End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive & Visitor Information Center  |  1726 Washington Street, Oregon City, OR 97045  |  (503) 657-9336  |  Open Daily 11am - 4pm

Historical Resources

Resources and information about the Oregon Trail, Oregon Territory, and Clackamas County are available in this section.

Descendants of several pioneer families have provided information about their anestors.  We also have maps, printable forms, and a digital sampler of items form our collection.

Provisions on the Trail

Provisions for the Trail

Crossing the continent to settle in Oregon was not a journey for the faint of heart, and neither was it a journey for the poor. It required a minimum of about $500 to outfit for the trip, and this could easily become $1000 or more if an emigrant needed to purchase a wagon and draft animals. The food and other provisions needed to sustain a family on the Oregon Trail for six months took up most of the room in their wagon -- though the overlanders' wagons were structurally capable of carrying as much as two tons when in good repair, the conventional wisdom at the time was not to carry more than 1600-1800 pounds of cargo. A typical emigrant wagon started out from Missouri loaded down with flour, sugar, bacon, coffee beans, lard, spices, dried fruit, beans, rice, and perhaps even a keg of pickles (a popular and tasty choice for warding off the dangers of malnutrition). Add to that the weight of cast iron pots and pans, a kettle or two, a Dutch oven, and even more food for large families, and you can see why some wealthier families brought two wagons... one for the food and one for everything else!

You want light wagons of the very best materials and workmanship, extra irons. The beds should be water tight. ... cover of good drilling, doubled. Tent of the same (single) of the Military or wall style. Tent poles ironed. Tools: Ax, Hatchet, 1/2, 3/4, 1, and 1 1/2 inch augurs, Inch chisel, Drawing knife, handsaw, and a few wrought nails. ... you will want a spade and a long one inch rope, say one hundred feet. ...

- William N. Byers

Prices in the mid-1800s fluctuated from month to month and from town to town. The cost of manufactured or imported goods rose in step with the distance to the nearest steamboat landing, as hauling cargo over land by wagon was very expensive compared to shipping it by boat. Conversely, prices for farm produce were usually lower in the countryside than in towns and cities because it was costly for farmers to get their crops to market.

The prices listed below were gathered from a number of sources, including diaries, bills of lading, estate appraisals, and accounts from general stores back East. This price list is a broad generalization of the cost of outfitting for the Oregon Trail in the 1840s and early '50s; it should not be interpreted as representing the cost of food and goods in any particular town at any particular time. If you would like to estimate the cost of items not listed here, you can make a rough adjustment for 150 years of inflation by dividing the price by 20.

DRAFT ANIMALS


ox

$30-35

minimum of 4-6, but it would be wise to have more

milk cow

$70-75


cattle

$8-20

priced by age (typically 1-3 years old)

mule

$10-15


pack horse

$25


riding horse

up to $75


bridle & blinders

$3


tack & harness

$5


mule collar

$1.25


horse blanket

$2


whip

$1


pack saddle

$2.50


saddle & saddle bags

$5

WAGONS


covered wagon

$70

there's no evidence that wagons made for the emigrant trade held up any better than ordinary farm wagons

farm wagon

$25-30


wagon bows

$3/set

for converting a farm wagon to a covered wagon

cloth cover

up to $1/yard

some emigrants bought heavy canvas sailcloth, while others wove their own linen wagon covers and waterproofed them with beeswax or linseed oil

grease

potentially free

before petroleum could be distilled, animal fats were used as lubricants; the tallow was usually mixed with pine resin, or sometimes beeswax thinned with turpentine

bucket

$1

SUNDRIES & CAMP EQUIPMENT

woolen blanket

$2.50


tent

$5 - 15

prices varied with size

nails

$0.07 per pound


soap

$0.15 per pound


sheet iron stove

$15 - 20


coffee mill

$1.00


coffee pot

$0.75


frying pan

$1.50


stew kettle

$0.50


bread pan

$0.25


butcher knife

$0.50


tin table settings

$5

includes flatware, plates, and cups for a family of eight

candles

$0.15 per pound


10-gallon wash tub

$1.25


bucket

$0.25

"tar buckets" for storing axle grease had tight-fitting tops to keep flies out and cost $1

axe/shovel/hoe

$1.25


hand tools

$2.50

such as augurs, planes, and saws

rope

$2.50

50' - 75' coil of 3/4" hemp rope


WEAPONS


rifle

$15

double barreled rifles were sometimes seen on the frontier, as repeating rifles were not widely available until after the Civil War

shotgun or musket

$10

there were also double barreled shotguns, as well as hybrids fitted with one rifled barrel and one smooth-bored shotgun barrel

Colt revolver

$25


single-shot pistol

$5


powder & shot

$5

shot was generally sold by the pound

hunting knife

$1

FOOD


flour

$0.02 per pound

Recommended for each adult: 150 lbs. of flour, 20 lbs. of corn meal, 50 lbs. of bacon, 40 lbs. of sugar, 10 lbs. of coffee, 15 lbs. of dried fruit, 5 lbs. of salt, half a pound of saleratus (baking soda), 2 lbs. of tea, 5 lbs. of rice, and 15 lbs. of beans


To the above may be added as many nicknacks as you see fit, always remembering that such things do not lose their good taste by being brought on the plains.

- William N. Byers

corn meal

$0.05 per pound

bacon

$0.05 per pound

sugar

$0.04 per pound

coffee

$0.10 per pound

dried fruit

$0.06 per pound

salt

$0.06 per pound

pepper

$0.08 per pound

lard

$0.05 per pound

vinegar

$0.25 per gallon

saleratus

$0.12 per pound

tea

$0.60 per pound

rice

$0.05 per pound

beans

$0.06 per pound


ON THE TRAIL
Some examples of expenses the emigrant encountered while en route...

Indian moccasins

$0.50

many emigrants wore out several pairs of shoes on the road to Oregon

tanned buffalo hide

$4.00


crossing bridges

from $0.15 to $0.50 per wagon

prices for bridges and ferries were generally negotiable, and additional charges per head of livestock were common

ferrying rivers

$2 - $5 per wagon

resupplying

once beyond the frontier, prices at trading posts along the Oregon Trail were typically at least twice those back East and could be much higher


PRICES IN OREGON (1852)

oxen and cows

$50 - 100

the first herds of cattle in Oregon were Mexican longhorns driven up from California, but the American settlers considered them to be an inferior breed and were willing to pay top dollar for cattle of known breeds which survived the journey to Oregon, while the longhorns went for as little as $9 a head

wagon

$100 - 200

bacon

$0.25 per pound

pork

$0.125 per pound

beef

$0.10 per pound

tallow

$0.15 per pound

lard

$0.25 per pound

butter

$0.60 per pound

flour

$0.06 per pound

coffee

$0.20 per pound

sugar

$0.10 - 0.16/lb

rice

$0.06 per pound

dried peaches

$0.12 per pound

apples

$0.12 per pound

saleratus

$0.25 per pound

salt

$0.03 per pound

wheat

$1.03 per bushel


oats

$1.25 per bushel


onions

$2.50 per bushel


potatos

$0.75 per bushel


beans and peas

$1.50 per bushel


chickens

$1

prices for chickens and turkeys are for whole, living birds

turkeys

$2 - 2.50

nails

$0.17 per pound


tobacco

$0.25 per pound


candles

$0.75 per pound


plow iron

$62.50


lumber

$25 per thousand board feet

lumber prices varied somewhat according to how it was cut and what sort of tree it used to be

 


Prices in Oregon were typically subject to even more fluctuation than those back East, as the local economy was very much in flux. Labor costs were a major headache for entrepreneurs in Oregon, as gold strikes throughout the 1850s drove wages sky-high. Prices for farm produce were low during the summer and fall and rose during the winter and spring; prices for imported goods dropped when several ships carrying such cargo arrived within a few weeks of one another, but would then rise again as the supply dwindled. Traditional boom-and-bust cycles (in which a commodity in limited supply commands high prices, thereby inspiring people to make so much of it that the price collapses) were also a serious problem in Oregon's early economy. Additionally, there was a constant shortage of capital in the economy even after the gold strikes, as most of the gold soon found its way out of Oregon to pay for imports. Barter remained a fairly common means of transacting business until after the Civil War, though cash on the barrelhead was preferred.

The gold mines have ever been a curse and a drawback to this country. Prices of labor do not correspond with the prices of our produce... How can farmers afford to pay $40 per month for second rate hands, fifty dollars for common two horse harness, two hundred dollars for a common two horse wagon, twenty-five dollars for a two horse plow, twelve cents a bushel for threshing grain -- and sell their wheat at 75 cents, oats 40 cents, potatoes 25 cents, pork 5 to 6 cents, onions $1, peas 75 cents, etc. etc. I pay sawyers on my mill $60 per month, log choppers $40 to $50 per month, teamsters the same, and yet I sell good flooring, fencing, ceiling, and weatherboards at $12 per thousand feet! Hence many, very many, will vote for Slavery in order to cheapen labor!

- David Newsom, 1857

  • Saturday, 02 February 2013

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  • 1726 Washington Street
  • Oregon City, OR 97045
  • (503) 657-9336

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