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Oregon Trail Foods: Nearing the End

Written by Nancy Flagg

Originally published in the Eureka Times, 2009 Fall issue

This is the last in a three-part series about food and the Oregon Trail.

You can find the first post here. The second post is available here.

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What would you take on a journey across the Oregon Trail?

Nearing the End of the Journey

At fort outposts along the route, there were opportunities for buying or trading for additional supplies, though the available items may not have been the ones most needed by the travelers and the prices could be high.

Towards the end of the trail, severe food shortages were not uncommon. In 1852, Enoch Conyers wrote:

“Tonight Mrs. Burns made bread from the last of our flour; also, at this meal we consume the last of our meat, and, in fact, we are about out of everything eatable. We live in the hope that there will be plenty for all when we arrive at our destination. My! Oh, my! What a great hungry crowd the people of Oregon will have to feed during the coming winter, and the great majority of them have no money to buy with.”

Many Overlanders would not have survived had it not been for the generosity of California and Oregon residents who sent out relief parties with provisions to meet the pioneers on the trail.11 Nevertheless, Enoch’s notes point to the difficulty faced by pioneers even after arriving at their destination.

A few pioneers turned off the main Oregon Trail to take the rugged Naches Pass into Washington. Some who continued on the main trail to Portland were later encouraged by Job Carr to move to the Puget Sound.

Although the risks and hardships were many on the Oregon Trail, there were rewards too. While sitting on a log to eat, Eugenia Zieber wrote in her diary:

“The sky above you clearly seen…The trees looking fresh & happy around you, and flowers peeping up from the bright grass…Who would then not prefer this to a table profusely covered with dishes filled with dainties…Give me rather fair Nature’s beauties shed abroad to my view, and twill lend a charm to everything.”


These pioneer recipes were provided by the Whitman National Historic Site and are written for use with modern stoves.


Combine 2 cups of stone ground flour with 1 cup of water. Knead until smooth. Sprinkle some flour on a smooth surface and roll the dough flat until it is ¼ inch thick. Cut biscuits out with a can or a glass making each biscuit about 3-4 inches in diameter. Poke holes into each biscuit with a fork. Place on a floured cookie sheet and cook at 400 F for 35-45 minutes. It should come out hard and dry. Yields 12-15 biscuits.

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Making hard tack dough at the annual Pioneer Days Festival in Tacoma's Old Town Park.

Potato Pudding

Boil, mash and cool 3 large potatoes. Mix with 3 egg yolks. When well blended, add 3 egg whites (which have been well beaten and combined with 1 cup granulated sugar), ¼ cup flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 cup cream and ½ fresh squeezed lemon juice and grated rind. Bake in a buttered dish at 350 F until firm (about 30 minutes). Serve with sugar and cream. May top with fresh sweetened and crushed berries.

Works Cited

Bakken, Gordon Morris and Brenda Farrington. Encyclopedia of Women in the American West. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003.

Bureau of Land Management. National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Baker City, Oregon. Frequently Asked Questions.

City of Tumwater, A Recipe from the Oregon Trail.

Crewe, Sabrina and Michael V. Uschan. The Oregon Trail. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2005.

Delano, Alonzo. Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings. New York: Miller Orton & Co. 1857. (as shown at

Fanselow, Julie. Traveling the Oregon Trail, 2nd edition. Guilford, CT: Falcon, 2001.

Gunderson, Mary. Oregon Trail Cooking. Mankato, MN: Blue Earth Books, 2000.

Flora, Stephanie (ed.). What Should I Pack? 2007.

Historic Oregon City, End of the Trail Interpretive Center. The Oregon Trail Chronology.

Historic Oregon City, End of the Trail Interpretive Center. Women on the Trail.

Ichord, Loretta Frances. Skillet Bread, Sourdough, and Vinegar Pie: Cooking in Pioneer Days. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 2003.

Isaacs, Sally Senzell. The Oregon Trail. Chicago, IL: Heinemann Library, 2004.

Job Carr Cabin Museum. The History of Job Carr.

Marcy, Capt. Randolph B. The Prairie Traveler A Hand-book for Overland Expeditions. War Department, 1959 (as shown in )

Measuring Worth. Measuring Worth, 2011.

St. Joseph Missouri Gazette. Letter to the Editor from Kay Conn. March 19, 1847 (as cited in )

National Oregon/California Trail Center, Montpelier, Idaho. A Day on the Trail.

Tompkins, Prof. Jim (ed.). In Their Own Words: Packing to Go.

Tompkins, Prof. Jim (ed.). In Their Own Words: Meals on the Trail.

Tompkins, Prof. Jim (ed.). In Their Own Words: Camp Life.

Washington First emigrant wagon train crosses Naches Pass through the Cascade Mountains in the fall of 1853.

Whitman Mission National Historic Site. National Park Ranger/Education Specialist Mike Dedman. Recipes from the Oregon Trail. Web.

Whitman, Narcissa from her letters (as cited in

Williams, Jacqueline. Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas , 1993.

About the Author: Nancy Flagg volunteered with Job Carr Cabin Museum as a freelance writer living in Sacramento, California. After seeing our ad for a volunteer writer, she visited the museum's website and was intrigued by the log cabin, Job Carr's role in Tacoma history and the clear community and staff support for the museum. When not writing, Nancy can be found working as a university financial administrator, playing the euphonium (a tenor tuba) or playing bass guitar in the all-women-over-50 class rock bank that she founded.