Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wagon Trains and The Dash

For quite a few years now I have been more concerned with the "Dash" in my ancestor's lives than the dates. After all it can be as easy finding their birth and death dates by looking at their gravestones if you know where it is. Researching in places they lived will also get you dates, but will it get you the dash. The dash is how they lived and what they did, etc. What brought all this along now? It all started with one book about a family traveling on a wagon train, and now I am reading the fifth (not a series, all separate). I don't know about you but when I read these stories all kinds of questions pop into my mind. Like what size wagon would they have. Would you believe they were only four feet deep, four feet across and about 12 feet long (not counting the hitch for the oxen. To me that wasn't much room and then my next question was what kind of supplies did they need and how long did it take them. Well most wagon trains usually left from St. Joe, Missouri and it took them 5-6 months whether they headed to California or Oregon. Did you know why they went to Oregon? We all know why California - the gold rush. But Oregon was kind of a contest between England, Russia and the United States. Whoever got the most immigrants settled there would claim ownership to the Oregon Territory. The Oregon Territory was comprised of what we know as Oregon, Washington, Idaho as well as parts of Wyoming and Montana. Now getting back to the supplies they had to take. For each adult 100 pounds each of flour and yeast; 70 pounds each of bacon, crackers, salt and salt pork; 30 pounds each of pilot bread (hardtack), cornmeal, sugar and coffee. Other items were eggs which were stored in the flour barrel, cured hams, dried meat, fruit, baking soda and vinegar. Plus potatoes, rice, beans, molasses, lard and a big barrel of water. If they could they also included a keg of pickles to ward off malnutrition. Two oxen for pulling the wagon, with at least four spare and cows for milk and meat. On the women's list were cloth to sew with, needles, thread, pins and scissors; leather for fixing worn out shoes. Soap, wax for making candles, medicines, lanterns and washbowls. In a special box at the back of the wagon were plates, knives, forks, spoons, cups, pots and pans. Pen and paper to write letters home, slates with chalk and school books for the children were also included. As well as a wooden washtub and big brass kettle. Bedding was made up of quilts, blankets, sometimes a mattress (feather bed), the family bible and pillows. On the men's list were saws, hammers, axes, shovel, nails, string, knives and matches. Poles, ropes, canvas, ground cloths and stakes for the tents they would make for sleeping in. A tar bucket for greasing the wagon wheels. A milk can which when hung from the wagon hoops, the bumpy ride helped to make butter. The men usually had a shotgun for hunting and for when he was posted on guard duty, but if they could afford it they also had a single shot pistol with them as well. They also carried halters, hobbles, ropes, chains to use on the oxen and cows to make sure they didn't run off during the night. Sometimes the man had a horse to ride and hunt with; but often times they walked with their whip beside the oxen to make sure they stayed within the train. As organized a person as I am I can't imagine what it must of been like to pack this wagon for this long journey. And pack it in such a way that what they needed when they stopped at night they could get at. Clothing they brought with them and were in trunks in the wagon along with maybe their dishes, linen or some of the items they wanted in their new home were also packed into this wagon. If there is a book out there that shows this I want to find it!