Monday, January 20, 2014

Wagons Ho!

When a family decided--come spring--they would head west, there was a lot to be done. If the husband was an ‘established business man’, the wife may have had a life of leisure up to this point. Meaning, she may have had help with the household chores, which might have provided her with time to tend to a rose garden or have tea with her lady friends. If the husband was a laborer or farmer, the wife most likely not only worked the fields with him, she managed her household single-handedly as well.

Either way, it would have been the wife’s job to pack the necessities for the long trip while her husband secured their passage. Conestoga wagons were actually far and few when it came to wagon trains. The original Conestoga’s were freight hauling wagons. It took six to eight horses or up to a dozen oxen to pull one wagon. The floors of a Conestoga wagon were curved upward to keep the cargo from tipping or slipping, and these wagons could haul up to 12,000 pounds.

Some Conestoga wagons were used to for the California Gold Rush, but by the time the migration wagon trains were happening, most wagons were Prairie Schooners. The name came about because some thought the white canvas tops crossing the prairies looked like sail boats crossing the ocean. Schooners were average farm wagon with arched, wooden bows holding the canvas stretched from side to side. Conestoga wagons had suspension, Schooners did not. The ride was usually so rough, people chose to walk. Schooners were pulled by mules or oxen. (Horses weren’t sturdy enough to make the trip.) If oxen pulled the wagon, a drover or teamster walked on the left side of the oxen, shouting commands or cracking a whip. If mules were used, they were harnessed and driven by someone sitting on the wagon seat.

The woman would have had to decide what to take west. She may have created a list of things to sell or giveaway before the trip, and to begin with she may have insisted on frivolous things, such as furniture. As space began to dwindle, she’d realize the importance of the basics—food. Dried meat, beans, coffee, flour, salt, a cow to be milked, and the necessities needed to prepare the foods, feed the animals, and aid their travels. 

The trails west were littered with furniture…the family rocking chair, or generations old desk, things that at one time had been treasured, became dead weight that needed to be discarded. Crosses decorated the trails as well. Friends, family members, children, wives , husbands and animals. At one time it was said there were so many dead and decaying oxen carcasses one simply had to follow the smell all the way west. For years, the bleached white bones did serve as trail markers.

The trail was long and full of hardships, but men, women and families prevailed, and arrived at their destination intact.

Yet, their work was far from over. Many of the trains arrived west in late summer or fall, which meant winter arrived before many of the homes did. Dugouts and/or hand dug basement were often utilized that first winter. Come spring, there was also land to clear and gardens to plant. Farmers and miners were the most common occupations of wagon train travelers.
If the husband was a farmer, it was most likely the wife was out clearing the fields along with him. If he was a miner, she probably would have cleared the ground for her garden herself, and begin setting down roots of their new life.

On January 27th Harlequin will release the first chapter of The Stolen Kiss, a free read on their website.   Each day for the next twenty days, another chapter will be released. The heroine is Cassandra Halverson, although she didn’t go by wagon train, she did pack up her belongings and move to Oklahoma Indian Territory to start a new life, where she encounters Micah Bollinger.

The Stolen Kiss is related to my February 1st release, The Major’s Wife.


Major Seth Parker knows his wife, and the woman standing before him isn't her. The manipulative vixen who tricked his hand in marriage could never possess such innocence—nor get his heart racing like this!

Millie St. Clair has traveled halfway across the country to pull off one of the greatest deceptions ever. But with everything at stake it soon becomes clear that the hardest part might be walking away from the Major when it's all over….


Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Great post. I can't imagine how people traveled so far in wagons…over rutted roads, mountains, and rivers. I barely made it to California and back in a car. *lol*

Looking forward to your upcoming release. It sounds awesome.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Lauri, great post reminding us of what hard lives our ancestors endured to get their fresh start. I'm so glad to be living now. Moving last summer was hard enough with a moving van.

Kathy Otten said...

Great post. I love learning stuff like this! Your book looks good too. I'm going to add it to my list of books. :)