TRAIL BASICS - MULES, HORSES OR OXEN?
Which would be best to pull your heavy wagons? Mules are strong, can go faster, but are often tricky to handle. Mules also had tendencies to bolt and become unruly. Oxen are slower, but more reliable and tougher than mules. They will eat poor grass. Oxen were very strong and could haul fully-loaded wagons up ravines or drag them out of mudholes. A large wagon needed at least three pairs of oxen to pull it.
Scholars put the percentage of pioneer wagons pulled by oxen at one-half to three-quarters. The cost of a yoke of oxen during the last half of the 1840s varied from a low of $25 to a high of $65.
The three main parts of a prairie wagon were the bed, the undercarriage, and the cover.
BED = was a rectangular wooden box, usually 4 feet wide by 10 feet long. At its front end was a jockey box to hold tools.
UNDERCARRIAGE = was composed of the wheels, axle assemblies, the reach (which connected the two axle assemblies), the hounds (which fastened the rear axle to the reach and the front axle to the wagon tongue) and the bolsters (which supported the wagon bed). Dangling from the rear axle was a bucket containing a mixture of tar and tallow to lubricate the wheels.
COVER = was made of canvas or cotton and was supported by a frame of hickory bows and tied to the sides of the bed. It was closed by a drawstring. The cover served the purpose of shielding the wagon from rain and dust, but when the summer heat became stifling the cover could be rolled back and bunched to let fresh air in.
Wagons being pulled by horses and mules