The Hardships of Traveling to the West (And a Giveaway!)

By Jody Hedlund

Howdy, everyone! Thank you for having me back here on Petticoat and Pistols! I’m thrilled to have another chance to hang out with you all!

I recently had another cowboy book release, The Heart of a Cowboy (and I’m giving away a copy today here!). This one has to do with the very fun and interesting topic of traveling west by covered wagons.

Almost everyone has heard of the Oregon Trail and the many people who traveled to the west in covered wagons (and by stagecoach) over the well-worn route.

The Santa Fe Trail was another such trail to the west. It ran parallel to the Oregon Trail (mostly) but was a more southerly route through Kansas that eventually led to New Mexico (and was also used to reach southern Colorado).

Whether the Oregon or Santa Fe trails, the months-long journey to the west was marked by incredible difficulties. In researching for my book, I read countless diaries and journal entries by many of the brave people who ventured across the country. One classic I read was The Prairie Traveler which was actually a book written in 1859 by an army captain by the name of Randolph B. Marcy. The U.S. War Department asked him to publish a guide for settlers traveling across the American frontier based on his extensive experiences. His little book soon became an essential handbook for those pioneers. They used his advice on how to prepare for the trip as well as what to expect in the open country.

Even with sufficient preparation, good equipment, and an experienced guide, the travelers still faced incredible challenges. The site (National Park Service) indicates that nearly one in ten travelers on the Oregon Trail died on route to the west.

The Heart of the Cowboy tackles many of the hardships travelers had to endure including a near-river drowning, lost livestock, lost people, vicious storms, threats from Confederate Irregulars, danger from rattlesnakes, hot and dry weather, lack of water for both people and livestock, and much more.

One really dangerous aspect of traveling the Santa Fe Trail was the possibility of running out of water. I read an account of this very thing happening to travelers and how they dug down into the dry riverbed, placed their wagon box into the hole, and finally were able to tap into water buried a little deeper in the ground. So, of course, I had to include such an incident in my story too! (Along with many other dangers that really did happen to real-life travelers!)

Such stories of bravery make me appreciate those early pioneers all the more! (And make me grateful for our easy, fast, and comfy modern cars and airplanes!)

Leave a comment on this post if you’d like the chance to win a signed copy of the book! (Sorry, U.S. mailing addresses only.) I will choose a random winner on November 7, this Sunday. To find out more information about the book visit:

If you had to travel in a covered wagon to the west, what would you like most? Like least?


Jody Hedlund is the best-selling author of over thirty historicals for both adults and teens.

She is the winner of numerous awards including the Christy, Carol, and Christian Book Award.

Jody lives in central Michigan with her husband, five busy teens, and five spoiled cats.

Visit her at



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47 thoughts on “The Hardships of Traveling to the West (And a Giveaway!)”

  1. I think about those trips and try to imagine walking across the continent today but my mind goes blank! I’d be scared about wildlife and other dangers from disease along with the general discomfort. Add in the daily chores plus the possibility of pregnancy and it sounds almost impossible although we know many people did it.

    I wonder how it was having to say goodbye to loved ones knowing that you wouldn’t be seeing them again.

  2. I would like the new scenery and the anticipation of what lay ahead. I would dislike the drudgery and harsh conditions where survival was often questionable.

    • Hi Janice, In the days before the internet and readily being able to see pictures of any place in the world, can you imagine seeing mountains for the first time? 🙂

  3. Welcome and good morning. I loved your blog. I live on the Santa Fe trail in SW Kansas, I pass by it everyday going to work (Wagon Bed Springs), as a matter of fact.
    I think the most fun part about traveling West would of been the scenery, the worst of course, would be, what women had to do and went through trying to stay clean, especially during their monthly cycles. That truly had to be a hardship.
    Congrats on your book and thanks for visiting.

  4. I would dislike dealing with the extreme weather conditions and unknown dangers. I think I would enjoy the sense of community in reaching towards a common goal, the beautiful scenery, and the excitement of exploring new territories.

  5. I would like discovering new land but the weather changing I’m not a big fan of. Traversing across rivers and down the edge of a mountain side cliff. No thank you. Hugs and Thank you for sharing your time with us all.

  6. I can’t even imagine the hardships. I’d love seeing so much beauty and land but I’d hate the shortage of food and water.

    • Hi Susan, Having the same food day after day would become so tiresome! We’re so spoiled by our grocery stores, aren’t we? And having so much variety to choose from!

  7. I couldn’t imagine the hardships they went through but it had to be beautiful country. I think I would really miss my showers everyday and electricity. I enjoy being outside but I am not sure I would like the hot weather and the cold all the time.

  8. Welcome! I so enjoyed reading your blog this morning. The scenery would be awesome to behold. However the hardships along the way would be heartbreaking to experience.It would also be hard to watch animals suffer from dehydration, heat exhaustion and possibly snakebites. Thank You for sharing bits of your research and about your new book.

  9. I’ve read several books where authors include the travel by covered wagons . I don’t think I could of survived the heat and dangerous trails . I would of loved cooking over open fire , I can just taste the biscuits and other foods cooked in the cast iron pots!! I would love to go on overnight trail rides where the tell the stories of the trails and dress the part.

    • Hi Rose Ann, I agree that it would be very fun to go on an overnight trail ride (for just a night or two!) and get the trail experience! But I can’t imagine months and months of that kind of life! 🙂

  10. Welcome today. It is always great to have you here. Thank you for this interesting post today.
    If you had to travel in a covered wagon to the west, what would you like most? Like least?
    I would love the scenery and the companionship with the other travelers. I would love how it would love how it would bring us closer as a “family” I would love the adventure of it all. Learning new things. I love cooking over a fire, fun.
    Least? having no privacy. having to use the bushes if there was any for potty time. the squabbling that was sure to happen.

    • Hi Lori, Thank you for having me here! And as much as it would bring families closer, you’re right about the squabbling! I’m sure there were lots of conflicts that arose!

  11. I would have disliked the hard seat of the wagon but I would have liked to see the different parts of the country and what they had to offer.

  12. I think some of the people had no idea of the dangers or didn’t think anything would happen to them or they might not have gone west much like people today think bad things aren’t going to happen to them. Some people might have been leaving what they thought was much worst so they were willing to take a chance. It would be nice if we could read people’s mind and see their reasoning of why they made the choices they did.

  13. Good morning! Thanks for stopping by! Great blog. I think seeing the varying landscape across America would have been the best part. The worst, oh I can think of many, but, I guess all the walking. I’ve often wondered if many people ended up with the soles of their shoes completely worn through. Some practically walked completely across the U.S. I can’t even imagine. I’d love the opportunity to read your book. A giveaway is an awesome way to find a new author to add to my go to authors list.

  14. Hi , I would love seeing the scenery an the adventure would be so nice. What I wouldn’t like would be if we got caught in the snow or if we had to cross a kind of deep spring, that would be kind of scary to me. I enjoyed this post and info, Thank you. Have a great weekend and stay safe. Thank you for the chance. Your book sounds like a great read and I love your book cover , it is beautiful.

  15. If I had to travel in a covered wagon to the west, what would you like most? What would you like least? I think I would love the experience of riding in a covered wagon with my family, seeing the scenery and the animals on my journey. What I would like least is traveling cross country with all the dangers that exist and running out of food and water.
    Book sounds like a great read, intriguing, beautiful, suspenseful read which I would love to read & review in print format
    Love cover

  16. The best part would be the hope that things would be better for me and the worst would be not bathing or eating non campfire meals for months.

  17. I think the months of traveling would get monotonous, and dealing with weather that you may not be used to. Plus trying to avoid critters and hostile Indians along the way.

    I would like the idea of starting a new life somewhere else and putting down roots to raise a family in. Someone mentioned community, I think making new friends along the way in fellow travelers would be a welcome change. As each one works together I think a sort of “family” would naturally form.

    Our ancestors were made of sturdier stuff, that’s for sure! I live on the Oregon coast and enjoy stories about the Oregon trail. Jody, your historical books are always good and place me right in the middle of the story, as if I’m living it out! Love your historical details and the amount of research you do to make your books as authentic as you can.

    Thank you for the giveaway chance to win a copy of “The Heart of a Cowboy”! I’ve read the first book in the series, but haven’t has a chance to read this one yet 🙂

  18. I’d love the adventure, the excitement of seeing new things, & the time spent with family & friends. I wouldn’t like the lack of air conditioning & the primitive… almost non-existent… bathroom/showering accommodations! 🙂

  19. Hi Jody! I’m always amazed at the fortitude and bravery those first settlers had. I’m not sure I could’ve endured all the dangers and stresses of traveling all that way out west. I’m grateful they did it, but boy, they were made of sterner stuff than I! Thank you for the chance to win!

  20. What I would like most about traveling west in a covered wagon is the new scenery especially near the mountains. The least I would like would have been having to walk most of the way during hot and rainy weather and also not having enough water at times.

  21. I know why God saw fit to have me born after the western exploration was completed! I like to think that I can adapt, but those men & women were truly brave!

  22. I enjoy being outside. I think I would have enjoyed traveling and camping and just being outdoors for weeks. I think also it was hard because of the danger and different hardships.

  23. I would love riding in a covered wagon seeing different sceneries It would be hard though at times I am sure! Thank you for this amazing giveaway! Love the cover of your book!

  24. Seeing new country and meeting new people would be the most interesting. The serious dangers that took so many lives would be difficult. Seeing parents lose children and children lose parents and siblings would be heartbreaking.
    There was a miniseries that came out in 2005 that did an excellent job of depicting just how difficult it was for those in wagon trains to make the journey. It also depicted how the influx of settlers impacted the native population. INTO THE WEST was produced by Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks and ran for 6 episodes.

  25. I think I would enjoy getting to see the country the most. I think I would get tired of the long time living out of a wagon as well as all the dust from traveling.

  26. Certainly the positives would be the desire for a new and hopefully better life and situation, with the thought of more lands to homestead or business opportunities. The comradery of fellow travelers would be a source of support in enduring the trip, but the negatives enroute would be significant.

  27. I would like the most traveling in a covered wagon west spending each day surrounded by nature without the noise of civilization. I would like least and equally being bounced and jostled riding in the wagon and walking alongside the wagon.

  28. Hi Jody, Welcome to P&P. Enjoyed your blog. What I would like most was would be the adventure of going West. To find news things, places & friends along with way. You would have to want to travel & be willing to endure the hardships. What, I would like least would be not being able to keep clean. We have such a soft life now, I think we should appreciate more what we have & what they endured to help build all this for the future generations.

  29. Hi, Jody. Loved your blog. I really want to read your new book because I thoroughly enjoy reading books about wagon trains going west and all of the adventures and hardships that go along with that. My favorite part of it would be meeting new people, seeing new sights that I would never have been able to imagine and I would have been in such awe of our Creator God. I would have enjoyed visiting and telling stories about the lives we left behind and the lives we hoped to have when we reached our destination and hearing everyone else’s stories. I’m sure we would have a little singing every night, too, and I might’ve even volunteered to lead the worship music on Sundays, if I were old enough. What I would least enjoy would be snakes, possible infighting in the wagon train among some of the not so honest people who may have joined to escape prison for murder, etc. And, yes, I too would have gotten sick and tired of beans, hard tack, and jerky. Haha. Oh, yeah, and, no privacy would be the worst. I probably would have had books, though and a journal of some kind. My Bible, and at least, Penny dreadful magazines. Don’t those go together well. Lol Thank you for visiting P&P

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