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Packing Up and Heading West: The History of Covered Wagons

Many pioneers joined in the massive move westward that took place in the 1800s. There were a variety of reasons why families made this momentous decision. For instance, some families moved west in search of a better quality of life that included more farmland at a lower price than in the eastern part of the United States. Some people moved in pursuit of a lucrative new way to earn a living in frontier territory. The Gold Rush of 1848 in California also enticed folks to move westward in search of a fortune. In short, promises of new opportunity persuaded many families to commit to the long, treacherous journey westward.

In many instances, pioneers travelled west by way of covered wagon. The structure of a covered wagon was made of various types of wood. A large sheet of canvas was fastened over a metal frame atop the wagon to provide protection for the passengers and their supplies. A covered wagon measuring approximately ten and a half feet in length was often pulled by oxen. Food, clothing, tools, and other necessary items were stored within the covered wagon for a journey. Travelers slept in the covered wagon in order to receive protection from both adverse weather conditions and dangerous animals.

Whether it was on the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, or another trail westward, covered wagon travelers faced a number of hardships. For example, there were often covered wagon accidents caused by damaged wheels or structure breakage. These accidents sometimes resulted in injuries or even death to some passengers. In addition, unsanitary living conditions on the trail brought about various fatal diseases. Lack of clean water and inclement weather were also common problems faced by pioneers moving west.   

A perilous journey westward meant taking along a load of necessary supplies. Food, a water barrel, clothing, eating utensils, and tools for maintaining the vehicle were just a few of the provisions. Depending on the number of passengers, it was important to estimate the amount of food required for each person for the duration of the journey. Typically, a couple dozen pounds of meat sufficed for one adult male making the trip. Several pounds of coffee, beans, and sacks of flour were also typical food supplies brought along. Making a reasonable estimation of the amount of food needed for the trip was a vital part of the planning.

Many pioneers living in the 19th century were willing to endure the hardships of covered wagon travel as well as the uncertainties connected with a new life in the west. In the end, their experiences on the journey certainly helped prepare them for frontier life. 



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