, Joey and how they teamed up with Clint Larson and his wife to make the trek to Oregon.
To take a wagon train west was more costly than most people realize. The average was between $600 and $1,000. In that day this was a large amount of money and more than most people had. Many families not only used what little savings they had, but sold all their possessions and still some had to borrow from family and friends.
The wagon itself ran from $150 to $250. The wagon was 6’ wide and 12’ long and could carry around 2500 pounds of supplies. Some pioneers brought their own linen wagon covers and waterproofed them with beeswax or linseed oil. If converting a farm wagon for the trip the bows to hold the top covering were $3 a set. To buy a wagon cover of heavy canvas sailcloth was $6 to $8.
4 to 6 animals were needed to pull the wagons. Oxen were the best choice and were often recommended since they required less water and had no trouble surviving on the different grasses. They cost $25 to $35 each. Mules were the next best selection. They ran $10 to $15 each and were often chosen because of the price, though it was recommended extra were to be brought along in the case of losing one on the trial. Horses were not recommended for the journey, but one was often brought along for the man of the family to ride in a hunting excursion or to use when serving as a look out. A prime horse sold for $100, but an acceptable one could be bought for $50. Many families brought a milk cow for milk and for the butter that could be churned by fastening a barrel to the side of the wagon. It would be jostled enough by nightfall to have made the butter. A good milk cow could run between $70 to $75.
Of course animals had to have riggings. An ox-yoke $8. Horse or mule harness $8. Also needed were 1 to 3 whips ($1 each). Other items suggested for the wagon were extra wheels since they often broke or came off on the trail, (Wheels sold at 2 for $50) and it was a good thing to have an extra axel ($75).
The above are the major things needed to get the wagon ready to make the trek across the wilderness, but not all. Of course it will give you a good idea of what went into getting ready for the trip.
Next time we’ll discuss the food and some of personal the supplies our forefathers needed on their trek to their homes in the west.
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