Vittles for the Covered Wagons

The pioneers who trekked west in covered wagons knew they had to take enough food to last six months. Trading posts between the Missouri River and the Pacific Coast were few and the emigrants were crossing largely unmapped territory where the availability of game and wild berries was uncertain. Recommended supplies per adult varied, but typically included 200 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of rice, 30 pounds of pilot bread (dehydrated wafers), 25 pounds of sugar, 75 pounds of bacon, 1/2 bushel each dried beans and dried fruit, 1/2 bushel corn meal, and lesser amounts of coffee, tea, and salt. Most foods containing folic acid were perishable, and to prevent the debilitating effects of scurvy pioneers were advised to take kegs of pickles or vinegar. All this–plus clothing, cookware, furniture and personal items–were packed in wagon beds smaller than the size of a modern SUV. Those with means took more than one wagon, hiring teamsters to drive them. Some families hauled cooped chickens on two-wheeled carts for meat and eggs. Milk cows walked beside their owners. The women discovered that hitching a pail of milk beneath the wagon “churned” butter as the wagon rocked and swayed during the day.

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