While the cowboys were crucial and necessary to drive the cattle, life on the trail become much more bearable with the invention of the chuckwagon.
Charles Goodnight - Inventor of the Chuckwagon
|via Wikimedia Commons
Before 1866, a cowboy would have to rely on food they could pack in their saddle bags, or find along the way. Charles Goodnight, a cattleman himself, understood the need for sufficient food to feed the hungry men along the way as markets opened up further away, requiring long time on the trails.
A well fed crew would be much easier to manage, so he took a Studebaker surplus Army Wagon and made it into something that would be able to hold the necessary supplies for the trips.
One of the first things added was a large box attached to the rear of the wagon that had a hinged door. When the door opened, it would make a table so the cook could use it to prepare the food. Everything was right inside the pantry, with shelves and drawers added for the gear.
Over time, the design was improved, with heavier running gear to be able to make if over the rough terrain on a cattle drive. The design became so sought after, Studebaker make a wagon called the “Round-Up” by the year 1880.
Many people have believed that the name “Chuck” was used as it was a popular nickname for the name Charles, the man who came up with the initial design. However, it is actually a slang term for food, as used by meat merchants in England for their cheaper foods.
Chuckwagon - More Than Just for Food
The chuckwagon would also carry many other necessary supplies for a cattle drive, such as medicines, bedrolls, horse tack, blacksmith tools, rain slickers and other personal items of the cowboys.
One side of the wagon had barrels for water to last at least 2 days, while the other side had a large toolbox that had everything needed for repairs. Everything was covered with a canvas cover that kept everything inside dry. Some of the wagons would even have large tents that could be stretched to cover the spot for cooking and for the men sitting around the fire.
Since wood was a necessity, the cowboys would pick up dried logs and pieces they would find along the way, placing them under the wagon in a storage area usually made of out canvas, that was stretched like a hammock.
But, the chuck wagon wasn’t just the mobile kitchen. For many cowboys, it was their home away from home. The chuck wagon was the hub of the camp, and for some men, it was the only place they had to really call home.
The stories told sitting around the fires next to these chuckwagons would be worth their weight in gold to hear them today. One can only imagine the life these cowboys led, and the importance these chuckwagons on the long cattle drives.
I’m currently finishing a story that has featured a chuckwagon driven by a very unlikely “cowboy”. It will be released in January, along with some other books as part of a secret project, so if you’d like to learn even more fun facts about life on a cattle drive, make sure you look for that book!
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