Although more of a type of transportation, the term “Covered” Wagon was meant to convey any type of 4 wheeled conveyance, to which was added a hoop structure and canvas “Hood”. Covered Wagons evolved from the previously discussed Conestoga Wagons of the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Unlike The “heavy” Conestoga, a Covered Wagon weighed less than a Ton (empty), and were used your transport the belongings of no more than 5 People. Covered Wagons were not intended for sleeping in. Although (despite Film and Novel depictions), Horses were used – Oxen were the dominate form of “Power”, especially on Cross Country “Treks”.
With the advent of The Westward Expansion, The Covered Wagon was used as the primary form of transportation from both the Eastern Coast and Central Region of The United States – for Settlers heading West. Although Settlers did travel “alone” (or a single Family), the preferred method was in Groups or formed Companies. Often, Settlers would pay a set fee to “experienced” Guides to “Trailblaze”, or lead whole Grooms to their far destinations. Such travel was fraught with danger. Constant fear of running out of supplies before completion of the trip, bad weather, disease and of course, attack by hostile Native-Americans – was ever present. Often, Wagoneers practiced the defensive tactic of forming a “Circular Formation”, at night or when under attack. Drawing all Wagons into a circle (end after end), created a type of mobile “Fort” (similar to The European Laager).
As with most, Wagons were constructed of wood (Pine). They were often pitched to prevent leakage when fording water). Steel Hopped supports were added to the top, upon which was fitted, a canvas “Hood”. This provided minimum protection to one’s belongings. It also allowed for a type of protection for the Young and Elderly. Although (again thanks to Television and Film), a “Rider’s Bench” was added for the Driver. In reality, most “Drivers” walked along side of his “Team” of Animals. A typical Wagon was roughly 18-feet long with an overall width of 5.5-feet. Underneath The Wagon was a straight springed “shock absorber” Systems (4 such), which coupled onto the twin Axles. The Axles were thus connected to 4 Wooden wheels. The Wheels were covered on the outer perimeter with a metal band to help with the excessive “wear and tear”. By and large, travel was not all that “comfortable” – to be sure.
Great “Trains” of Wagons, bearing over 30,000 Settlers were estimated to have crossed the “Ocean” of The American Prairies. This lead to the somewhat “romantic” nickname of “Prairie Schooner”. Some Trails were so well used, that even today – the ruts of wagon wheels made by many years of travel can still be seen in some places. With the advent of “faster” forms of Transcontinental travel – such as The Train and Steam Ship, Covered Wagons went into History fairly quickly (1890s). However, Wagons were still the chosen and reliable form of personal transportation (especially for Farmers and Poorer Folk) – well into the 1940s (especially in more Rural locations). Today, hardly a Western “roadside” Museum does not include a reproduction of the once illustrious and iconic – Covered Wagon.