Sunday, 31 May 2015


In 1867, beneath a bluff a few miles from Carlsbad, New Mexico, two Texas cattlemen—one of them a trail-hardened 52 year old, the other a 23-year-old roughneck—were fighting for their lives, surrounded by a marauding party of Comanches.
If recorded at all, such an event would have been no more than a blip on the historical calendar of the American West, but this one—and its aftermath—turned out to be one of the most amazing examples of courage, loyalty and sheer grit in all the annals of the frontier.
Kentucky-born Oliver Loving was a remarkable cattleman-entrepreneur who, in 1858, partnered John Durkee in taking a herd from Palo Pinto Countyin Texas to Chicago, Illinois, the very first such drive on the historical record. In 1859, he blazed another trail to Denver via Pueblo, Colorado, and throughout the Civil War, he supplied the Confederacy with beef. In 1866, he teamed up with a 30-year-old cattleman named Charles Goodnight, well over 20 years his junior.
They put together a herd of 2,000 and blazed a new trail up the Pecos River into New Mexico and on to Denver, Colorado. The following year, they started another herd west over the same route, striking the Pecos the latter part of June. About 100 miles upriver, Loving traveled ahead of the herd on horseback in order to bid on the contracts, which were to be let in July.
Because Loving was impatient, even reckless, Goodnight not only insisted he be accompanied by one of Goodnight’s top men, Arkansas-born herder Bill Wilson, a who had already lost an arm somewhere in his 20-odd years, but also made Loving promise to ride only by night. After only two nights, however, Loving—who detested night riding—talked Wilson into changing tactics so they could proceed by daylight.
Loving probably didn’t have to work too hard: by all accounts—including this one—Wilson was a man ready to ride any river, with many stories spun about him. He was said (unreliably) to hold off a posse after one of his brothers, George, shot a sheriff in Palo Pinto County. The matter of his lost arm is also a moveable feast: it may have been bitten off by aIke Clanton and Billy Clanton mean horse before Wilson was five years old, or it may have been congenital. Another story claims a hay baler ripped it off, which would be historically inconsistent, since the injury happened before the 1860s.
Crossing the plain in broad daylight, the two riders, visible for miles, were spotted by a Comanche raiding party that came thundering after them. The cowmen made a four-mile run for the Pecos, spurring their horses over an incline and down to a sand dune at the foot of a bluff, where it formed a shallow cave open to view only from across the river. As the Comanches surrounded them, Loving and Wilson readied themselves for a fight to the death.
Fighting For Their Lives
Wilson was armed with a revolving six-shot rifle and saddle holsters as well as his own cap-and-ball six-shooter, while Loving had pistols and a Henry rifle. The Comanches—Wilson estimated that they numbered several hundred—swarmed down the bluffs around them, but the first one who fired at the cowboys from across the river got shot by Loving, after which no others tried to open the ball.
Late in the evening, the drovers heard someone call from the bluff in Spanish. Realizing it could be a trap, but with the situation bordering on the hopeless, Wilson took a chance and stepped up on the dune to parley, with Loving behind him, Henry rifle in hand, his holsters across his arm. As Wilson stepped into view, Indians hidden in a clump of carrizo, or cane, opened fire, with one of their bullets smashing through Loving’s wrist and ploughing into his side. Wilson hastily fell back into the ditch, giving his attention to Loving. After staunching the bleeding, they readied themselves for a siege.
“The Comanches shot their arrows high into the air to make them fall at a sharp angle into the ditch, while Wilson and Loving hugged close to the low but perpendicular wall of the washout, and the arrows either stuck in the sand above them or passed over their backs into the other bank,” Goodnight told J. Evetts Haley in the 1920s. He would share the cowman’s life story in his 1936 book.
Next, Goodnight recalled, the Comanches tried bombarding their quarry with gravel, but that didn’t work either.
The evening wore into dusk; weak from loss of blood, Loving was racked with pain and fever. Wilson managed to get to the river and brought back a bootful of water for the suffering man, but Loving’s condition worsened, and he implored Wilson to escape, if possible, and carry the story of his fate downriver to Goodnight and to his family. “I’ll stand the Comanches off the best I can,” he told Wilson, “but rather than be taken and tortured to death, I will shoot myself and fall into the river. If the Indians leave me and I find strength enough to travel, I’ll head downstream a couple of miles and hide.”
Wilson agreed to make the attempt. They calculated carefully; if he could hold out for a day and a half, he would have a good chance of meeting the advancing Goodnight.
“He spread their five six-shooters and Goodnight’s rifle by Loving’s sound arm, but took the Henry and its metallic cartridges, which would be unaffected by water, for to escape by the river was his only chance,” Goodnight said. “When the moon went down, he told Loving goodbye, moved to the mouth of the gully, and divesting himself of his clothing, hid his clothes in one place, and his knife, which dropped from his pocket, in another, all beneath the water. He pulled off everything but his hat, drawers and undershirt, which he hoped would protect him from the sun, and slipped into the treacherous stream.”
A Swim For Survival
The river was quite sandy and difficult to swim in, Wilson recalled, “so I had to pull off all of my clothes except my hat, shirt and breeches.”
He nearly drowned, trying to hold on to the rifle with his one hand, so he “leaned it up against the bank of the river, under the water, where the Comanches would not find it,” Wilson said. “Then I went down the river about a hundred yards, and saw an Indian sitting on his horse out in the river, with the water almost over the horse’s back. He was sitting there splashing the water with his foot, just playing. I got under some smart weeds and drifted by until I got far enough below the Indian where I could get out. Then I made a three days’ march barefooted. Everything in that country had stickers in it. On my way I picked up the small end of a tepee pole which I used for a walking stick.”
On the last night of his slow and painful journey, he was followed by wolves all night. “I would give out, just like a horse, and lay down in the road and drop off to sleep and when I would awaken the wolves would he all around me, snapping and snarling. I would take up that stick, knock the wolves away, get started again and the wolves would follow behind. I kept that up until daylight, when the wolves quit me,” Wilson recalled. “About 12 o’clock on that last day, I crossed a little mountain and knew the boys ought to be right in there somewhere with the cattle. I found a little place, a sort of cave, that afforded protection from the sun, and I could go no further [sic]. After a short time the boys came along with the cattle and found me.”
During their earlier drive to Denver, Loving and Goodnight had discovered a valley about two miles long and a mile wide close to the New Mexico line, near the upper end of which were some gravel hills; in one of them, a cave extended back 10 or 15 feet, which they marked as a splendid hiding place for Comanches planning a surprise attack.
“[I] was…watching carefully for Indians,” Goodnight remembered, “suspecting they might be behind the hill, [when] I saw a man come out of the cave and go back into it.”
Goodnight gave orders for the herd to be held and for the men to be ready for a fight. When Wilson came out of the cave, a quarter of a mile away, and gave the old frontier signal, ‘Come here,’ Goodnight said he “knew positively that it was Wilson, and…I immediately put the horse down to full speed and went to him. For a few moments he seemed unable to talk, probably overwhelmed with emotion, knowing his life was saved at last.”
With what was left of his underwear, saturated with red sediment from the river, Wilson was the “most terrible object I ever saw,” Goodnight said. “His eyes were wild and bloodshot, his feet were swollen beyond all reason, and every step he took left blood in the track. I inquired about Loving, but he could scarcely make a reply, and what he did mutter was entirely unintelligible. I put him on my horse and got him to the herd as soon as possible…I tore up a blanket, wet it, wrapped his feet to remove the fever and then made him a light gruel of meal, which I gave him at intervals for about an hour. By then he was perfectly himself. I asked him for particulars and he told me in detail of the trip and the attack by the Indians.
“When Wilson finished his story, I decided to start immediately.… We rode the rest of the evening and all that night. It not only rained, but it rained torrents, and was so dark at times we were forced to halt. When I reached the place where Wilson told me he had left the trail, I recognized it easily from his description, although the plains were unmarked, or would have appeared so to the untrained. Besides his description, the place was distinguished by the fact that a bunch of Comanches had again come out of the mountains and passed over the same trail they had taken when chasing the two men. Their tracks seemed as fresh as ours, and we supposed they were under the bluffs still trying to get Mr. Loving…[but] when we got to the top of the bluff, there was not an Indian in sight.
“In a moment, I found where Mr. Loving had been in the ditch, which was now half filled with stones, and its banks perforated with probably a hundred arrow shafts, though the Indians had gathered the arrow[head]s before leaving. I knew they had not got him, as there was ample evidence that they had been hunting for him everywhere. We searched down the river…but…no tracks could be found. I believed he had carried out his threat; that he had shot himself and floated down the river, the torrent obliterating all traces. After dark the party sadly made its way back to the herd and again took the trail.”
But Loving was not dead.
Loving’s Courageous Crossing
After Wilson left, the Comanches had continued to shower Loving’s position with rocks, and they tunneled through the dune to within a few feet of where he lay, but lacked the courage to get closer. Racked with hunger and the fever of his wounds, he somehow managed to keep his attackers at bay, but few men could endure a shot-shattered wrist and three foodless days and sleepless nights without collapse. In spite of his age, however, Loving was blessed with an iron constitution. When no help showed up, he followed Wilson’s lead. On the third night, he crawled into the water and started upstream, instead of downstream, hoping to reach the trail crossing [present-day Carlsbad] about six miles above, where some passerby might help him.
“At last he gained the crossing and lay down in the shade…about four feet above the water,” Goodnight told Haley. “He attempted to shoot some birds that came into the trees, but the river had soaked his powder and caps, and the guns were useless. He tried to eat his buckskin gloves, but could not kindle a fire to parch them to a crisp, and again settled back to wait. For two days and nights he stayed there, too weak to move, but satisfying his thirst by tying his handkerchief to a stick and dipping it in the river below. On the third day his superb endurance broke and he sank into a stupor.
“Three Mexicans and a German boy, in a wagon drawn by three yoke of oxen, passing through on their way to Texas, stopped at the crossing to prepare their dinner. The boy…found Loving, apparently asleep.… He was taken to the wagon, where the Mexicans prepared him some atole, similar to our corn meal mush...after which he offered them $250 to take him to Sumner, about 150 miles away.”
Meanwhile Goodnight’s herd kept moving north. “About two weeks after this,” Wilson said, “we met a party coming from Fort Sumner, and they told us Loving was at Fort Sumner.Fort Sumner, NM : Ft Sumner The bullet which had penetrated his side did not prove fatal, and the next night after I had left him, he got into the river and drifted by the Indians as I had done, crawled out and lay in the weeds all the next day. The following night he made his way to the road where it struck the river, hoping to find somebody traveling that way. He remained there for five days, being without anything to eat for seven days. Finally some Mexicans came along and he hired them to take him to Fort Sumner.”
Some 30 miles from Fort Sumner, a courier brought Goodnight the news that although Loving was alive, gangrene had set in and his arm needed to be amputated. “Loving did not want the operation performed unless I was there,” Goodnight said, “as he feared he might not survive it.... The old doctor was in Santa Fe…and the young doctor put me off from day to day with various excuses.... Fortunately I found him at the hospital alone, and told him briefly and in no uncertain words that I presumed he was putting me off because we were rebels, and that he must now operate or make wounds on me.”
The doctor performed the amputation, and Loving seemed to be doing well. Just to be on the safe side, Goodnight paid a man (reportedly Winfield Scott Moore) $500 to ride to Las Vegas and bring back Dr. John H. Shout; they arrived two days later only to find out that Loving had suffered a relapse. “In spite of neglect, starvation and punishment he lived for 22 days, perfectly rational to the last, [when] his mind turned back to Texas,” Goodnight recalled, “and at last he said, ‘I regret to have to be laid away in a foreign country.’ I assured him that he need have no fears, that I would see his remains were laid in the cemetery at home [in Weatherford, Texas]. He felt that this would be impossible, but I told him it would be done.”
Loving died on September 25, 1867, and his body was temporarily buried in a simple wooden casket at Fort Sumner. Four months later, Goodnight returned.
Riding Shotgun Over a Tin Casket
Transporting the remains of his friend back to Texas would be a daunting task, but the cattleman was determined to keep his promise. Gathering scattered oil cans from about the fort, his cowboys beat them out, soldered them together and made an immense tin casket. Inside this, they placed the rough, wooden one, several inches of powdered charcoal packed around it, sealed the tin lid and crated the whole in lumber. They lifted a wagon bed from its bolsters and carefully loaded the sarcophagus on to it. On February 8, 1868, with six big mules strung out in harness, the rough-hewn cowmen from Texas rode ahead and behind the strangest and most affecting funeral cavalcade in the history of the cow country, bringing Oliver Loving home. “The Pecos—the graveyard of the cowman’s hopes,” Goodnight humanized the bleak terrain.
“Down the relentless Pecos and across the implacable Plains, the [388-mile] journey was singularly peaceful,” Goodnight told Haley. “Through miles of grazing buffaloes, they approached the Cross Timbers, reached the settlements and at last delivered the body to the Masonic Lodge at Weatherford, Texas, where it was buried [in Greenwood Cemetery] with fraternal honors.”

 The most legendary culinary job in all of American history is probably the cattle drive cook, or “cookie.” While kids looked up to cowboys, cowboys looked up to the cook. You’d never know it from the way Hollywood has portrayed the wagon cook, which is either as an unreliable flake or a feeble old man, and always as subservient to the cowhands.
The reality was exactly the opposite. The wagon cook was usually one of the toughest men on the drive. He had to wake up hours before the cowhands to make breakfast and stayed up later to secure the chuck wagon (chuck being a slang word for food, like chow). When the herd was being driven from location to location, he rode ahead on the wagon to set up a meal at the next stop, facing any dangers–human, animal, or environmental–either alone or with minimal support.Risultati immagini per cattle drive food
A Cookie not only maintained all of the food for the drive; as he had one of the few wagons on the ride, he kept many of the tools, much of the ammunition, and all of the money to be distributed along the way. He’d also have whatever medical supplies came along for the ride and was expected to know how to use them.
And it didn’t hurt if he knew how to cook, too.
The cook held the success or failure of the drive in his hands. But because of the diverse skill-sets required, it was a tricky job to fill, and one that commanded a salary that hovered around double the salary of the other cowboys on the ride. A Cookie would be second in command to the trail boss, and even the trail boss had to maintain a degree of deference to his Cookie’s decisions.
(A trail boss was in charge of a wagon cook in the same way that a restaurant patron is in charge of his waiter. Imagine the results of upsetting the waiter at a meal, then imagine this is the only restaurant in town, the waiter gets to order for you, and you have to eat three meals a day for sixteen weeks. Under these circumstances, you would rapidly come to discover the value of being extremely polite in issuing directives.)
The wagon cook was the Renaissance man of the cattle drive, and the chuck wagon was his workshop. At least, after it was invented in 1866 by Charles Goodnight.
If you’ve studied any amount of cowboy (or Texas) history, you’ve probably read about Charles Goodnight. For lack of a better descriptor, he was a real-life composite of every character John Wayne ever played: rugged, quiet, hard-working, impossibly accomplished, and basically decent, despite rough edges and a preference for justice over the rule of law.
He was born in Illinois on March 5, 1836, the day before the fall of the Alamo. His family moved to Texas when he was nine, just before Texas was granted statehood. (Yes, I know Wikipedia says he arrived in 1846. I don’t know what to tell you. My sources say 1845.)
Before the Civil War, he worked as a cowboy, fought Comanche in a town militia, and became a Texas Ranger. When war broke out, he enlisted in the Confederate army.
(While some people called him “Colonel,” it was most likely an honorific. There’s no evidence he achieved a rank any higher than private in anything I’ve been able to find.)2013-12-31-goodnight-loving-trail
To accomplish this ride, Goodnight decided there was a better way to carry provisions than what he’d been accustomed to. Before the chuck wagon, trail food was whatever a cowboy could fit in his saddlebags, which tended to mean a lot of jerky and dry biscuits for the 12 to 16 week trip.
To improve life on the trail, Goodnight created the chuck box, a tall collection of shelves and drawers covered by a hinged piece of wood. The shelves and drawers would carry dry provisions. When loaded on the back of a wagon, the hinged cover folded down and legs folded out to form a table upon which the wagon cook could prepare meals.
Digression: this ain’t the Oregon Trail
When you ask an average American to name a covered wagon, you’re likely to get one answer–the famous, massive Conestoga wagon, the used by pioneers going West in the 18th and early 19th centuries. That’s not a chuck wagon. Apart from being separated by about 50 years, a Conestoga wagon could carry up to eight tons. The category of wagons used as chuck wagons tended to max out around one ton.
In short, chuck wagons have more in common with red Radio Flyer wagons than they do with Conestoga wagons.
The original chuck wagon was a U.S. Army Civil War surplus wagon built by Indiana’s Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, better known for manufacturing cars from 1905 to the mid-1960s. The inside of the wagon was used for storage, and while the chuck box was the focal point of the wagon, its entire function was converted to logistics and support for the cattle drive. Kindling would be suspended on a tarp underneath the wagon; water would be kept in barrels carried alongside; cupboards toward the front would carry tools for fixing everything from a horse’s shoes to a human’s bite.
A water-resistant cloth would be stretched over the top of the wagon to protect the provisions inside. When making camp, this would typically be peeled off for easy access to the contents of the wagon; in some configurations, it could be peeled back from the front bows and supported with legs behind the wagon to become a lean-to awning over the food preparation area. And when it was in this configuration, it was, in essence, the beating heart of the camp, the position around which all other decisions were made.
The wagon needed its own fire, so a flat, dry, and clear section of land would be required. That part was typically easy. But then, the entry of the camp had to be far enough from the chuck wagon that no dust would be kicked up and enter the food. No horses could be hitched too near the wagon (let alone to it) in case something spooked them and the wagon was spoiled.
But once all of those requirements were satisfied, the food produced from the wagon would be whatever could be made from things carried along the trial. All of that said… what didthe Cookie have at his disposal?
Cornmeal, coffee, lard, tobacco, dried beans, dried beef and salt pork were omnipresent essentials–if any of them wasn’t available, the drive would likely wait to stock them before moving onward. If white flour was available, that’d be stocked, too, along with a sourdough starter; this tended to be more common on the Western portions of the trail and less common in Texas. Dried raisins, dates, and prunes would be around, along with “airtights”–canned goods, most frequently tomatoes.
Along the way, cowboys would sometimes happen upon game birds or rabbits, but it wasn’t a priority and there wasn’t a great deal of organized hunting going on. If a town was available, other than restocking the wagon, the most frequently obtained “treats” tended to be milk, buttermilk, spices, and beef.Battle of the Little Big Horn 54mm TSSD Mounted Indian Warriors 12 Piece Set
(Another strange assumption people make is that there was a lot of beef on cattle drives. There was dried beef, it’s true, but it’s not like anyone was butchering a calf along the trail. This was almost entirely because of the extra time it would take–actually, in the early years of drives, a calf born en route was killed and left just to avoid having it slow down the herd. Eventually, Goodnight developed a wagon specifically to carry the calves to market.)
By the way, Charles Goodnight had a long life after this invention, and would ultimately come to outlive it. He became an employee and partner in the JA Ranch, the first ranch in the Texas panhandle, which at one point covered over a million acres, before starting his own ranch. He’d use some of his wealth to start a school, Goodnight College,Goodnight College 1899 class photo , Texas  which would close in 1916, and the now-abandoned town of Goodnight, Texas was named after him.
After his wife’s death in April 1926, he took ill. He’d been corresponding with Corrine Goodnight, a distant cousin who was a nurse in her 20s, which started because they noticed they had the same name. She came to take care of him. In March of 1927–two years before he died–Charles Goodnight expressed the desire that Corinne inherit his estate, so the 91-year-old Charles married the 27-year-old Corinne, giving her the improbable name of Corinne Goodnight Goodnight, which sounds more like a Bond girl than a deeply religious nurse.
So, given all of this information, how does this recipe fit in?
Looking at the recipe on this card, very few of these items were available to a chuck wagon. In fact, one of them in particular didn’t even exist in the States until there weren’t any wagon trails: corn chips.
By the end of the 19th century, long-distance cattle drives were unnecessary; enough rail had been laid that move cattle by railroad was cheaper and easier. Meanwhile, corn chips made from fried masa (which we’ve talked about a lot, most recently in the post forYesterdish’s Hot Tamales) entered the U.S. market in 1932, when San Antonio’s Elmer Doolin bought a local recipe for the snacks from Mexico-born Gustavo Olquin, who called them little fried things, or fritas. Doolin named his company the Frito Corporation… but that’s another story.Tamales are a Christmastime tradition in Mexico and in the Latino community here in the U.S., where friends and families will gather together in a tamalada, a tamal-making party.
(By the way, I’ll likely use both tamal andtamale to refer to these items in the singular. While tamal is technically correct and the word tamale emerged because English doesn’t pluralize the same way Spanish does, I’ve heard tamale for too many years for it to sound strange to me.)
A tamalada is a lot like a cookie-decorating party; it distributes a labor-intensive job among a group of friends and family in a way that makes it seem like it’s not work at all. Children learn the family traditions and secret recipes while aunts and uncles comment on how big they’re getting. It’s also an exceptionally old tradition.
These are only suggested fillings. If a diversity of fillings was good enough for the Aztecs, then it’s good enough for me.
We talked about the Aztecs and the process of making nixtamalized corn in the recipe fortortillas from Ceres, California. If you need a refresher on nixtamalization, read that, first; if not, let’s move on. The Aztecs were making various types of tamales at least as far back as 5,000 B.C., which was when they started cultivating corn.
While nixtamalization made the corn easier to eat and more nutritious–which is important for a culture that relies on its warriors for survival–warriors couldn’t very well just stop in the jungle and start the elaborate process of making nixtamal (the Aztec word for the processed corn, which, semi-obviously, the process was named after).
Instead, the nixtamal would be wrapped in a corn husk (or banana leaf or avocado leaf), tied shut, and then could be heated in the coals of the fire or eaten on the go. From that basic framework, the Aztecs produced a diversity of tamales. By using a variety of meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, tamales could be energy bars, protein bars, or even granola bars of a sort, depending on what the maker thought was required at a given time.
In Mexico, that diversity still exists. In Veracruz, tamales are made with pork, fresh corn, and an aromatic called hoja santa, or sacred leaf,which tastes sort of like a mixture of tarragon and nutmeg. In Sinaloa, there’s a variety with sweet beans and pineapple. And in Michoacan, they make an iteration called corundas, which are unfilled nixtamal wrapped in green corn leaves to make a triangular shape that resembles onigiri, Japanese rice balls.2013-12-23-corundas

Chuck Wagon Casserole
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
2 cups (1 lb. can) drained lima beans
2 cups (1 lb. can) pork and beans
In a large skillet, brown ground beef. Add celery, onion, and green pepper; cook until vegetables are tender; drain. Add tomato paste, water, chili powder, salt, paprika, and beans. Simmer while preparing topping; see below.
Transfer hot meat mixture to casserole, if desired. Place biscuits around edge of fry pan or casserole, sealed edge facing center, on hot meat mixture. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown.
5 ounces American or Cheddar cheese, cut into 10 half-inch cubes
1 can (8 oz.) buttermilk or country style biscuits
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups corn chips, crushed
Separate biscuit dough into 10 biscuits. Place a cheese cube in the middle of each biscuit; fold in half; firmly press edges to seal. Dip biscuits in milk and coat both sides with crushed corn chips.When the Spaniards came to the New World in the 1500's, they brought along cattle -- live cattle. A live cow would remain in eating condition a lot longer than one cut up into portions and stowed in the hold of a slow ship.
Naturally, over the years a few of the cows and a bull or two escaped from captivity and adapted to the conditions of the South Texas brush country. Eventually they became the famous Longhorns. They were mean, lean and could live off discarded cardboard boxes.
Long before the Civil War, residents of Texas were making cattle drives into Louisiana, especially New Orleans. This was much against the law, but a man has to feed his family. After the Civil War, the folks up north developed a preference for beef over the pigs they had been eating since they came here. The Texans, quick to realize that a few bucks could be made, started thinking about getting cows up north. There were no railroads or interstate highways, so the best way to get a cow to the railhead in Abilene, Kansas was to let her walk. Thus began the storied cattle drives.
The trail drive cowboys were just as tough as the cows they prodded along, but even a tough cowboy has to eat once in a while. The first trail drives were pretty basic affairs. Each cowboy was in charge of bringing his own breakfast, dinner and supper. The menu wasn't fancy; most of the cowboys brought some salt, some coffee and a sack of either pone or hard biscuits. If some wild game was found along the way, it did not go to waste.
When the demand for beef on the hoof grew much larger, the ranchers soon found they could attract a lot better class of cowboy if they fed them a decent fare. It was impractical for each rider to carry his own supplies, so a wagon was employed. The first wagons on the trail were just wagons that hauled the food and provided a place to haul the cowboys' bedding and associated tack.Charles Goodnight, one of the leaders of the trail drive era is given credit for designing the chuck wagon in its present form. Mr. Goodnight added heavy-duty running gear to the wagon and built a cook's cabinet on the rear. The cabinet had many compartments for holding various things needed for cooking, as well as a fold-down door that served as the cook's work table.
The chuck wagon cook was second in command on the trail drive. In his domain, which was the wagon and a 60-foot radius around it, he was the boss, and no one crossed him. It was said that if a chuck wagon cook was not fractious, he just had not been cooking long enough.
The cooks also served as doctors, gravediggers (if their doctoring didn't take) and equipment repairmen. This could include anything from shoeing a horse to sewing up a cowboy's ripped jeans. It was not a specialized job. The cook was so important to the success of the trail drive that he was paid more than the regular cowboy, and the boss would tolerate behavior that would have sent an ordinary hand packing. When the cowboys were well fed and comfortable, they worked a lot better than they did if their needs were not satisfied. The most important thing that came from the chuck wagon and the cook was coffee. The cowboys could manage most any situation if there was enough strong, black coffee.

Chuck Wagon Food

The cowboys could manage most any situation if there was enough strong, black coffee.The first trail coffee came as green coffee beans that had to be roasted before they could be ground and made into coffee. In , John and Charles Arbuckle, who were grocers in Pittsburgh, patented a process for roasting coffee beans and treating the roasted beans with a mix of egg white and sugar to preserve freshness. The coffee made from these pre-roasted beans was an immediate success and is still available today. The usual coffee formula on the trail was one handful of ground coffee per cup of water. It was often called "six shooter coffee", as it was strong enough to float a six shooter.
Next on the list of trail essentials was a constant supply of sourdough biscuits. The cowboys preferred biscuits to bread in loaves. The cook guarded his sourdough crock zealously. It contained yeast -- a living thing that required warmth and feeding. On cold nights, the cook would sleep with his sourdough crock to keep it warm.
Beans made up a large portion of the cowboy's diet. Usually they were pinto beans, and occasionally a red bean would slip in. The beans were originally known as frijoles. Soon frijoles came to mean any beans. Beans were a favorite with all as they were cheap, easy to transport, they kept well in the dried state and were filling. The cook added a bit of salt pork to make them flavorfulBean cooking has not changed over the years. The night before cooking, the beans are picked through to remove any rocks or other debris. They soak overnight and then go on slow fire until they are tender. This usually took three to four hours. They could be and would be served morning, noon or night.
Given coffee, sourdough and beans, the cowboy could survive and work, but for maximum performance there had to be more in his diet.
The subject of the type and amount of meat in the cowboy's diet is open for discussion. The whole operation was centered around a couple of thousand prime beeves on the hoof. I doubt there were fresh steaks every day, but when it did occur, the killing would take place in the evening so the meat could cool in the night air. The next morning, the supply of beef would be wrapped in insulating material such as the cowboys' bedrolls to keep it cool. The next evening, it would be unwrapped and cooled again. The meat still didn't keep very well. As it began to age, it was used in stew or chili.
The better chuck wagon cooks would prepare treats for their cowboys as often as required. Sometimes the treats were just to build good relations between the wagon cook and the wranglers, and sometimes to reward a particular wrangler or wranglers for a good deed.
We are about out of space for this month. Tune in next month for Part Two of "Cooking for Cowboys" when we will have more cattle drive lore and maybe some authentic recipes from the Old West.