I have a lot of respect for the men and women who first made the trek across this great land of ours. The more I research this topic, the more respect I have. 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 a western historical romance I’m working on helped me understand the many sacrifices these pioneers made.
The thing they had to decide was if they were going to convert their farm wagon into a covered wagon or to buy one already ready to go. A wagon ran from $150 to $250. The wagon was 6’ wide and 10’ long and could carry around 2500 pounds of food supplies. (The recommended amount for a family of four.) 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 would encounter. 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 to bring extra along in the case of losing one or more 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).
Getting the wagons ready for the trek across the wilderness was only the beginning. There are the food supplies, clothing, tools and many other items that the pioneers needed and wanted to take with them. Sometimes to survive they had to make a choice between food and some piece of furniture.
To take a wagon train west was more costly than most people realize. The average it cost for a family of four was $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 some still had to borrow from family and friends.
This was my first book about the Oregon Trail. It is still available on Amazon and other online outlets.
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