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Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Charles Goodnight, co-founder of the Goodnight/Loving Trail is credited with inventing the chuck wagon in 1866. It was basically a reinforced wagon with a chuck box fitted to the rear of the wagon in order to safely transport food across the prairie. So common did Goodnight's design become that he was often referred to as Chuck Goodnight.
 The chuck box at the rear if the wagon was a pantry like box which contained many drawers and cubbyholes which were used to store cooking utensils, medicines and foodstuffs such as sugar,coffee beans, pinto beans, flour and dried fruit. There was a hinged lid that secured the drawers while in transit and when the wagon was stationary it would swing out to become a worktable for the cook to labour upon.

There would be wooden bows over the chuck box over which was draped a canvas cover to protect the contents from the elements. Beneath the chuck box there was often a rawhide hammock known as a coony, which was used for storing fuels needed to burn a good fire - cow and buffalo chips, dry firewood.

A standard four wheel chuck wagon could carry 2 tons of food, water and supplies. Goodnigh used six oxen to pull the chuck wagon although teams of horses and mules were often used.

No wonder then that the invention caught on rapidly - the comforts offered by the chuck wagon made the cook, referred to as Cookie, one of the most important members of any wagon trail. It would be his duty to get the meals ready for the hungry cowboys - a typical breakfast consisted of coffee, sourdough biscuits, chuck wagon chicken (actually fried bacon), sow bosom (actually salted pork) and eggs. For dinner (taken around noon) there would be coffee, salt pork, fried stake, Mexican strawberries (beans) and often tinned tomatoes.

There were certain rules of etiquette regarding the chuck wagon - No-one must touch any of the food until cookie gave the okay by shouting, "Chuck away". The food was dished out on a first come first served basis but no man was allowed to take the last morsal of anything until everyone had gotten a plateful. Above all complaining was strictly forbidden else someone upset the cookie, truly the most important man on the range.


Ron Scheer said...

There's a lot of lore about the chuck wagon. Ramon Adams has a whole book devoted to the subject: "Come an' Get It: The Story of the Old Cowboy Cook".


The Ramon Adams book sounds interesting. Going to search on Amazon.