Many Covered Wagons Headed West, Then Back East

Early settlers traveled by covered wagons, and no wayfarer was turned away hungry.

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In the 1880s, many covered wagons passed our place. Some homesteaders camped in our yard over night. In the spring they went West. Some had signs painted on the canvas covers like "Kansas or Bust," "Going to the Promised Land," and "Home, Sweet Home."

In the fall, many wagons came back and the signs had been changed to "Busted, by Gosh," "Promised Land Was a Mirage," and "Coming Back in the Spring." The people going West were cheerful and hopeful. Those going East were ragged, gaunt and tired.

One evening, we saw a covered wagon coming up the road. A man and a horse were pulling it. At first we could hardly believe our eyes, but as they came nearer we saw it was really so. The man explained that one of his horses had died on the road. In the wagon were a woman and three small children. They stayed all night with us, and the next morning Father gave them our old family horse. They were so grateful they cried. But after they were gone it was I who cried. The horse had been my pet.

Another time a wagon with a horse and a cow hitched together stopped at our place. A man, woman and baby were in the wagon. They had taken the cow along so the baby would have milk. The man tried to joke about his team, but the woman cried. This time we had no horse to give away, but a neighbor traded a horse for the cow and gave them $5 to buy milk. It is doubtful that they had to use the money for milk because in those days people were generous with what they had and shared with one another. No wayfarer was turned away hungry. If money was offered for food and lodging, it was declined with the words: "You can return the favor by helping someone else in need."

As I look back at the covered wagon days, I marvel at the courage, resourcefulness and helpfulness of the early settlers.

Dora Bucklin
Orleans, Nebraska

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s WEEKLY asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.