Travelling in an ox-wagon sounds so exciting, but it really was not at all fun. Many families would pack up to go find gold, which had been discovered far, far away. Since parents always wanted to find new places they could make a good life for their family, going to the gold fields became a dream.
Whole families were packed into the wagon drawn by two or four oxen. Often, in those far-off days, families had up to nine children, and sometimes aunties and uncles would decide to go too. The men would ride horses alongside the wagons, and carry guns for protection. Sometimes, they would shoot wild animals that came in to attack, but mostly they would use them to hunt for food.
What would you pack to travel in an ox-wagon in those days? Well, for the women and children, it meant wearing a dress in the fashion of those times. Those dresses were all about layers – layers of fabric that they wore for days on end. A spare dress or two would be packed into the wagon. Each dress would have two or three petticoats – these go under the dress. The undergarments were bulky pantaloons, long with frills.
Imagine what it was like to wash and iron those clothes! No washing machine, not much soap or wash powder; perhaps no rivers to wash in or even to bathe in for days on end. Irons in those days – if they even took one – would have to be heated in a fire. There was no electricity or even generators in those days.
It took months to cross the mountains and plains in every country. Six months after starting their journeys, people had still not arrived at their destination. If it was not freezing cold, it would be boiling hot. No; it was not a very comfortable way to travel.
In America, the thought of finding gold and getting rich was exciting for the people with a pioneering spirit (the people who went on travels of discovery). “Going west” was a much talked about thing in the 1800s.
Much preparation went into getting ready for families to head off over the horizon. Families took only what was needed; this also meant taking their pets. They had to sew and bake, and had dry food to eat. They did not have plastic containers to store anything in. They needed to take pots, pans, plates and eating utensils.
They had to train the oxen and get a good, strong wagon and pack it up with bedding and clothing and all the other paraphernalia that they needed for the long journey.
Often, there was a long line of wagons heading West in a group. Not as many of the wagons would reach the end of the route. The wagons had to cross big, strong flowing rivers on ferries. If there were no ferries, the team would have to find a place to cross the river. The road tracks were often muddy; the banks of the rivers steep. It must have been very hard for everyone, especially the oxen.
Where did everyone go to the toilet? In fact, how did they go to the toilet? Holes were dug into the ground and covered up afterwards. The dust and dirt would have made the clothes dirty very quickly. Still, they had to wear the same clothes day after day. If there were holes in the clothes, they would need stitching by hand. There was nowhere to stop and shop for new clothes.
As the teams of ox-wagons were driven along the difficult roads and across the streams, the drivers would yell and crack the whips they used to make the oxen keep moving. Often, it would take time to get the wagons moving along if one got stuck or tipped over.
If anyone got sick, what would the people do? People and animals did get very sick and often died along the way. If that happened, they would just have to be buried where they died. Often, the ground was too hard to dig so they used the feather bedding as a coffin and covered the body with rocks piled high so wild animals did not get to them.
The animals also would eat the grasses they did not know, and sometimes these were poisonous. Terribly hard times were experienced by these people. Sometimes, the families would find a lovely, fertile valley and they would decide to settle right there to start farming. They slowly built homesteads and produced crops so everyone could eat; the dream of finding gold and getting rich slipped away.