by Kathleen Y'Barbo
Books abound with romantic tales of life crossing the prairie by covered wagon. Strong men on horseback and lovely ladies smiling beneath fluttering bonnets are often depicted as finding love and a new life along the way.
A grand image, to be sure. But what was it really like?
Would you take the trip if you knew this was to be your daily schedule:
4AM – Rise and shine as sentinels fired their rifles to awaken the pioneers. Oxen that had been
grazing during the night would be herded and placed in a makeshift corral for yoking.
6AM - Breakfast then tents are struck and put away, followed by wagon loading. Hitch oxen and
prepare for travel.
7AM – Trumpet sounds and guards lead wagons out onto the trail in columns, four abreast. Some road and others walked beside them.
12 Noon – pause for lunch. No time or fuel for a cook fire, so whatever was on hand had to
1PM – Bugle sounds and the wagons return to the trail. No afternoon nap for these weary
travelers as miles had to be covered before sleep could be considered.
Sunset – Pilot guided wagons into a circle (hence the term “circle the wagons”) and oxen
unyoked to be driven out to pasture. Buffalo chips gathered for cook fire and tents erected while meals were cooked. Dinner eaten around the fire while often music was played or stories told. Watch teams were assembled and schedules agreed upon among the men so as to have the camp guarded throughout the night.
Soon after – Bedtime! After all, tomorrow’s a new day – and it will be starting at 4AM!
Sort of makes a long layover in a distant airport with only frozen yogurt and a vending machine look like much less of a travel emergency, doesn’t it? No wonder only the strong survived!