The Chuck Wagon
- Cowboys out on the trail relied on the camp cook (“cookie”) for their food. Meals were served up from the chuck wagon – a store room and kitchen on wheels.
- The first chuck wagon was designed from an old army vehicle by a cattleman called Charles Goodnight in 1866.
- The front wheels were smaller than the back to make turning easier.
- Chuck wagons featured a barrel that could hold two days supply of water, a hooped canvas cover to protect from harsh sun or rain, a heavy tool box, and a portable larder called the chuck box.
- The chuck box contained flour, lard, coffee, tobacco, dried apples, raisins, sugar, beans, and other staples.
- The body of the wagon held bedrolls, grain for the horses, and spare equipment.
- A canvas hung underneath carried firewood.
- The cookie was often a former cowboy who had been injured. He would have few culinary skills so the food was basic, boring, and unhealthy.
- Food was prepared on a fold-down shelf at the rear of the wagon. It was cooked on an open fire.
- Meals generally featured bacon (sow-belly), beans, and some form of bread. If the cook was a good shot with a rifle, there might also be jackrabbits, prairie chickens, deer, turkeys, or venison.
- Hygiene was non-existent. If there was no water for rinsing pots and plates they were scoured with grass, leaves, sand, or dry dirt.
- Although Cookie was usually the most popular member of the crew – often acting as their banker, barber, and dentist as well – cowboys could not wait to reach the next town for a taste of fresh food, steak, and eggs!
Murdoch, David. Cowboy. Worldwide: DK Publishing, 1993.
Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, Texas. Research Trips 2015 and 2016.
Wikipedia, “Chuck Wagons,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuckwagon