Eating Along the Oregon Trail

The foods and cooking habits of trail emigrants; plus an 1879 recipe for bread pudding.


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“Should any of my readers ever be impelled to visit the prairies…I can assure him that he need not think to enter at once upon the paradise of his imagination,” stated Francis Parkman, an 1846 Oregon Trail pioneer, in his 1872 book, The Oregon Trail.

When pioneers made the life-changing decision to head west, they did so with excitement and trepidation. Those who first blazed the trails had no idea of what to expect. Over time, prospective emigrants could learn from the letters pioneers sent of their experiences and from newspapers that printed these firsthand accounts.

Despite having the benefit of lessons learned from their predecessors, most still encountered problems. Running out of food was one of the top reasons many perished along the way. Illness, Indian attacks, weather and lack of water were others. A few strong-willed individuals thought they knew better than the experts and deviated from the trails with disastrous results.

“Let no emigrant carrying his family with him, deviate from it, or imagine himself that he can find a better road,” agreed Edwin Bryant, whose journey from Arkansas to California was published in an 1849 edition of the Arkansas Gazette.

His story, “Information for California Emigrants,” also recommended these provisions for each traveler:

• 150 lbs. meat

• 150 lbs. bacon

• 150 lbs coffee

• 150 lbs. sugar

• Small quantity of rice

• 50-75 lbs. crackers, dried peaches, etc.

• 1 keg of lard

• Salt and pepper


Emigrants ate well during the first half of their journey because they were well-loaded with supplies. The land itself...

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