Monday, May 5, 2008
After our wonderful time at the chuck wagon cook-off this past weekend, I got to wondering about the history of the chuck wagon. I found that the glory days of the long cattle trail drives lasted only from the end of the Civil War into the mid-1880s—just twenty years or so—an amazing fact when you think of the impact that relatively short period in history has had on tradition and cowboy lore.
At first the cowboys had to make do for meals along the trail, until Charles Goodnight came up with the idea for a vehicle that would combine food storage with food preparation capabilities. Using an army surplus wagon from the recent Civil War, he added shelves and drawers in the rear, along with a drop-down work surface. There was storage for the Dutch ovens and various tools, and a barrel or two of water, wrapped in wet canvas to keep it cool. Easily preserved foods, such as beans, salted meats, coffee, and flour and sourdough for biscuits were carried along. The sourdough starter was often carried next to the cook’s body to keep it warm in cold weather.
According to the Wikipedia article on chuckwagons the vehicle also provided storage for the cowboys’ bedrolls and personal belongings. “It also had room for medical supplies (very limited), scissors and a shovel, for the 'coosie', 'cookie' or 'gut robber's' duties included acting as doctor, barber and burying the dead. Cooks were also paid double the ‘dollar a day’ the cowhands earned.” (Quote from Chuck Wagon Trivia).
Food Reference.com: Chuck Wagons