Western Expansion for Kids - Wagon Trains Illustration

Western Expansion for Kids - Wagon Trains

For Kids

What was a wagon train? A wagon train was a group of covered wagons that traveled together, headed west. There was a wagon master, called a captain, who was in charge. At night, the captain would direct the wagons to form a circle for protection from bandits and other dangers.

How did you find a wagon train to join?  Most wagon trains left from Missouri or Iowa. Wagon trains were businesses. They took reservations. People booked passage, but had to purchase their own supplies including oxen and wagons.  Some wagon trains were organized by people from the same town or area.

Wagons:  Most pioneers purchased modified or manufactured wagons designed for the trip. Some had built-in features like sleeping berths and false floors over large storage areas. Some wagons were very simple. Some families had more than one wagon. Riding in wagons was not comfortable. Many people chose to walk alongside their wagons.

What did they take with them?  A wagon held about 2,000 pounds of goods. People were advised to carry enough food to feed their individual families for at least 5 months.

How far did a wagon train travel in one day? If the ground was muddy, they might spend an entire day moving forward one mile. How depressing it must have been to stop for the night in sight of last night's campsite. If it was dry, they might move forward 5-10 miles. An easy way to think about it is to compare it to modern travel by car. Today, if you spend 2 hours driving somewhere, unless you get stuck in traffic, that same trip by wagon train would take 15-20 days. Wagons did not get stuck in traffic. They got stuck in the mud and by creeks and rivers and But pbroken wheels. Many people wished they had never started on what they thought would be a worthwhile and wonderful adventure. But people were stuck. They had to go forward. Going back, even if they made it, would accomplish nothing. Go back to what? Most people had sold what they did not bring with them to finance their trip west.

Some people had purchased land in the west before they left home. These settlers had a destination. It probably was a considerable help when overcoming obstacles, knowing you owned land ahead.

The Oregon Trail - Learn about life on the trail

Free Download: Junior Ranger Booklet, Would you rather be riding in a car today or riding in a wagon in the 1800s?

Free Download, Junior Ranger Booklet, Pioneer Program, On the Trail - What would motivate you to walk 2,000 miles!

For Teachers

Free Lesson Plans, Units, and Simulations about the Wagon Trains