If you think your beat up, old car is a bad ride, think again because it could be much worse. You could be rolling in a covered wagon. Well, if you had lived 150 years ago you could. The covered wagon, sometimes called a Prairie Schooner, has become a true icon of the Old West. If you have ever watched an old western movie or even Little House on the Prairie you will know what we are talking about.
A typical wagon was made of wood with metal arches spanning across it. Canvas would then be stretched tight across the arches to make a covering. Most wagons ranged from 10-15 feet long and were pulled by two or four horses or oxen. The big canvas coverings looked a bit like a ships sails at sea, thus giving them the name Prairie Schooners.
Pioneers traveled across the Great Plains and even the Rocky Mountains in these covered wagons all to have their own land to settle. Many made homesteads on the Great Plains from Texas all the way up to Wyoming, but many more continued across the Rocky Mountains all the way to California and Oregon. The most amazing part of all of this is that they could only travel a few miles a day! Not only that, but because the road was so bumpy, many people chose to walk behind the wagons instead of ride in them. So the early settlers walked and road their way all the way across the country!
The most common starting point was the city of St. Louis, which earned it the nickname "the gateway of the West." That being said, St. Louis was only the halfway point for many settlers, since many came from the crowded east coast cities to have their own land. For them, they literally travelled across the entire country in wagons, stopping to winter in St. Louis before heading back out to sea, so to speak.
Wagons would group up in teams called Wagon Trains in order to support each other and offer protection. At night they would circle up in order to keep the horses penned in. Despite popular belief, Native Americans were not a big threat to these trains. The biggest threat was winter. They had to get across the mountains before winter set in or they would freeze to death, which did happen a few times.
Another major concern was wagon accidents. Roads were bad and going down any sharp embankment could lead to a crash. In fact, Charles Ingalls of the above mentioned Little House on the Prairie eventually died in a wagon accident but not before becoming one of the many great pioneers who helped establish our country.
Aiden Jefferson lives and writes (when he feels like it) in sunny Southern California. However, don't try to find him, he is quite sneaky. He writes about automobiles, comedy, college and history. Sometimes he even blends them together.
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