Food on the Oregon Trail


by Jacqueline Williams


1993 Oregon-California Trails Association

Overland Journal - Volume 11, No. 2 - 1993

[Printed with Permission of Jacqueline Williams 2007]




        The motto for today's campers is "pack it in; pack it out." Too much litter from too many nature lovers is spoiling the landscape. For mid-nineteenth century campers, those adventuresome emigrants who traveled by covered wagon to the West, the motto was "pack it in; hope it lasts."

        Once they left the jumping-off-places of Independence, Westport and St. Joseph in Missouri and Council Bluffs in Iowa, there would be only a few places for stocking up on staples and fresh produce.

        Having a good supply of food items was critical to the emigrants, but food also was a primary way of providing some pleasure and variety during the endless days of riding and walking. The seemingly mundane question of "what's for dinner" when asked by the emigrants provides us a fascinating exploration of how the thousands of emigrants managed millions of meals over the old Oregon-California Trail. Discerning as much as we can about their foodstuffs contributes to our

knowledge of the westward migration and offers a glimpse of mid-nineteenth century American cooking and eating.

        To learn what food and utensils to pack, emigrants turned to the travelers' guides. Those who had successfully made the trip and even a few who had never left home were eager to publish their guidebooks. These books offered a basic inventory of edibles supposed to last until they reached sunny California or the rich soil of the Oregon Country. A typical food list such as that from Joel Palmer's guide would include for each adult:

two hundred pounds of flour, thirty pounds of pilot bread, seventy-five pounds of bacon, ten pound of rice,

five pounds of coffee, two pounds of tea, twenty-five pounds of sugar, half a bushel of dried beans, one

bushel of dried fruit, two pound of saleratus [baking soda], ten pounds of salt, half a bushel of corn meal;

and it is well to have half a bushel of corn, parched and ground; a small keg of vinegar should also be


        While the amounts of foods changed-that is, someone might suggest 150 pounds of flour, others 100 pounds-the specific items seldom varied. Non-perishable food was the mainstay of long voyages, whether by land or sea. Without refrigeration or the means for keeping fresh foods cold, travelers had to rely on salted meats, pickled vegetables, dried fruit, bread and coffee. But within these categories there was much variation and choice.

        When cooks loaded their wagons, they had more to think about than simply packing pounds of flour and sugar. They needed to know if the sugar had to be sifted before use, if bacon would spoil or if it was possible to make an eggless pudding over an open fire. They had to decide which mill ground the best flour and if the "meat biscuits" advertised for sale in the local newspaper were as good as the advertisement reported. Knowing the best type of foods to bring and the right

amount to pack was essential.



        Baking bread was a daily and necessary activity. Flour was such a critical item on the emigrants' list that Nathan Putnam took the time to write his parents in Kentucky:

When you see Stedman tell him that the flour turned out first rate and that when eating it we think of him and wish that we could make him a returne in the hump ribb of Fat Young Bufalo-(2) But what kind of flour was deserving of such praise? We have no idea. Also, a letter written to the St. Joseph Gazette states that St. Joseph had "a large Flour mill, within the limits of the town, besides several others in the neighborhood," but it does not say whether the flour ground was white,

whole wheat, corn or rye flour. All these flours were available in the mid-nineteenth century. For certain it was not the white, bleached flour of today because the bleaching process did not appear until the early 1900s.(3)

        The best sources for finding the kinds of flour used are the local newspapers. On 23 March 1850 an advertisement in The St. Louis Missouri Republican offered California emigrants kiln dried flour that "was fully tested and found to be sweet and good after all other flour had soured. It will be put in good and convenient packages." Another ad from a local grocery store boasted that it always had on hand "middlings, bran, and shorts," and that their "flour is manufactured from prime

wheat, well winnowed and thoroughly cleaned from all impurities." Several stores offered superfine flour in bags. Here was evidence that flour was not "just flour," there were several varieties.

        What exactly was this flour with the strange sounding names? Shorts, middlings and superfine flour require an explanation. Shorts was defined in Catherine Beecher's 1848 book, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, as "the coarser part of wheat bran."(5) Flour called shorts was a cross between wheat bran and very coarse whole wheat flour-that is, flour that retains most of the bran, wheat germ and a very small amount of floury material (endosperm). Sometimes it is known

as unbolted flour. But in contrast to today's whole wheat flour that has all contaminants removed, "shorts" were a dense, coarse type of flour that needed sifting to remove impurities. Mid-nineteenth century mills did not have the equipment to do a good job of supplying clean flour or removing the bran or the germ."(6)

        The quality of shorts varied, depending on which mill did the grinding. As early as 1844, Peter Burnett wrote to his family that "what they call shorts are just as good as the finest flour, and will perhaps keep better."(7) Mary Powers agreed and bragged that on the trail she made "very good biscuits of shorts without shortening.''(8) On the other hand, in the winter of 1852-1853 while living in Oregon Territory, C.H. Crawford complained they "had to pay $8.50 for fifty pounds of

very poor shorts.(9)

        Another type of flour available, middlings, contained much of the gluten that is just beneath the bran layer and was obtained when the mills first began using hard wheat. In the early years when the mills ground wheat, the gluten would stick to the bran. In the process of removing the bran in order to get a white flour, the middlings became separated. Most millers either had to discard the middlings or further refine it. Refining cost money, so middlings were offered as a cheap flour without further treatment.

        Superfine flour was closest to our modern white flour. It was ground between two stones then the coarser particles, bran, were sifted out. By reducing the grain to flour through several grindings and passing the granules through sieves between each grinding, millers obtained an almost white flour.(10) Mid-nineteenth century cookbook writers, such as the popular Eliza Leslie, recommended it for cakes and pastry. The homemaker was advised to sift or rub it through a sieve

before use.(11) In Independence, Missouri, in 1846 "superfine flour was available for $2.00 to 2.50 per 100 pounds.''(12)



        In order to make their bread and cakes rise, the emigrants very carefully packed saleratus. Saleratus, from the Latin sal-aeratus (aerated salt), is potassium or sodium bicarbonate, a chalk-like substance similar to baking soda. To make it work, the saleratus was mixed with an acid food or chemical, such as cream of tartar. Saleratus became available commercially in 1840 and was packaged in paper envelopes with recipes.(13) It worked best when added to dough that was baked with a quick, hot heat. Cast iron utensils placed over the intense heat of an outdoor fireplace were perfect. Cooking over hot coals had many disadvantages, but it did cook rapidly.

        If the supply of saleratus brought from home was used up. The emigrants supplemented it from natural soda springs found near the Sweetwater River in present Wyoming. Advised by Joel Palmer that "the water, in many of the springs is sufficiently strong to raise bread, equally as well as saleratus or yeast," emigrants looked forward to this natural phenomenon.(14) Lodisa Frizzel compared saleratus to "frozen snow, forming a crust around the edge of the water." She tried it in her bread, and "it made it quite light, but gave it a bitter taste.''(15) Amelia Hadley was so intrigued by the large white beds that she "gathered some, and I send you some It has got durty.''(16)

        On the other hand, Elizabeth Smith preferred the storebought variety and complained that the natural product was "far from being equeal to artificial saleratus although looks as will not foam buter milk one bit." She confessed, however, that she "knew a person to fetch some though and sell it to a merchant for 50 cents per pound not telling him what it was.''(17)



        While not nearly as important as flour as a survival food, everyone carried sugar. Pies, cakes and jams from fresh berries were frequently made on the trail.

        Sugar was available in many forms. The advertisement of Berthold and Ewing Grocery store, in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1846 featured New Orleans and Havana sugar, crushed sugar in boxes and loaf sugar. Advertisements in St. Joseph, Missouri, offered molasses in barrels and brown, clarified, crushed, powdered and loaf sugar.

        Sugar in the middle of the nineteenth century came from sugar cane imported from Caribbean countries or grown in a few southern states. During the westward migration, only Louisiana produced large amounts. Imported sugar came into this country in large cones or loaves and was broken down by the refineries into the smaller loaves sold in grocery stores, hence the name, loaf sugar.

        The smaller cones or loaves were molded and resembled pointed hats. Loaf sugar was traditionally wrapped in blue paper, from which the thrifty housewife extracted her blue indigo dye. Merchants displayed the cones by hanging them with a heavy string or cord that ran vertically through the center. They were a mixture of white and brown sugar with most of the white on top.

        The sugar had to be ground and sifted to remove impurities before use. Sugar nippers, a cross between scissors and a pliers were used to break up the cones.(18)

        Until the 1870s, it was expensive to separate white and brown sugar and difficult to remove all the juice (molasses). What was called brown sugar was a raw, lumpy, sticky product. Because this cheap brown sugar still contained molasses, Peter Decker, in his list of staples, advised emigrants to consider carrying brown and crushed sugar: "Brown sugar to last to the S. Pass would answer well-after that the hot sun would make it run, so part of it at least should be crushed sugar.''(19)

        The crushed sugar that the emigrants purchased had more of the brown sugar removed, but it was not pure white. The grocer had performed the first step for the consumer: the loaf was unwrapped, crushed and put out for sale. Often, grocery stores had small, portable sugar mills available so that the customer could grind the lumpy substance at the time of purchase-a nice convenience for the busy homemaker.(20) Recipes of the period called for "pounded loaf sugar" or

"finely-pounded loaf sugar."

        Havana sugar was closest to modern white sugar and recommended for use in cakes and fine pastry. It, too, had to be crushed and sifted. "Have it pulverized by pounding it in a mortar, or crushing it on the pasteboard with the rolling-pin. It should then be sifted," recommended Eliza Leslie.(21)

        Most likely the emigrant cooks carried the serviceable brown sugar which was the most usable and cheapest. Although they did much baking on the trail, even making pies and cakes, one doubts except on the Fourth of July that anyone had the time to bake fancy cakes or pastry. There was no need to spend the extra money on a fine,white sugar.(22)



        Next to bread, bacon was the food most eaten-often on the menu twice a day. Bacon received mixed reviews. Abigail Jane Scott praised it. "A piece of bacon placed between two pieces of bread actually tastes better than the best of cakes and pies at home.''(23) George Curry accepted it as a fact of life. "Life on the plains far surpasses my expectation....Bacon and biscuit may occasionally interfere with his fair[y]dom, [wonderful adventure?] but that only occurs twice a day, and the influence is but momentary."(24) Helen Carpenter groused that it occurred too often on the menu. "But then one does like a change and about the only change we have from bread and bacon is to bacon and bread."(25) Bread dipped into bacon grease was called "hot flour bread."

        In his guidebook. Randolph Marcy not only recommended bacon but advised that if traveling in hot climates the bacon should be put in "boxes and surrounded with bran, which in a great measure prevents the fat from melting away."(26) Bacon, because of its high fat content, readily spoiled and was one of the items frequently thrown away. Alonzo Delano graphically described a piece of bacon ready for the trash bin: We discovered that we had been imposed upon in St. Louis in the purchase of our bacon, for it began to exhibit more signs of life than we had bargained for. It became necessary to scrape and smoke it, in order lo get rid of its tendency to walk in insect form.(27)

        Emigrants bought bacon at a general store or from a traveling peddler. Those who lived on farms salted and preserved pork for bacon at butchering time. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the term bacon was a broad category of meat from a hog and referred to either sides, hams or shoulders. It was bought or put up as "cured side bacon" and sliced as needed, not slices of fatty pork wrapped in cellophane packages. "Bacon-hams, sides and shoulder tor sale," advertised St.

Joseph grocer E. Livermore in 1845.



        Parched corn and cornmeal scored high on the list of desirable commodities because they were easy to cook with and did not spoil or turn sour. Several emigrants commented on the culinary attributes of this quintessential American grain. According to Peter Burnett, "cornmeal [would keep] to the mountains, and parched corn meal all the way." He found that it [the parched corn] "is most excellent to make soup."(29) S .H . and Clarissa Taylor were even more complimentary. "It is

remarkable that all are excessively fond of corn meal in every form in which it is cooked. Everyone expresses satisfaction." The Taylors were less enthusiastic about substitute cornstarch. "[It] is a failure, because it requires eggs to make it good.(30) What ingredients made up substitute cornstarch is still a mystery.

        In his guidebook, Marcy called parched corn "cold flour" and favored crushing the corn in a mortar until it was the consistency of coarse meal, then mixing it with water, sugar and cinnamon so it becomes "quite palatable." Half of bushel [of "cold flour"] is "sufficient to subsist a man thirty days.''(31) Parched corn indicates that the kernels were roasted in an oven or sun dried. Mush, the porridge made from cornmeal, was an easy food to prepare and showed up in many an emigrant's diary as "mush and milk" for supper. It had been popular since colonial times when Americans switched from oatmeal or wheaten porridge to the equivalent dish made from corn.Known as "hasty Pudding" in New England and "suppawn" in New York state, the Pennsylvania term "mush" became the popular name for this pioneer staple.(32) Charles Putnam, writing to his mother and father, gave his version a four-star recommendation and called it tola. "Tola is the best dish I ever eat, it is made of parched corn ground, & cooked in the same manner that mush is. It is sweetened with sugar.''(33) Putnam may have been misspelling togus, another New England name for a variety of mush. He urged his parents to be sure to bring corn when they decided to come west. "Parched Corn Ground into meal and sifted is first will last ten years."(34)



        Although Peter Burnett advised his family, "If you are heavily loaded let the quantity of sugar and coffee be small, as milk is preferable and does not have to be hauled," he was the exception.(35) Most emigrants agreed with Anna Maria King. "Fetch what coffee, sugar and such things you like, if you should be sick you need them."(36) By the time they were nearing either Oregon or California, coffee was sometimes all that was left. Leslie Scott, an Oregon pioneer, remorsefully recalled those times:

        We still had coffee, and making a huge pot of this fragrant beverage, we gathered round the crackling camp fire-our last in the Cascade Mountains-and, sipping the nectar from rusty cups and eating salal berries gathered during the day, pitied folks who had no coffee.(37) Before making a cup of coffee, the green coffee beans had to be roasted in a skillet and then ground. Not until after the Civil War did manufacturers devise a good way of preserving the flavor in pre-roasted or ground coffee. Not that they did not try as this ad suggests. Ground COFFEE-Put up in water-proof and air-tight packages and guaranteed to retain its strength and flavor for years.(38)

        The credit for a good roasted coffee goes to Arbuckle Brothers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company patented a method of sealing in the roasted flavor by coating the beans with a mixture of egg white and sugar. Roasted coffee beans, put up in paper bags, could now be shipped all over. Arbuckle coffee became quite popular in the West.(39)



        Completing their list of staples and recognizing that there might be some stressful situations during the trek west, realistic emigrants included brandy, rum or whisky in their list of necessary provisions. Drinking was a popular pastime for many Americans. Temperance societies, which organized in order to discourage "the use of ardent spirit and the traffic in it, by example and by kind moral influence," had their start as Americans ventured west.(40)

        Unless they were really opposed to alcohol, "most emigrants take five to ten gallons of whiskey to a wagon under the notion that by mixing it with the bad water it becomes in some mysterious way, healthy and purified," avowed Addison Crane.(41) To make the whiskey go even further, molasses was added. The popular name for that drink was "skullvarnish."

        D.B. Ward and Elizabeth Smith did not make excuses but claimed that alcohol was carried for "medicinal purposes." So did Ellen Tootle who wrote honestly in her diary:  The brandy and whiskey we brought for medicinal purposes, but indulged in a little as we had just started on our journey. The first day, the cork came out of the whiskey bottle and spilled more than half to Mr. Tootle's great disappointment. Indeed I don't believe he has recovered from it yet.(42)

        For "medicinal purposes" was an idea of great merit that the party of E.W. Conyers agreed to follow. Conyers leaves us this very well thought out plan for having a nip now and then. Now none of us were in the habit of taking a drink, yet we came to the conclusion that it would benefit us, keep us from taking cold; therefore we [who] were a little sick and took some brandy all around. I want to say right here that we had agreed that no one was to have any brandy from that bottle unless we were sick, and then a little quinine must be added....the brandy seemed to give us instantaneous relief.(43)



        The least liked food carried was hardtack, sometimes called "sea biscuit" or "pilot bread." It was a mixture of flour and water, baked for a long time in a slow oven. When the rains came to the plains, as they often did, hardtack dipped in coffee was the only item on the menu. Bakeries and grocery stores were quick to advertise their wonderful bread and crackers as necessary commodities. TO CALIFORNIA AND OREGON EMIGRANTS was boldly written across their

advertisements:  J. Noe Brook has now on hand one thousand bbl. [barrels] best kiln dried hard bread, just baked expressively for California emigrants warranted to keep perfectly good for two year. He is constantly baking the above articles and will be prepared to fill all orders either in boxs or bags.(44)

        Hopefully, Brooks' hard bread was better than the brand purchased by Taylor. "The hard bread manufactured at St. Louis or Kanesville [Council Bluffs] bad-always very bad. I believe nobody eats it except when unavoidable.(45)

        Besides hardtack, diarists report having crackers at many meals. Consumers had their choice of Boston crackers, milk crackers and water or soda cracker biscuits. Crackers and hardtack were most appreciated on days when there was not time to bake bread or if there was no fuel to start a fire.



        As best they could, families made every effort to have good food on their long journey, at least in the beginning. The basic list of provisions was supplemented by culinary extras they brought from home, purchased in the jumping-off towns or found at trading posts along the way. In 1853, Basil Longsworth added hams, dried beef, dried peppers, tartaric acid and cheese to Palmer's basic list.(46) Helen Carpenter packed dried herring, a small quantity of cornstarch, a frying pan

and a rolling-pin: Helen planned to bake pies. Later, she added store-bought sweets, paying seventy-five cents for candy.(47)

        Lucy Cooke put in a supply of chocolate. When her party made a stop at Fort Laramie, her husband bought a can of preserved quinces, two bottles of lemon syrup at "$1 1/4" each and a packet of candy. Cooke evidently had a sweet tooth for she often wrote that "I drink chocolate all the time since I've been sick.''(48) A cup of hot chocolate would have been a comforting brew.

        Baker's Chocolate and prepared cocoa were available. Baker's Chocolate has been a household name since 1765 when James Baker opened the first American chocolate factory. Lucy Cooke's family also packed "3 lbs prunes 2 boxes figs a lot of raisins, so we shall have some nice things occasionally."(49) The fruit was dried. Large amounts of fresh fruit were too heavy and too perishable to carry long distances.

        Elizabeth Dixon Smith "laid in our flour cheese and crackers"; and, before she left Iowa, Keturah Belknap made "a lot of crackers and fry doughnuts, cook a chicken, boil a ham, and stew some dryed fruit."(50) Belknap felt that would last a week and give the company time to get used to campfire cooking. David De Wolfe wrote his wife that they had "first rate hams, codfish, herring, flour, hard bread,...chocolate, rice.''(51)

        The cheese carried by the emigrants was in all likelihood a type of cheddar cheese because that was the variety commonly sold in grocery stores in the 1850s. In New England, cheddar style cheese was often referred to as "store cheese" or "American cheese." In 1845, grocery stores in St. Joseph, Missouri, described their cheese as "common" or "West reserve" cheese. Common cheese was the cheapest.

        If the cheese was made at home, it might vary from a simple soft cheese to an aged European type cheese such as Cheshire or Stilton. Early recipe books list both kinds. The soft type cheese was made by dripping the heated milk through a filter and pressing the curds in a mold. It had to be eaten within a few days or it would spoil. This may have been the type cheese Helen Carpenter's California bound wagon train purchased at Fort Kearny. Helen alleged, ''[It] should have been 'mustered out' long ago....One mere taste took the skin off the end of my tongue."(52)



        In addition to the usual dried fruits that everyone carried, dried vegetables also showed up in the provision box. Marcy, in his book The Prairie Traveler, advised his readers to take desiccated or dried vegetables as they had been used successfully by the army. He included this recipe for their preparation:  They are prepared by cutting the fresh vegetables into thin slices and subjecting them to a very powerful press, which removes the juice and leaves a solid cake, which, after having been thoroughly dried in an oven becomes almost as hard as a rock. A small piece of this about half the size of a man's hand, when boiled, swells up so as to fill a vegetable dish, and is sufficient for four men.(53)

        In addition to Marcy's guidebook, letter writers to newspapers and magazines advised emigrants to carry dried pumpkins and dried onions. A columnist for Scientific American went so far as to recommend a particular brand:

Ground, dried pumpkin, an article of merchandise prepared by United Society of Shakers at Harvard, Mass, and is the best substitute for the pumpkin "yellow and ripe from the fields," that we know of. Good pumpkin pies may be made at all seasons of the year, by obtaining the pumpkin ingredient as above....(54)

        Cecelia Adams and Parthenia Blank, twin sisters traveling together to Oregon in 1852, concurred that dried pumpkin worked; they baked pumpkin pies one Sunday while they should have been resting.(55)

        One of the most intriguing dried foods advertised "to persons crossing the plains" in the 1850s was a meat biscuit.

Meat Biscuit-This highly nutritious food, patented in the United States and in England by Gail Borden, Jr., having passed the severest ordeal of the great Industrial Fair in London...One pound of it contains the nutriment of five pounds of the best fresh beef; one ounce will make a nutritious soup. It will keep in perfect preservation for any length of time. In tight tin cannister or casks...the traveler across the plain can always have a fresh supply of food easily and quickly prepared.(56)

        From that newspaper description, the biscuit sounds similar to portable soup, which was made by boiling meat or fowl with their bones in a rich broth until the soup is thick like jelly. The "jelly," a very concentrated, gelatinous substance, was then set in pans or cups and allowed to dry until it was hard and could be easily broken. When the dry substance was added to boiling water, one had an instant soup. Further investigation showed that meat biscuits were somewhat different

from portable soup. The meat biscuits started out like portable soup, that is, meat was boiled and reduced to a gelatinous substance. But then instead of simply drying this "jelly," large amounts of flour were mixed in, and the final product was baked. According to Scientific American, Borden made a superior product because he used the best quality of bread and meat. The biscuits resembled a light colored cake and were packed in airtight casks or tin cannisters.(57) Both meat biscuits and portable soup were forerunners of today's bouillon cube.

        Meat biscuits, though not specifically recommended by Capt. John Fremont, were carried on his fifth expedition. Solomon Carvalho, the official expedition photographer, speaks of it several times, once as part of a meal served in Fremont's lodging. "First came the camp kettle, with buffalo soup, thickened with meat-biscuit, our respective tin plates were tilled and replenished as often as required." During the winter, when the Fremont party, like Lewis and Clark, were without food, "We were on rations of meat-biscuit, and had killed our first horse for food."(58)

        In spite of extensive advertising and celebrity testimonies, we cannot infer that either portable soup or meat biscuits were popular with the ordinary emigrant. Very few diarists and letter writers mention either of these products. Was it because the biscuits were so ordinary, too expensive, not tasty? Or were citizens at that time suspicious of new products? True, meat biscuits were commercially available too late to make the guidebooks, but portable soup was for sale in

1803. Moreover, both the portable soup and meat biscuits were lightweight, convenient and nutritious product. With the addition of a few freshly picked greens or wild onions that contained vitamin C, the dried soup base could help prevent scurvy .

        "Coffee cake" is another processed food in the same category as meat biscuits, that is, a new inventive concentrated food touted as a boon to emigrants. Unlike meat biscuits, for which there have been many words attesting to it superior quality, there seems to be no trace of what this food contained or whether it had a tantalizing taste that made it irresistibly decadent. If I had to guess, I would say it was made from concentrated, cooked dried fruit. Like meat biscuits, it is absent from accounts of dining on the plain and prairie. Because the following advertisement is so intriguing, I imagine, and hope, that someone gave it a try.

Superior Articles for California Emigrants

Fine coffee cakes, fine tea do [cakes]; fine Lemon do [cakes]; four pieces a pound. To one twelfth or

fifteenth part of a cake give a good cup of coffee, tea or a glass of lemonade. The price is very cheap and the

article is packed up in lead, entirely water proof as well as air tight.(59)

        Not every wagon train added extras or even took the suggestions offered in the guidebooks. Yet clearly there was more to cooking than dipping hard bread into bacon grease. The emigrants who were interested in variety during their travels west seemed to have inspired the nation's farmers and manufacturers to provide food that not only was appealing to the palate but stable enough to last through the long westward journey. These new products attest to American determination and Yankee know-how.



1. Joel Palmer, Journal of Travels over the Rocky Mountains (Cleveland, OH: The Arthur Clark Company, 1906),

p. 260.

2. Dale Morgan, editor, Overland in 1846, Vol. 11 (Georgetown. CA: The Talisman Press, 1963), p. 608.

3. John Mariani. The Dictionary of American Food and Drink (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1983) p. 164.

4. St. Louis Missouri Republican, 23 March 1850. Several quotes in this paragraph are from the same edition of the


5. Catherine E. Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1846), p. 367.

6. Richard O. Cummings. The American and His Food (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 1940), p. 112-


7. Peter H. Burnett, "Letters of Peter H. Burnett" in Oregon Historical Society Quarterly. Vol. III, 1902, p. 419.

8. Mary Rockwood Powers, A Woman's Overland Journal (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1985), p. 23.

9. Charles Howard Crawford, Scenes of Earlier Days (Chicago, IL: Quadrangle Books, Inc., 1898), p. 3.

10. The Encyclopedia Americana, International Edition (Danbury, CT: Grolier Inc.. 1983), p. 447-448.

11. Miss (Eliza) Leslie, Directions for Cookery (Philadelphia. PA: Henry C. Baird, 1857), p. 274.

12. Morgan, Overland in 1846, p. 485.

13. William Woys Weaver, America Eats (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1989), p. 133-135.

14. Palmer, Journal of Travels, p. 79.

15. Lodisa Frizzell. Across the Plains to California in 1852 (New York, NY: The New Public Library, 1915, edited

from original manuscript), p. 28.

16. Amelia Hadley, "Journal of Travels to Oregon" in Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western

Trails, Vol. 3, edited by Kenneth L. Holmes (Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1983), p. 77.

17. Elizabeth Smith, diary, in Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 1, p. 126.

18. William Woys Weaver, Sauerkraut Yankees (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), p. 154-155.

19. Peter Decker, The Diaries of Peter Decker: Overland to California in 1849 (Georgetown, CA: Talisman Press,

1966), p. 158.

20. Cummings, The American and His Food, p. 111.

21. Leslie, Directions for Cookery, p. 336.

22. Cummings, The American and His Food, p. 111.

23. Abigail Jane Scott, diary, in Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5, p. 154.

24. Morgan, Overland in 1846, p. 540.

25. Sandra L. Myres, Ho for California!: Women's Overland Diaries from the Huntington Library (San Marino, CA:

Huntington Library, 1980), p. 147.

26. Randolph B. Marcy, The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions (New York, NY: Harper &

Brothers, 1859), p. 30.

27. Alonzo Delano, Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings (Auburn, NY: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1854),

p 27.

28. St. Joseph [MO] Gazette, 2 May 1845.

29. Burnett, "Letters," p. 419.

30. S.H. and Clarissa Taylor, letters, in "Oregon Bound 1853," Oregon Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 22, 1921,

p 141.

31. Marcy, The Prairie Traveler, p 34.

32. Richard M. Dorson, editor, Folklore and Folklife (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1972), p. 329.

33. Morgan, Overland in 1846, p. 524.

34. Ibid.

35. Burnett, "Letters," p. 419.

36. Anna Maria King, diary, in Covered Wagon Woman, Vol. 1, p. 44.

37. Leslie Scott, diary, in Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5, p. 134.

38. St. Louis Missouri Republican, 30 March 1850.

39. Samuel Arnold, Eating Up the Santa Fe Trail (Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1990) p. 21.

40. John Hull Brown, Early American Beverages (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1906), p. 78.

41. Merrill J. Mattes, The Great Platte River Road (Lincoln: Nebraska State Historical Society, 1969), p. 50.

42. Ellen Tootle, diary, in Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 8, p 64.

43. E.W. Conyers, Diary, Transactions of Oregon Pioneer Association, Vols 25-30, 1905, p. 425.

44. St. Louis Missouri Republican, 12 April 1850.

45. Taylor, "Oregon Bound 1853," p. 141.

46. Diary of Basil N. Longsworth, transcribed in 1935 by The Historical Records Survey, Portland, OR: manuscript

in Denver Public Library, Western History Collection, Denver, CO, p. 14.

47. Myres, Ho for California!, p. 93.

48. Lucy Cooke, diary, Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 4, p. 244.

49. Ibid., p. 233.

50. Keturah Belknap, diary, in Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 1, p. 2 I s.

51. David De Wolf, Diary of the Overland Trail, 1849 and Letters 1849-50 Transactions of the Illinois State

Historical Society, 1925, p. 191 .

52. Myres, Ho for California!, p. 105.

53. Marcy, The Prairie Traveler, p. 31.

54. Scientific American, New York, NY, 1 March 1851, p. 186.

55. Cecelia Adams and Palthenia Blank, "Twin Sisters on the Oregon Trail" in Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 5.

56. St. Louis Missouri Republican, 25 March 1853.

57. Scientific American, 8 March 1851, p. 197.

58. Solomon Nunes Carvalho, Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West, p. 198. Carvalho, who was

traveling with Captain Fremont as the official photographer, cannot be considered a typical overlander. I have

included his comments about food because he used some of the "new foods" that were being developed.

59. St. Louis Missouri Republican, 12 April 1850.



Jacqueline Williams is a nutritionist living in Seattle. Her articles on nutrition and on the history of food have appeared in many prestigious consumer and professional publications. Her book, Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail, has been described by Glenda Riley as a "lively book [which] puts the reader squarely on the Oregon trail -- baking break in a dutch oven over a campfire, searing buffalo meat, and trading for fresh vegetables and fish. Through emigrant guides,

diaries and 'receipts' of the day, Williams constructs the meals that succored emigrants as they crossed the Plains. To understand trail women's contributions to the migration, simply try one of Williams's 'pinch and a handful' recipes -- and do it over an open fire in a rainstorm." Wagon Wheel Kitchens is available from the OCTA bookstore for $14.95 in paperback or $29.95 in hardback.

[NOTE: Several photographs and drawings that illustrate this article are not presented here. To see this entire article with the illustrations, you may purchase a back copy of the Overland Journal, Volume 11, No. 2 - 1993 through the OCTA bookstore.]


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