The Chuck Wagon

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

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