1882 Chuck Wagon - Life on the American Range

Posted by Eleda Towle on

Curt Anderson is a model-scale antique wagon and automobile builder.  He lives in Oregon with his wife Jude and feline overlord.  He built an 1882 Chuck Wagon for his home museum and a second one, which we had available for sale at Triple Mountain.  Congratulations to its new owners in the UK! 

Here is a little backstory he wrote for the chuck wagon.  Enjoy!

 

A Tale of the 1882 Chuck Wagon

A chuck wagon was the 1880’s version of today’s food carts. The word chuck derives from 17th Century England where it referred to “low-priced meats.” By the 18th Century, it’s meaning reversed and chuck became known as “good, hearty food.” This meaning remained in use through the 19th Century for the chuck wagon.

1882 Chuck Wagon in 1:12 scale by C Anderson at Triple Mountain

 

The cattle drive did not become a commonplace occurrence until after the Civil War (1861-1864), when demand for beef increased in cities from Chicago to Detroit to Atlanta. The cattle drive imprinted the entire West with its character. For three decades (1866-1896) over ten million cattle were driven, mainly from Texas to Kansas. They averaged about 15 miles a day. Wichita, Abilene and Dodge City were the main railheads for shipping the cattle to their destinations. By 1896 the vast expansion of railroad lines replaced the cattle drive, and much of the Wild West had been tamed.

The cattle drive could not have happened without the horse. Over one million horses were used driving the cattle. A herd size could range from 1500 to 3000 cattle and could stretch out for a mile or more across the plains. It needed a minimum of 10 to 15 cowboys, with each cowboy needing three horses. One cowboy, known as the wrangler, was in charge of taking care of all the horses.

Cookie was essential to the drive. A cowboy traveling by horseback was relegated to eating what he could carry in his saddlebags. This mainly consisted of beef jerky, a type of biscuit and maybe some corn fritters. It is no wonder the cowboys on a long cattle drive enjoyed the chuck wagon as a source of a hot meal and held the cook in great respect for his many talents. Cookie was a busy man. Besides preparing the meals, he also acted as doctor, barber, banker, blacksmith and letter writer.

1882 Chuck Wagon in 1:12 scale by C Anderson at Triple Mountain

 

Like Cookie, the chuck wagon was indispensable to the drive. The pantry was stocked with spices (salt, pepper, dried chilies and sugar) and staples (potatoes, onions, beans and flour). These supplies were in easy reach in shelves and drawers at the rear of the wagon. The wagon also carried axes, hand saws, a jack and shovels strapped to the sides or stored in a box beneath the wagon called the boot. A water barrel with a two-day supply of water was carried on the side of the wagon. These tools could be used to make repairs on a broken wheel as there was no room to carry a “spare tire.” A vise and small anvil were fixed to the side of the wagon; the middle of the wagon carried bedrolls for the men and some firewood. The cowboys would pick up dried wood and dried Buffalo chips on the trail to help out with the fuel supply. This completed the process of making the wagon a vital self-contained component for the drive.

The Chisholm Trail was the most famous route. It ran from Fort Worth,  Texas to the railhead in Abilene, Kansas. One man who became a cook for this drive was Gunnar Siversen. He immigrated from Norway to Nova Scotia at 19. During the next few years he worked his way south picking up skills in smiting and cooking. In 1882 he arrived in Texas. The trail boss hired him as cookie for $45 a month (equivalent to $1,500 today), about twice that of a trail cowboy. Since the drive to the railhead in Kansas City would take at least 2 to 3 months, he knew he would be making good pay. He was second in charge to the trail boss and kept a “tight ship.” He required the men to wash up before meals using the washstand on the side of the wagon and did not tolerate cussin’ at supper. He knew he had done the right thing in choosing the Chisholm.

Gunnar started his day at three in the morning by making biscuits and grinding a few handfuls of roasted coffee beans for the ubiquitous pot of coffee. Sometimes fresh eggs and vegetables would be available, purchased from a farmer along the trail, but most often breakfast consisted of dried pork and beef, beans and bread.

1882 Chuck Wagon in 1:12 scale by C Anderson at Triple Mountain

 

On a usual day, after serving breakfast, he checked on the welfare of any injured or sick cowboys. Today, he tended to Oklahoma Jim, who had injured his hand the day before on a bush. Gunnar was well educated in Norway to the 8th grade and he had learned his skills partly in school and partly on his journey to Texas. After packing up the wagon, he got to rest on the trail while driving the team.

Gunnar kept a kettle of beans secured to the seat beside him as he drove the wagon. The beans were served as a snack for the cowboys when they changed shifts. In the evening he would prepare full meals of beef stew, cornbread, chili, potatoes, beans and coffee. 

Three months on the trail left Gunnar anxious to arrive in Abilene. He appreciated getting paid. He did not join the rowdy cowboys fresh off the trail enjoying the largely lawless city, nor did he squander his money. He enjoyed a friendly game of poker and then went in search for a much-desired tin of peaches in the general store, when destiny struck. He met a fine young woman. They soon married and he had to decide whether to go back on the trail or settle down. He chose the latter and opened a blacksmith and wagon repair shop.   

The End

~ C. Anderson

 

1882 Chuck Wagon in 1:12 scale by C Anderson at Triple Mountain

While this Chuck Wagon has already sold, we've been told Curt has another incredible wagon on the way to us soon... A traveling doctor's wagon!  I've seen photos and it's beautiful... and comes with an assortment of accessories to make your display or show entry amazing!

 ~ Eleda


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