Foods Used by Travelers on the Oregon Trail

Here is an interesting article I found written to provide information to travelers on the Oregon Trail.  This may help you to realize just how simple a diet we can get by on.

An article from the St. Joseph, Missouri Gazette dated March 19, 1847:


Mr. Editor; Subjoined you will find a list of the principle articles necessary for an outfit to Oregon or California, which may be useful to some of your readers. It has been carefully prepared from correct information derived from intelligent persons who have made the trip.

The wagons should be new, made of thoroughtly seasoned timber, and well ironed and not too heavy; with good tight beds, strong bows, and large double sheets. There should be at least four yoke of good oxen to each wagon – one yoke to be consdiered as extra, and to be used only in cases of emergency. Every family should have at least two good milk cows, as milk is a great luxury on the road.

The amount of provisions should be as follows; to each person except infants:

  • 200 pounds of bread stuff (flour and crackers)
  • 100 pounds of bacon
  • 12 pounds of coffee
  • 12 pounds of sugar

Each family should also take the following articles in proportions to the number as follows:

  • From 1 to 5 pounds tea
  • From 10 to 50 pounds rice
  • From 1/2 to 2 bushels beans
  • From 1/2 to 2 bushels dried fruit
  • From 1/2 to 5 pounds saleratus (baking soda)
  • From 5 to 50 pounds soap

Cheese, dried pumpkins, onions and a small portion of corn meal may be taken by those who desire them. The latter article, however, does not keep well.

No furniture should be taken, and as few cooking utensils as are indispensably needed. Every family ought to have a sufficient supply of clothing for at least one year after their arrival, as everything of that kind is high in those countries. Some few cattle should be driven for beef, but much loose stock will be a great annoyance. Some medicines should also be found in every family, the kind and quantity may be determined by consulting the family physician.

See also  The Trangia Alcohol Stove

I would suggest to each family the propriety of taking a small sheet-iron cooking stove with fixtures, as the wind and rain often times renders it almost impossible to cook without them, they are light and cost but little. All the foregoing articles may be purchased on good terms in this place.
Kay Conn

[A Note about bacon: It needs to be noted that the bacon the pioneers carried in their wagons was not the nice plastic covered one pound packages of sliced bacon that we are used to picking up at the grocery store. It was more like what we might know of today as “salt pork”. A heavily salted side or back portion of pork, fattier and unsmoked, preserved in a barrel of brine. A person could haul out a piece and cut off the amount of meat needed, replacing, and thus saving, the rest. This piece would often need to be soaked for a time to dissipate the saltiness before being sliced for frying or cut into chunks for soups or stews.]

A typical breakfast on the trail, cornmeal mush

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon lard or butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • dried currents (raisins) optional

Put currents into water and bring to a boil. Sprinkle cornmeal into the boiling water stirring constantly, adding butter and salt. Cook for about 3 minutes, then portion into bowls. Can be topped with milk, butter, sugar or molasses.

A note if you live in Wyoming, form an old article.

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.


A Must Read
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

8 thoughts on “Foods Used by Travelers on the Oregon Trail”

  1. Just found your website and look forward to reading
    the posts.
    What a wonderful article. Thank you for posting it.

  2. And to think that all they had is what few things they carried with them….
    With meals like that, I would definitely been looking for something else….foraging for berries, lizards, anything but bugs…

  3. The wife ane I, have spent manyfollowing the oregan trail. From Scotts Bluff ne to Baker city or .There is a lot of rough goins , And just think they walked tge entire way

    the are two very nice centers to bisit , Casper wy, and Baker city or

  4. Counseling Services

    Very good article. I’ve found your blog via Yahoo and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your posts. Btw your blogs layout is really messed up on the Chrome browser. Would be really great if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the good work! 🙂

  5. I found this article through a prepping board on Pinterest. As someone who has been doing some prepping, as well as a history buff, I enjoyed the article very much. Many years ago I played one of the original versions of “Oregon Trail”. In the game you have to buy all of your supplies, trade along the way, and make other survival decisions. It’s really a great prepping game.

  6. Oh crap….can you just imagine saving up enough “good terms” to get all that stuff (even today?). No burger king, huh? Well I hope to forget this article (it might give nightmares of wifey and I being robbed of our animals and buggy rides and left with nothing but the clothes on our backs).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top