“Wagons Ho!”, cried the wagon master. Dozens of Conestoga “covered” wagons hit the dusty trail as brave pioneers headed west to start a new life. Fraught with unknowns, hostile tribes, disease, thirst and starvation, and other perils too numerous to list, the weeks and months ahead living within the confines of the wagons was the price one had to pay to begin a new life “out west”.
Life on the trail wasn’t easy
With only bare necessities allowed on the wagon due to limited space, life on the trail was hard. Days were filled with long dusty trails and dangerous river crossings while the nights were spent either shivering from the cold or sweating from the oppressive heat on the plains. Fires, when possible, kept the night creatures at bay though the howls of wolves and coyotes reminded all that danger lurked just beyond the reach of the flames.
And yet, adventurous families saved their money to buy and outfit these prairie schooners, the nickname of the Conestoga wagon, for the chance at a new life for the family. Outdoorsmen with experience on the trail were hired to lead and protect the wagon trains and their precious cargo. Without the wagon masters and the trusted men hired to accompany the trains, few of the settlers would have survived the grueling trips. Despite the courage and experience of these men, many lives were lost, sometimes entire families. To survive the trail was a true accomplishment, which few would dare to repeat.
Camping has come a long way
It is doubtful the settlers considered this camping. We would now experience such a trip with our air-conditioned self-leveling coaches, generators, GPS, hot showers, full kitchens, and entertainment systems. We cannot begin to fathom what a trip in a Conestoga wagon would be like.
Let’s take this trip together for a moment. Close your eyes tight and allow your mind to wander. We are awakened before dawn by a burly voice, “the days a wasting you lazy tenderfeet, there’s chores to be done before we hit the trail”. Our breakfast is jerky and hardtack washed down by trail coffee too strong by half. By first light, our horses are hitched to the wagons and the long day on the trail begins. Our tired bottoms once again sit on hard wooden seats as we bounce along the trail for hours. Dust in our eyes and throats, and sweat turning the dust to grime on our faces, we continue.
On a good day, the monotony of the trail bores us to tears and on a bad day, well, let’s hope today is not one of those days. As nighttime approaches, the wagon master searches for a safe spot to make camp and we circle our wagons for protection and unhitch our horses. Dinner is quickly cooked on a fire of wood gathered as we traveled and our meal consists of the game we hunted that day and a pot of beans flavored hopefully with a bit of bacon and a wild onion growing along the trail. The night is dark, so dark we don’t wander far from our wagon and the remnants of our fire. There is a chill in the air tonight and we pull closed the canvas ends of our Conestoga wagon to keep in any warmth left from the day. Woolen blankets pulled to our chins with an extra blanket for the children, we close our eyes and dream of a clean bed and the warm home we left behind. “Get a move on you lazy tenderfeet” and another long day begins.
Camping has come a long way we admit as we look out at the RVs sharing the night at The Silver Spur Resort. We look at each other, smile, and say “I wonder what that experience was really like? Well, I guess we’ll never know. Hey honey, is the wine chilled? It’s time for a campfire.”