Fremont County, Iowa

Traveling by Wagon
by Lona Lewis
View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
January 12, 2015

In the last half of the 1800’s, many settlers came to Fremont County. The west side of the County had been settled mainly with pioneers coming up the Missouri River. Many new residents also arrived by wagon and settled on the east bank.

Overland immigrants typically used farm wagons, fitting them with five or six wooden bows that arched from side to side across the wagon bed, then stretching canvas or some other sturdy cloth over the bows, creating the cylindrical cover. Sometimes, these wagons would be as long as 15 feet. Covered wagons were primarily used to transport goods. Small children, the elderly, and the sick or injured rode in them, but since the wagons had no suspension and the roads were rough, many people preferred to walk, unless they had horses to ride.

One covered wagon generally represented five people. A well-to-do family might have two or three wagons. They carried the possessions of the family moving to a new home and all the items necessary to travel the distance.

In the Fremont County History Research Museum, there is a display of items that were used for cooking that show how ingenious people can be. I think about the woman of the family walking all day and then needing to prepare the dinner. Just like today, the easier and faster that it can be in the evening, the better.

Three items in our display provide a clue on how it all worked. One item, the traveling pantry, had compartments for baking ingredients and spices keeping them in a dry place. The whole pantry is about 2 foot by 2 foot. It is made of metal and when new would have been a shiny black with paintings on it to enhance its look. The pantry would have been put in the back of the wagon along with cookware, tableware and utensils creating a traveling kitchen. Food stored in the wagon for the trip consisted of dried beans, coffee, cornmeal, and other easy to preserve food stuffs. There was no fresh fruit, vegetables, or eggs available and meat was not fresh unless hunting was successful, provided someone had the time to hunt. The meat they took along was greasy cloth-wrapped bacon, salt pork, and beef, usually dried or salted or smoked. The wagon was also stocked with a water barrel.

Additionally in the display is a breadbox, approximately two feet tall that doubled as a table where bread prepared in the morning could rise all day for baking in the evening. Once the bread was taken out for baking, the top of the bread box became a table.

But the most ingenious item to me is what I think of as the first crock pot. It is a wooden box with a metal bowl inside that is insulated. In the morning rocks that had been heated all night were put into the container along with whatever was being cooked. Probably most often was dried beans and salt pork. In the evening after the day’s travel was over the “crockpot” could be opened and its contents ready for eating. I can imagine that the warm food after a long day of walking must have tasted great.

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