Food Along the Overland Trail

The food supply was the heaviest and most essential part of an overland emigrant’s outfit. It was necessary to pack the right amount. Too large a quantity of food would wear down the draft animals, but too little might mean hunger along the trail. Game, fish, and berries harvested as opportunity and time permitted, could not be relied upon. No stores or trading posts were to be found along the overland route before 1849. With the Colorado gold rush of 1859 and thereafter, ranches and trading posts grew up along the Platte, but during earlier years emigrants had to fend for themselves.

According to Merrill Mattes’s Great Platte River Road, Lansford Hastings, one of the earliest guidebook writers, recommended that each immigrant be supplied with two hundred pounds of flour, ten pounds of coffee, twenty pounds of sugar, and ten pounds of salt. Basic kitchen utensils were a cooking kettle, fry pan, coffee pot, tin plates, cups, knives, and forks.

Staples of the emigrant diet were bread, bacon, and coffee. Other food items could include chipped beef, rice, tea, dried beans, dried fruit, saleratus (baking soda), vinegar, cheese, cream of tartar, pickles, ginger, and mustard. A welcome alternative to bread baked along the trail was cornbread. Some packed manufactured wheat biscuits. A few pioneers carried eggs or butter, normally packed in barrels of flour or meal. Some of the resourceful brought milk cows along.

Antelope meat, when available, was highly favored. Many liked it better than buffalo. Other creatures which occasionally turned up in pioneer stew pots were sage hen, rabbit, badger, rattlesnake, prairie dog, and eagle. Domestic oxen, horses, and mules could be eaten in emergencies. Several overland emigrants reported successful fishing in the Platte, but overall references to fishing in emigrant diaries and reminiscences are uncommon.

The one item almost never left behind was whiskey. Other items such as flour, bacon, furniture, harness, stoves, and even silver and linen were left by the side of the trail as the need arose, but never whiskey. The majority of emigrants prized it for its medicinal and restorative properties.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.