Oregon Trail Food
by: Peggy L. Henderson
My current WIP is a time travel romance set in the late 1840’s along the Oregon Trail. This book takes me far, far away from my Yellowstone series, but I’m having a fun (if sometimes tedious) time learning what life was like along the Oregon Trail. One thing that fascinated me was all the food the emigrants packed along. The only thing I can relate to is when my family packs for a camping trip. Our car is usually stuffed to bursting. I tend to overpack, living by the motto “better to have it and not need it, that not having it and needing it.” (It drives my husband crazy) Most emigrants were no different about packing when they first started their journey. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about needing to leave things along the side of the road after realizing some things are more important for survival than others.
For this article, I want to just quickly list the types of foods the emigrants packed with them. There were not very many places along the route for them to buy supplies, so they had to plan to bring most of their staples along with them right from their starting-off points.
This is a list of typical food items as described in a traveller’s guide written for the people headed for Oregon or California:
(This list is the amount suggested to bring for each adult traveller)
two hundred pounds of flour
thirty pounds of pilot bread
seventy-five pounds of bacon
ten pound of rice
five pounds of coffee
two pounds of tea
twenty-five pounds of sugar
half a bushel of dried beans
one bushel of dried fruit
two pounds of saleratus (baking soda)
ten pounds of salt
half a bushel of corn meal
half a bushel of corn, parched and ground
a small keg of vinegar
Some emigrants brought along whiskey or brandy, and medicines. Cooking utensils included a cast iron skillet or spider, Dutch oven, reflector oven, coffee pot or tea kettle, and tin plates, cups, and knives, forks, spoons, matches, and crocks, canteens, buckets or water bags for liquids. For most families, 1,600-1,800 pounds of their supplies was food. A wagon should not weigh more than 2000 pounds, so this left very little room for other items.
It was also recommended that each family bring along two milk cows. Next to bread, bacon was the food most often on the menu, usually twice a day. Emigrants also supplemented their diet with buffalo meat or other game that they were able to kill along the way.
(Sorry for the lack of photos. I’d rather not pull pictures off the internet anymore)