Oregon Trail Supplies…Oh, my!

WAGONWell, I’m still traveling along the Oregon Trail with my characters.  Talk about a long journey.  It took at least five months to travel from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon.  That’s a long time to be on a trail.  There weren’t many places to stop along the way.  That meant the pioneers had to bring their supplies with them.  So, what did they need to pack?  Here’s a list of the basic items most families packed in their covered wagon.



  • FOOD, of course.  The recommended amount of food varied from source to source.  In general, the following was considered ideal for on adult. 150 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of corn meal, 50 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of coffee and 50 pounds of lard. Sacks of beans, rice and dried fruit were also recommended, as well as tea. Eggs were packed in cornmeal, which was then used to make bread.  The usual meal was bacon, beans and coffee, with biscuits or bread. Cooking along the trail was done over a campfire. Fuels used were wood, buffalo chips, willow or sagebrush. Flint and steel were used to start fires.
  • CLOTHING.  Each person had at least two changes of clothes and multiple pairs of boots. About 25 pounds of soap was recommended for a party of four, which was used for bathing and washing clothes.  A family brought a washboard and tub. Wash days were only once or twice or month.
  • WAGONS. Pioneers needed goods to survive and thus a way to transport these goods.  Most used a covered wagon called an overland wagon or Prairie Schooner.  Wagons were built 6 feet wide and 12 feet long and caried no mroe than 2,500 pounds of goods. Despite modern movie depictions, the wagons had no springs and were quite uncomfortable. Most people chose to walk due to dust and discomfort.  It was also hard on the livestock.
  • ANIMALS. Oxen generally pulled the wagons, primarily because they could eat the native grasses.  Large wagons needed mulitple teams.
  • OTHER items taken on the trail included farm implements, cooking utensils, bedding, tools, personal possessions such as books, Bibles, trail guides, writing quills, ink and paper for letters. Schoolbooks and chamber pots were considered luxury items.

There were many more items loaded on the wagons, but I think you get a good idea what the pioneers brought with them on their journey.  Don’t know about you, but the idea of only washing clothes once or twice a month makes me cringe.  Personally, I would have come up with a way to bring along more than two changes of clothes.  I would also make sure I had books (duh!) to read, especially my Bible.

Oregon Trail Wagon Train 4

What about you? What item would you want along?  Leave a comment and I’ll enter you in a drawing for your choice of books from my backlist.

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22 thoughts on “Oregon Trail Supplies…Oh, my!”

  1. My son always claims that he could eat bacon every day and be happy, but somehow I think even he would grow tired of eating the same thing day after day after day. These families had to have such determination to overcome all the challenges they faced, including boredom. 😉

  2. Karen, your son would have loved the Oregon Trail. Most families ate bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Egads. No wonder they died young.

  3. Five Months, can you imagine!?
    I’ve got a flight to St. Louis in the fall and it’s ONE HOUR! And the hour and a half wait at the airport is maddening it’s so inconvenient.

    We need to just GROW UP don’t we? If I don’t have to hitch up the team to go somewhere I need to shut up and be grateful.

    I guess we could be sending these comments through the pony express or maybe smoke signals, too. Amazing how my wit is lost in smoke signal communication!!!!

  4. Oh c’mon Renee. They died young because they got run over by a pair of oxen. They could eat all the bacon they wanted and they’d never live long enough to die from it.

  5. As far as changing clothes, I suspect a wife wanted her husband to NOT be attracted to her. A baby born on the trail or a pregnancy would’ve added immeasurably to the hardship. They might have liked it that they smelled bad.

  6. You know though, Karen, I suspect they were really really HUNGRY. Don’t you think all of this “I’m tired of that, Mom.”
    “We just had that for supper last night!”

    Complaining would stop if you were ravenously, seriously, hungry. Not that a change wouldn’t taste good but I suspect no one had the gumption to be particular.

  7. I’d eat bacon every meal too if I was on the trail. Just think of the work and calories you’d be burning working and walking the whole way. Hmm…I think I’ll have some bacon on my noon salad…

  8. Enjoyed reading the comments. I think I would make sure I had these 3 items that would not have taken up much space. A ball of twine/ a couple of safety pins and a couple of boxes of baking soda. The string could hold things together and so could the safety pins. The baking soda would be good for upset stomachs/ bee stings/ adding to foodstuffs and washing teeth with a bit of water and the soda. I could have lived with an unclean body but my teeth must SPARKLE!

  9. I love, love, love this topic. I was always so fascinated with it during my school years. I even use to play that Oregon trail game they had on computers a long time ago!!! I loved it. The people had to go through so much just to get a glimpse of their dreams and often they didn’t reach it or plans changed. Thanks for igniting in me that love again for this topic!!

  10. I think you’re right, Mary. Exhaustion and hunger would make anything taste better. I keep trying to tell my kids they have it so easy, but alas – they just don’t believe me.

  11. One of my very favorite Louis L’Amour books, probably because it’s just a little DIFFERENT is called Down the Long Hills and it’s a wagon train that is wiped out by Indians and a young boy, age 8, has wandered away from the train in the night because his horse ran off, he forgot to picket it and he knows he’ll be in BIG trouble. Then a little girl, 3 years old, who always tags him, wakes up and follows him.
    So they find the horse and go back to the wagon train and it’s in ruins, everyone dead. And these two children are alone on the prairie.
    And word reaches his father who went ahead. (his mother had died and family friends had kept the boy and were bringing him west)
    The father, a very TOUGH man, is coming to see what happened to his son. Planning to bury him…then he figures out the boy isn’t among the dead.
    So where is he?

    The boy starts heading west remembering everything his father had taught him about the wilderness.
    There is trouble stalking the boy.
    The father’s coming
    The trouble’s coming.
    The boy is savvy.
    The little girl is so quiet and afraid.
    The horse is a champion who does his best to protect the children.
    There’s a grizzly bear and an Indian who wants that magnificent horse, outlaws get involved.
    All of this is colliding, aiming straight for the boy. Will his father get there in time?
    Will the grizzly get them all?
    Will the boy be tough enough to protect the little girl and get them all to safety.

    Very good book.
    That’s my Oregon Trail reference point.

  12. I am not much of a bacon person, but I guess if I lived back then I would have learned to enjoy it… books would be a bonus… I would enjoy rereading my favs… I guess I would like the know hows of making my own soap or what natural items were good for what… I guess living without washing your clothes and yourselves would desensitize your nose after awhile… enjoyed the post and the other answers!

  13. Fascinating topic, Renee! I guess I really never thought about what I would take with me. Probably as much paper and ink and writing utensils as I could gather up. I think I would have been a writer in any time I lived. And reading material, of course, as well. I could eat bacon, bacon, bacon…but I do think I would get tired of it, too. Great post!

  14. Hi Renee. Fascinating topic. In addition to the items already mentioned here (books and a journal to write in for sure!) I think I’d like some sort of small musical instrument – flute, fiddle, even a harmonica. Music just always seems to lift the mood when one is tired or upset.

  15. Hey, these people could eat bacon because they pretty much walked their way to Oregon… And everyone smelled bad, I wonder if that’s how the Indians found them….. you could smell them coming.. You can still see the ruts of the wagon trail out west. I think there are wagon train tours, here’s one.

  16. Sorry I haven’t been posting and responding to posts today. My daughter surprised me by showing up on my doorstep this morning. I haven’t seen her since her wedding last August. Been really enjoying time with her today. I love all the comments. You ladies make some fun (and interesting) comments. I keep thinking about that commercial where the dog runs through the house, screaming, “Bacon, bacon, bacon!!!”

  17. Such a great post! I am so thankful we don’t have to travel like this anymore! I would certainly have wanted books, especially my Bible. Also, I would have wanted a chamber pot in my wagon.

  18. My husband and I used to go camping in the mountains 20 some years ago. Where we were going there was NO modern day conveniences and we had to take enough along for two weeks. We always had such a pile of things to take with that it took a pickup with a topper and a trailer to haul it all. Two weeks with no bathroom was the hardest to deal with. BUT I always managed to take many, many books and some yarn for knitting.
    Five months of this would have driven me crazy.

  19. I know that my Bible and some books would go with me. I think I would have to have the luxury of a chamber pot too. Bacon and cornbread would work for me. Would have to have some cast iron pots and pans so I could cook. I think I would have at least 3 changes of clothes. I have a hard time thinking of being without a bath for several days. Mary, I loved the Louis L’Amour book reference. He was one of my favorite western authors. My mother got me reading them and she got my dad to read with one of his. I think about the one with the drum but it was in the middle east not the US.

  20. I’ve always loved historical novels, especially any story that takes place on the Oregon Trail. I’m currently writing an outline for my first novel that takes place on the Oregon Trail and I have copius notes and material. The pioneers didn’t have it easy by any means. We have it so easy today compared to what they endured to start a new life in unknown territory. I can’t imagine trying to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. I would definitely bring a book–a very large book! And, these pioneers also had to dump alot of their personal belongings along the trail to make the wagons lighter as they neared the mountains. I just can’t imagine.

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