I remember two television chuck wagons. One was on the show Rawhide and the other was Wagon Train. Each of these had different purposes, but both used the chuck wagon for the same reason. They provided meals and carried supplies for the workers. Wagon-master, Major Seth Adams (Ward Bond) and Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) counted on chuck wagons to get them through the day. Guys like Wishbone and Charlie Wooster had to have complete control of their chuck wagon to get the job done. Sometimes these two would get quite hostile, if someone would sample food or steal a biscuit.
The chuck wagon was very important in the westward expansion of America. For trail drives, they peaked between the end of the civil war and the mid 1880’s. On some ranches they are still used today, but in a different way. They are used today mainly for roundups on very big ranches.
Wagon trains were used to move settlers westward. It was a slow but safe way to travel from the early 1800’s till the development of the rail system. The chuck wagon was used for the workers, that supported the wagon train movement.
Charles Goodright is given credit for the first military chuck wagon to be used during the civil war. It was made from an Army Studebaker surplus wagon. The Studebaker had steel axles that could carry a chuck wagon on trail drives, that would last up to five months. Goodnight then designed and added a chuck box and boot to the rear of the wagon. The chuck box had compartments and shelves that would store food items and equipment. The boot would carry the dutch oven and other cooking items. In some ways, it was the first idea of the automobile trunk or storage compartment.
The Studebaker wasn’t the only one wagon brand either. There were several other main lines of chuck wagons. The Moline Wagon Company had about one million wagons in use by 1909. They were established 1854. Then, there was the Mitchell company from Racine, Wisconsin and the Old Hickory wagon from Louisville, Kentucky. There were other wagon companies, but these were the leaders.
Chuck wagons did more than carry food. They would be used to carry personal belongings for cowboys or wagon train workers. It was not unusual for cowboys to state that they worked for a certain wagon instead of a ranch. The cook in charge of the chuck wagon was called a “cousie.”
The chuck wagon may have went the way of the dinosaur. However, the term is used today for food items and restaurants across America. It really assisted in the westward expansion of America.