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Homestead History
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Wagon and horses. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.

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Some stretches of overland trails were so rough the wagon would bump along hard enough to churn the milk into butter for the evening meal.
rivacy in the cars was minimal, with no dividing partitions and a common toilet and cookstove for as many as 30 emigrants. Wealthier settlers could rent out entire boxcars, in which to transport not only their family members, but also their household goods, farming equipment, and up to six heads of cattle.

The most common means of transport of families to Montana (and elsewhere) was, by far, the covered wagon. In lieu of the huge and bulky Conestoga wagons used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to transport freight, emigrants west of the Mississippi opted for the lighter and more easily managed "prairie schooner," a converted farm wagon so named because it looked like a boat crossing the "sea of grasses" that made up the Great Plains.

The typical prairie schooner weighed about one ton, was 14 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. Built of seasoned wood such as maple, hickory, or oak, schooners' only metal fittings were their iron tire rims and reinforcements on their wooden axles. Most schooners had double floors that concealed two foot-deep storage compartments. The wagon box itself was caulked or covered with hides to make it watertight, which was particularly crucial when crossing unbridged rivers and streams.

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View Fergus' complete list.

The canvas top, or "bonnet," of the wagon, was a tawny double-ply homespun cotton that was treated with linseed oil or tallow to make it waterproof. Often, settlers sewed pockets into the bonnet to maximize their storage space. The bonnet was supported by hardwood bows that were soaked in water until they became pliable enough to bend into a U shape. Openings at the front and back of the bonnet provided ventilation.

Homesteaders had to pack essentials for life on and off the trail into this confined space. Although game could be shot and roots and berries could be gathered while in transit, settlers carried the vast majority of their food in the wagon, taking up most of their storage space. Basic staples included flour, bacon, sugar, coffee, tea, dried fruit, corn meal, and rice. Some resourceful emigrants brought along eggs packed in barrels of flour or meal. Settlers packed minimal utensils for cooking, often limiting themselves to a skillet, a coffee pot, tin plates and cups, a camp stove, and a few sets of flatware.

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