In Their Own Words


Meals On The Trail


Compiled by Prof. Jim Tompkins

Disclaimer:  Prof. Jim Tompkins has compiled the following information for classes he has taught.  He has kindly contributed them for general use.  This information has been gathered from a variety of sources and, while it is free to use, copyright infringements may make it unsuitable for commercial purposes.


Dr. Charles E. Boyle 1849 to California age 30?

“Today I tried my hand at making corn dodgers and the mess said I had succeeded very well. ... Along the margin of the stream I found an abundance of an suculent root much resembling the sweet potato. During my watch I cooked turtle soup but scorched it so much that is was not very good. ... Bean soup was the order of the day, and I begin to think myself quite an expert in its

manufacture. ... I proceeded to cook breakfast, which was made up of buffalo steak, batter cakes, ham, coffee and sea bread. ... Yesterday at noon we found our bread damp and took it out and dried it. ... A Mormon family had moved hither [Ft Hall] from Salt Lake City for the purpose of supplying emigrants with articles of this kind [bread and milk] and had brought a very large

number of cows. Butter was very scarce as they sold it as fast as they could make it. Cheese brought 25 cents per pound, milk 12 1/2 cents per quarter.”


Margaret Ann Alsip Frink 1850 to California age 32

“Mr. Frink traveled sixteen miles through the farming country [near St. Jo] searching for pickled cucumbers. He was fortunate enough to find a bushel still in the salt.... This, with some horseradish and one peck of potatoes, was all he could find in the way of vegetables. I prepared these very carefully, and put them up in kegs with apple vinegar; these were to be our principal

defense against that dreadful disease, the scurvy, from which the overland emigrants of 1849 had suffered so severly....”


Harriett Talcott Buckingham 1851 to Oregon age 19

“[July] 4 This morning of the glorious fourth, we breakfasted at six upon Trout Strawberries & cream.”


Elizabeth Wood 1851 to Oregon (Wash Terr) age 23

[June 29, Black Hills] “The water is so bad here, and the milk from our cows so strongly impregnated with alkali, that I have substituted coffee as a beverage.” [July 4] “Today we traveled till noon, and then stopped to get a Fourth of July dinner and

to celebrate our nation’s birthday. While making the preparations, and reflecting at the same time of what the people of Morton and Peoria were doing, and contrasting my situation with what it was this day last year, a storm arose, blew over all the tents but two, capsized our stove with its delicious viands, set one wagon on fire, and for a while produced not a little confusion in the camp. No

serious injury, however, was done. After the storm was over, we put up the stove, straightened up the tent and got as nice a dinner as we had upon the ‘Glorious Fourth’ in Morton last year.”


Eugenia Zieber 1851 to Oregon age 18

“We took our dinner here, which consisted of bread, crackers, chip beef, cheese and cold fried meat. This, or what we took of it, we held in our hands and sat on logs, stumps, etc., to partake of it. Many would look upon this as a most awkward way of eating, but I think it really pleasant. The sky above you clearly seen, not kept from your sight by any obstructing roof. The trees

looking fresh & happy around you, and flowers peeping up from the bright grass, as though desirous of taking notes of your proceedings. Who would then not prefer this to a table profusely covered with dishes filled with dainties of every kind, shut up in a house, the work of art! Give me rather fair Nature’s beauties shed abroad to my view, and ‘twill lend a charm to everything.”


Cecelia Emily McMillen Adams 1852 to Oregon age 23

Parthenia McMillen Blank

[Cecelia] “Our folks had a new milk’s cow to day.”

[Cecelia] “27 Sunday [June] This is a lovely mornig conclude to stay here and recruit our team ... P done some washing and I baked bread and pumpkin and apple pies cooked beans and meat stewed apples and baked suckeyes in quantitys sufficient to last some time Besides making dutch cheese and took every thing out of the waggons to air....”


E.W. Conyers 1852

“Tonight Mrs. Burns made bread from the last of our flour; also, at this meal we consume the last of our meat, and, in fact, we are about out of everything eatable. We live in the hope that there will be plenty for all when we arrive at our destination. My! Oh, my! what a hungry crowd the people of Oregon will have to feed during the coming winter, and the great majority of them have no money to buy with.”


Polly Lavina Crandell Coon 1852 to Oregon age 26

“We are yet 50 miles according to the guide from Ft. Laramie are nearly over the long stretch without wood - we have brought wood in bags - which with the help of Buffalo Chips or (Bois de Vach) [Bois de Vache is French for buffalo chips] has lasted till now, we have enough to get our supper tonight....”


Esther Belle Hanna 1852

“Fortunately, a young man from the valley, who had come out to meet friends, came past. He had a little flour to spare, which he gave us, with a tinful of rice, for which he would take nothing. We were very thankful for it. but we had neither salt nor saleratus, nor anything to bake in. Mr. H. went to a camp near and got a little of each with a skillet to bake in. I made up the dough,

kneaded it in a cloth and baked it. It looks good, for all it had nothing but water, salt and saleratus in it.” “We ate our dinner of dried bread and a cup of water out of Big Sandy, which flowed hard by.”


Eliza Ann McAuley 1852 to California age 17

“Camped on Bear River. Here is splendid feed, the cattle are wading in wild oats up to their eyes, while we have fun making pop corn candy. Margaret is baking cookies, but the boys steal them as fast as she can bake them.” “Plenty of trout and other fish. The boys fished awhile and then took a ramble around the country.”


Abigail Jane “Jenny” Scott 1852 to Oregon age 17

“Some of our company killed a buffalo to-day which considerably changed the (regular rotine) of our diet at supper time; it tastes almost exactly like beef but has a considerably coarser grain ... no fuel of any kind even Buffalo chips are impossible to (obtain) and we will be obliged to eat sea biscuits for supper ... this morning, one of the company, started ahead of us on horseback

after provisions. All this time we had nothing to eat. We encamped again on he Zigzag, where we we bought some sour flour for $15.00 which answered for our supper” “Boil an antiquated ham bone. Add to the liquid the few scrapings from the dough pan in

which you mixed the biscuit from your last measure of flour, which by now will be musty and sour. If you have no bone, thicken some water from flour shaken from a remaining flour sack.”


Catherine “Kit” Scott 1852 to Oregon age 13

“Rations grew shorter and shorter. One meal was prepared by boiling an antiquated ham bone and adding to the liquid in which it was boiled the few scrapings from the dough pan in which the biscuit from our last measure of flour - which, by the way, was both musty and sour - had been mixed. We still had coffee and by making a huge pot of this fragrant beverage, we gathered round

the crackling campfire - 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.”


Margaret Ann “Maggie” Scott 1852 to Oregon age 15

“This morning, one of the company, started ahead of us on horseback after provisions. ... All this time we had nothing to eat. We encamped again on the Zigzag, where we bought some sour flour for $15.00 which answered for our supper.”


Sarah Bird Sprenger 1852 to Oregon age 10

“Along the trail, we saw buffaloes wallowing in their mudholes, and many antelope. Once in a while the boys would kill an antelope, which made delicious meat. We found that buffalo meat was too coarse, and bear meat too greasy to eat much, but that prairie hens were a real delicacy. ... Often we had to cook with grease wood or sagebrush. We had iron pots and teakettles for cooking, and did our baking in a Dutch oven with coals under it and over it. It was difficult for my Mother and sisters to work and cook this way, as we had been used to a large house, a cook stove and brick oven, and maid to do the hard work. When our cow gave plenty of milk, we put the milk in a large, tin can and hung this can on the wagon, where the jolting would churn the milk to butter.”


America Rollins Butler 1853 to Oregon by Southern Route

“Dinner is over and I am hartly glad of it for I never did like to cook. Poultice for a stomach ache. Mix four parts of flour to one of mustard. Stir in sufficient water to make paste. It might burn, but it gets results.”


Lorena Hayes 1853

“This was our menu for Independence Day, quite a number of kinds of cake, preserves, pies, butter, cheese, sauce, rice, beans, sausages, ham, biscuit, tea, coffee &c, fruit cake baked back home in Illinois and saved for the celebration.”


Celinda Hines 1853 to Oregon age 26

“[July] 4th Monday Very warm Saw a buffalo chase in the morning ... We got up an independence dinner all the company eating together Very pleasant.”


Benjamin Franklin Owen 1853

“Sept. 14th. On the West Side of the plateau we found a beautiful little Clear Water Lake, where we Camped for the Night. It fell to my lot to dress the Duck, & Prepare it for Supper, & Oh! What a dressing. I never wanted to dress Any more Ducks til I learned more about the business. ... Sept. 22nd. 1853. Our provisions ran out. Mr. Noland had a pony ... & we might Kill her, & we would all eat her together. Struck Camp & proceeded to Kill, & Butcher the Pony. It took but a Short time for all hands to get her ready for use. But we had no Salt, & She made very poor Beef.... We took all the flesh we could conveniently get off the Bones, Which we made into Jerk for convenient packing, But we Roasted, & Picked all the Bones. ... Killed a Large Mallard Duck.

Which was a nice addition to our Dry Pony rations.”


Mary Powers 185

“To make wild strawberry dumplings. Wet up some light dough and roll it out with a bottle. Spread the berries over it and roll it up in a cloth and boil it. Make a cup full of sauce with the juice of the berries and a little sugar and nutmeg. Serve the sauce over the dumplings.”


William McCormick 1859 to Oregon age 19

“The immigrants never had to worry about their butter supply. They had several cows that they milked and the milk was put in churns. At the end of the day when the stop for the night was made a piece of butter of good size was found in each churn. The motion of the wagon had churned the cream in the milk.”


Philura Vanderburgh 1864 to Oregon age 12?

“Chris lifted our food box down from the front of the wagon, and Carrie built a fire in the Russian iron camp stove while Mother was peeling potatoes and parsnips. Soon they were steaming in iron pots on the stove, and some of our wild crab apples were simmering in the brass kettle. Then Mother made biscuits which baked beautifully in the oven of our wonderful new stove, and fried bacon and prepared gravy. How good it all smelled. With the stove Mother could stand up to cook instead of having to bend over a campfire with her face in the smoke. When I watched some of the other women, choking in the fumes of the fires, their backs bent until they must have felt ready to break, I often thought, ‘I'm glad my mother doesn't have to cook that way.’ Our stove, too, burned very little wood, and on the treeless prairies, that was a great advantage.”


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