Cooking on Wagon Trains

This article was written by Samuel Phineas Upham

The year of 1840, Oregon saw only about 150 settlers in the area. The land was ripe for farming, but the journey to get there took pioneers through the Oregon Trail toward the Pacific Northwest. Today, one might recall the game “Oregon Trail,” and its frequent “death by dysentery” to get a hint of what life was like. The journal of Hattie Campbell gives more vivid descriptions of what life was really like: “my lips are so chapped, they bleed when I talk.”

Still, “Oregon Fever” was enough to draw thousands to the area. All of these people needed food on the way, and many were sorely under equipped. Many of these land migrants had almost nothing with them, save the clothes on their back. Those who did bring cattle and livestock with them often lost most of it to famine or dryness in transit.

Some families had moderate success bringing tree roots with them to plant in the new farmsteads they’d hoped to settle, and wild plants in the region could provide some sustenance to stave off starvation. This was also a good time to be a hunter, as there was lots of natural game.

The sun was the major determining factor as to when meals were prepared. It was customary to hit the trail before the sun came up, which meant breakfast was ready by 4 AM. Beans with pancakes and coffee were the usual breakfast, and then the trains would “noon” and stop mid-day for a break filled with fried and charbroiled foods. Stews were typically served at night, when people had a reason to gather around the fire and the train wouldn’t move for several hours.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Samuel Phineas Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Samuel Phineas Upham on his Twitter page.

Leave a Reply