From 1866 to 1895, drovers moved over 10 million Texas cattle along various established trails leading to the Missouri and Kansas railroads for shipment east. Texas ranchers Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving combined their herds and headed north along what would soon be known as the Goodnight-Loving Trail. Before they left the ranch, Goodnight realized he would need some way to feed himself and his cowhands for the next five months, so he invented the chuckwagon.Goodnight's Design
For his portable cowboy kitchen, Goodnight chose the sturdiest wagon he could find, the Studebaker, a wagon used for many purposes during the American Civil War. The wagon was ten feet long by forty inches wide with the bentwood bows of a traditional covered wagon. For storage, He added a chuck box to the rear of the wagon, similar to a desk with cubby holes, and a hinged lid to serve as a work table. He also added a boot, or box, underneath the wagon for additional storage of cooking utensils and pans. The wagon bed held bed rolls, lanterns and kerosene, a spare wagon wheel, rain slickers, and enough food and coffee to sustain ten or more men. A water barrel and coffee grinder was attached to the side.
The cook, or cookie, played an important role in cattle drives. Politically, he was second only to the trail boss. He was first to rise in the morning and prepare the days meals. He stitched torn clothing, doctored wounds, and served as the camp barber, dentist, and banker. He was also the last to bed at night with one very important task to complete--he turned the wagons tongue toward the North Star so the trail boss would have a compass direction in the morning.
The men and cattle also used the chuckwagon as a compass point throughout the day. The chuckwagon followed the path designated by the trail boss and the men fanned out, circling back to the chuckwagon in the afternoon to sort and brand cattle. Cowboys held various rotating positions while the trail boss moved Good Oral Hygiene is Important - Straight From Dentists ahead to plan the best route and the cook held the chuckwagon on a steady path.
Eventually, Studebaker and other companies produced chuckwagons ready for the trail, companies such as Springfield Wagon, Old Hickory Wagon, Moline Wagon, and the Mitchell Wagon Company. Though it is often portrayed as a chuckwagon in Western films, the Conestoga wagon with its sloping fore and aft sections was in actuality too heavy and bulky for use on cattle trails.
Contemporary Chuckwagons, Races, and Cook Offs
From New Mexico to Montana there are numerous chuckwagon companies still serving authentic cowboy food and music. In Canada, the World Professional Chuckwagon Association holds professional chuckwagon races and this competitive sport attracts many adventurous fans. Guy Weadick, Calgary Stampede founder, introduced the idea to the Stampede in 1923. The American Chuck Wagon Association was established to help preserve the history and traditions surrounding the chuckwagon in the American West. Members of this organization participate in cook offs, judged on the authenticity of the wagons construction and setup, the cooks wardrobe, food, and even hospitality as they carry on the traditions of the American Old West.
Sources:Chuck Wagon Central. Lone Hand Western.Forbis, William H. "The Old West: The Cowboys." Time Life Books. Canada:1973.