Western Life

Wagon Trains

If you have played the famous 90’s game, ‘The Oregon Trail,’ then you would remember how hard it was to make it all the way to Oregon City (if you could even make it across Columbia River). Well, even more unsettling than how hard that game was, is the fact that that game was based on the real life Oregon Migration of 1846. Here is an insight into what might have made it possible for the pioneers to make it to Oregon City.

The Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail was traveled through by 400,000 people over a period of six months. The inhabitants of Missouri and Mississippi wanted to get to California and Oregon City for the prospects of better weather, health conditions, and quality crops. Since at that time, airplanes and trains were not easily accessible, the Missourians and Mississippians made their way to the Great Plains using the next best transport available: wagons. The group of wagons was known as a wagon train that made their way with food, furniture, clothing, and people to Oregon and California. The trail was not an easy one, as the travelers had to make their way through difficult terrain and weather to get there.

Wagon Trains

Wagon trains were made up from a combination of many types of wagons at that time. These wagons were known to go 10-15 miles on a good day, and could carry a maximum of 2000-2500 pounds. They kept the necessary cooking equipment, water kegs, and food supplies that were required for the extremely long journey. Most of the emigrants who had taken their furniture along with them on the wagons had to discard them along the way. Since the wagons mostly were to carry their belongings, people rode on horseback behind the wagons, whereas only the elderly and children were seated inside the wagon.

Types of Wagons

The trains were made up of two main types: the prairie schooner and the Conestoga wagon. The differences between those wagons were:

  • The Conestoga wagon was bigger and, thus heavier than the prairie schooner.
  • The prairie schooner, due to its lightness, only needed around 2-4 oxen or horses while the Conestoga wagon needed around a dozen oxen or 6-8 horses.

The Components Of The Wagon

The wooden wagons were made from either hickory, oak, or maple woods. The covered wagon consisted of 4 wheels, 2 smaller ones in the front and two bigger ones in the back. There was also a bucket hung from the back of the wagon which contained grease for the wheels. The undercarriage consisted of the wheels, the reach, the tongue, and the bolsters for support. There were wooden hoops known as bows bent above the top of the wagon, attached at both sides to support the canvas cover. The wagons usually had no brakes and a chain was attached to one of the wheels to slow down the wagon. Also, a tree was lugged with the back wheels to keep the wagon slow and steady when going downhill.

The Fuel

The animals pulling the wagons were usually oxen, but horses and mules could be used too. Oxen were the best choice as they were the cheapest and could carry heavier loads and did not need high-quality feed.

Those wagons we see depicted in many TV shows and movies about the wild west actually did exist, but let’s be grateful that we have other forms of transportation available today.

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