Wagon trains

Most of the settlers who traveled to Oregon made the journey in four-wheeled wagons. A group of these wagons traveling together was called a “wagon train.” A wagon train usually consisted of about twenty-five wagons, each with a canvas cover to protect its contents from the weather. Seen from a distance, these covers made the wagons look like ships sailing across a sea of grass. Because of this, people often called wagons “prairie schooners.” A schooner was a type of sailing ship.

Each wagon could carry a load of between 2 and 2Vz tons and was pulled by a team of either mules or oxen. Settlers argued fiercely about which animals were better. Some claimed that mules were faster and tougher than oxen. Others argued that oxen were stronger than mules and easier to control Some people believe that the phrase “as stubborn as a mule” became part of the English language at this time.

Cost usually settled the arguments. A settler could buy three oxen for the price of only one mule. For this reason oxen were used more than any other animals to pull the wagons that traveled the Oregon Trail.


A wagon train eroding the prairie.

Updated: 18th July 2015 — 3:17 pm