Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

February 1995


Published in Great Plains Research 5:1 (February 1995). Copyright © 1995 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


By the end of her wagon journey west, Phoebe Judson recalled, "all of the little delicacies we brought ... from home were gone, ... the thought of a 'baked kidney' or 'pink-eyed' potatoes caused the tears to roll down my face" (p. 2). For Judson and other emigrants, daily life on the Oregon Trail revolved around food; the journey often took six months and meant more than seven hundred meals cooked out or eaten cold, in all kinds of weather. Food historian Jacqueline Williams sees these meals as a vital part of the history of the overland travelers. Her Wagon Wheel Kitchens takes readers through stocking up; choosing wagons, utensils and storage containers; and preparing and cooking trailside meals. Williams makes a number of detours along the way, discussing such things as the origins of Herkimer Cheese; sagebrush as fragrance and fuel; and the history of Fourth of July feasting. But her emphasis throughout is on the journey and its foods, as far as Fort Hall in Idaho (west of there short supplies kept the cooking focused on survival, and meals were uninteresting, even to the emigrants).