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“Gone to Texas”

Carolyn Francisco (left) and Patti Canup (right) with a display of different items pioneer families would take along on their journey to Texas.

(ROCKWALL, TX — February 26, 2018) In late April or early May in the mid-1800s, pioneer families loaded up a covered wagon with their valuables and belongings and hit the open road towards a land full of opportunity, promise and hope for a fruitful future. They often left behind a sign which read three simple letters: “GTT,” or “Gone to Texas.”

During the Rockwall County Historical Foundation lecture series on Feb. 9, I learned all about this fascinating expedition courtesy of presenter Carolyn Francisco. And let me tell you, if you think the moving process is hard nowadays, it’s nothing compared to the perils and pitfalls early pioneers faced on their long journey to Texas.

Covered wagons – known as Prairie Schooners – were made of sturdy hardwood such as oak or maple and could carry the belongings of five people. Riding inside a schooner was extremely rough even on fair terrain, and unbearable on rocky ground, so those who could just hoofed it on foot the entire trek.  Only small children, the elderly and the sick rode inside the wagons.

A typical wagon load included necessities such as bedding and tent supplies, weaponry, cooking utensils, clothing and supplies to repair the wagon. Some supplies took precedence over all else: a Dutch oven, a three-legged skillet, and a coffee pot were considered essentials. Items like clocks, furniture, jewelry, and china were considered less important, and often those were the first items to be discarded along the way. In the western territories, it wasn’t uncommon to find family heirlooms such as pianos and pipe organs left along the trail to lighten the load.

Before dawn, families enjoyed a breakfast of bacon, dry bread and coffee. At noon they would stop for a cold lunch of bacon, beans or buffalo prepared that morning. At 5 p.m., they munched on a hot supper of boiled rice and fried beef or codfish. If they ran out of food supplies, they’d have to go hunt for their meal.

Barring any accidents or delays, travelers could make it 15 miles in one day, and about 400 miles in a month. But that was rare, as accidents and disease were inevitable and delays unavoidable.

Diseases plagued many of the pioneers because opportunities for sanitation were limited and safe drinking water frequently not available in sufficient quantity. Cholera, spread by contaminated water, was responsible for many deaths, while Diphtheria was the single biggest killer of children along the trail.  Travelers also faced weather-related dangers such as thunderstorms, large hail stones, lightning and tornadoes. River crossings also proved to be very perilous, even with a slow current and shallow water. Wagon wheels could get stuck in the muddy river bottom or become damaged by striking unseen rocks.

The journey was well worth it for those who survived it. Texas back then was not known as the land of opportunity for nothing; pioneers marveled at its rich soil and thick forests, as well as how easy it was to acquire land. Once they reached their destination, it was common practice to take the wagon box off its axles and live in it while building a more permanent shelter. Sod houses came together quickly, but log houses took longer to build.

I can only imagine how the pioneers must’ve felt after such a long, exhausting and treacherous journey. They must’ve felt joy knowing they had finally made it, and immense grief for those they lost along the way. Or maybe they just felt tremendously proud, proud that they were able to overcome such a rigorous excursion in order to start fresh and begin life anew.

Austin Wells

ABOUT OUR EDITOR

I have been the editor of Blue Ribbon News since April 2016. I was born and raised in Heath, TX and I’m the author of Images of America: Heath, a chronicle of historic photographs of my town’s roots.
When I’m not around town covering events, you can usually find me enjoying a good book and a hot cup of coffee.

 

 

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