In 1859 the United States government contracted Randolph B. Marcy to create the publication Prairie Traveler. The book was to serve as a manual for those who were going to travel westward by wagon or wagon train over rugged territory. With the book, travelers would be able to overcome difficult occurrences, avoid unforeseen disasters, and become experienced travelers as they master the spirit of the wilderness. The text in the exhibit is the firsthand accounts from Marcy’s book. The triumphs and tragedies of surviving the prairie are conveyed to provide the reader insightful information of what life was among the uncharted territory.
Wagons should be of the simplest possible construction—strong, light, and made of well-seasoned timber, especially the wheels. As the atmosphere in the elevated and arid region is exceedingly dry during the summer months unless the wood-work is thoroughly seasoned, will require constant repairs to prevent them from falling to pieces. Wheels made of the bois-d’arc or Osage orange-wood, are the best for the plains, as they shrink but little, and seldom need repairing. As, however, this wood is not easily procured in the northern states, and white oak answers a very good purpose if well-seasoned.
Wagons with six mules should never on a long journey over the prairies be loaded with over 2000 pounds. Unless grain is transported, then an additional thousand pounds may be taken, provided it is fed out daily to the team. When grass constitutes the only forage, 2000 pounds is deemed a sufficient load.
There are long distances upon some of the routes where no fuel can be found but the dried dung of a buffalo. It burns well when perfectly dry, answers a good purpose for cooking, and some men even prefer it to wood. As it will not burn when wet, it is well in a country where no other fuel can be had. When it threatens to rain, the traveler is to collect a supply before the rain sets in and carry it in wagons to the camp. When dry, the chips are easily lighted.
A great saving in fuel may be made by digging a trench about two feet long by eight inches in width and depth. The fires are made in the bottom of the trench and the cooking utensils placed upon the top, where they receive all the heat. This plan is especially recommended for windy weather and it is convenient at all times. The wood should be cut short and split into small pieces.
Every man who goes into the Indian country should be armed with a rifle and revolver and should never either in camp, or out of it, lose sight of them. When not on the march, they should be placed in such a position that they can be seized at an instant’s warning. When moving about outside the camp, the revolver should invariably be worn in the belt, as the person does not know at what moment he may have use for it.
A great diversity of opinion obtains regarding the kind of rifle that is the most efficient and best adapted to Indian warfare, and the question is perhaps as yet very far from being settled to the satisfaction of all. A large majority of men prefer the breech-loading arm, but there are those who still adhere tenaciously to the old-fashioned muzzle-loading rifle as preferable to any of the modern inventions.
I know of no better school of practice for perfecting men in target-firing, and the use of firearms, than that in which the frontier hunter receives his education. One of the first and most important lessons that he is taught impresses him with the conviction that, unless his gun is in good order and steadily directed upon the game, he must go without his supper. If ambition does not stimulate his efforts, his appetite will, and ultimately leads to success and confidence in his own powers.
Tracks: The fresh tracks and trails of animals converging toward a common centre, and the flight of birds and water-fowl toward the same points, will lead to water. In a section frequented by deer or mustangs, it may be certain that water is not far distant, as these animals drink daily, and they will not remain long in a locality after the water has dried up. Deer generally go to water during the middle of the day, but birds toward evening.
The day’s drive should commence as soon as it is light and where the road is good. The animals should be kept upon a slow trot for about three hours then immediately turned out upon the best grass that can be found for two hours. Another drive of about three hours may be made, making the noon halt about three hours, then the animals are again harnessed and the journey continued until night. These frequent halts serve to rest and recruit the animals so that they will without injury make from thirty to forty miles a day for a long time.