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Conestoga Wagon Rides – Historic Trails Tours
Our Conestoga wagon tours are large horse-drawn wagons that were used to haul freight and farm products during the great western rush. These unique heavy wagons came into use among farmers in the vicinity of Conestoga, Pennsylvania, in the 1720s.
The wagons were specifically designed for carrying heavy cargo to market over early roads. Such wagons were used well into the 19th century, when they were eventually made obsolete by railroads.
A characteristic of the Conestoga wagon was that the bottom of the
wagon's main box was curved to be somewhat lower in the middle.
Heavy loads, when carefully placed in the wagon, would not shift in
transit, a major consideration when hauling freight on roads which
could be rough.
The wagons traditionally had a white hood made of canvas which
tended to be lower in the middle while rising upward at the front
and back of the wagon. These curves in the design gave the Conestoga
wagons a graceful look, although they were the heavy freight haulers
of their day.
Conestoga wagons could be drawn by two horses, but larger ones could
be drawn by a team of four or even six horses. Some Conestoga wagons
could carry a massive load of six tons.
An enduring misconception is that Conestoga wagons took settlers
westward across the American plains in the mid-1800s. However, the
covered wagons, or prairie schooners, were actually designed and
built to be considerably lighter than Conestoga wagons. The
traditional Conestoga wagon would not have performed well in
traversing long distances on unproven trails, as they were simply
The "prairie schooner" was the classic
covered wagon that carried settlers westward across the North
American plains. The name came
from the typical white cloth cover on
the wagon, which, from a distance, made it resemble the white cloth
of a ship's sails.
The prairie schooner is often confused with the Conestoga wagon, but
the horse-drawn vehicles are quite different.
The Conestoga wagon was much heavier, was designed to carry large
loads, and was often pulled by teams of six horses. Such wagons
required reasonably good roads were not practical for moving
westward across the plains.
The prairie schooner was a light wagon designed to travel great
distances on rough prairie trails, and could often be pulled by a
team of horses, or sometimes even one horse. Adapted from
light farm wagons, prairie schooners generally had a canvas cover
supported on wooden arches. The cover provided some protection from
sun and rain.
Groups of prairie schooners often traveled together in the classic
wagon trains. When the railroads expanded throughout the American
west in the late 1800s there was no longer a need to travel great
distances by prairie schooner, and the classic covered wagons fell
out of use but became an enduring symbol of the westward migration.
THE HISTORIC JOURNEY OF THE "OLD OREGON TRAIL"
In 1993, Morris
Carter and his four daughters, Oneta, Ivy, Airian, and Katrena,
built wagons and traveled the Oregon Trail from Independence,
Missouri to Oregon. Over 2,600 miles, six months and six days
traveling time, across the prairies of Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska
to the high plains of Wyoming, across Idaho and Oregon. Driving the
wagons over South Pass, fording the mighty Green River, crossing 4
mountain ranges and riding the wagons in the Pacific Ocean in
Oregon. The hoof beats of their horses and the creak of the wagons
echoed around the world and into the pages of history.
Carter - Wagon Master
Growing up in Wyoming on the
trail, Morris developed a passion for history and the western
way of life. Guiding numerous trail expeditions, driving
teams, making saddles, and listening to his grandfather's
freighting stories, Morris realized people would enjoy the
trail experience first hand. Reflecting upon the pioneers that
went west, he states, "They didn't look back and they didn't
turn back. They kept pushing on. This is the pioneer way of
life, they tested themselves every step of the way. We want to
give people that opportunity today. I believe that in every
person there still lies a spirit of the pioneer."
Oneta Carter Houston - Wagon Train Captain
Carter Houston is the eldest daughter of Trail Captain Morris
Carter. Oneta Carter Houston, started leading wagon train
tours and horseback rides when she was just 12 years old. One
of her first adventures was taking out a crew of firefighters.
At first the crew didn't seem too impressed with the little 12
year old girl until they realized that Oneta was beyond her
years and knew more about riding than most of them would ever
know. They realized you couldn't underestimate the age or
gender of a person.
Oneta has participated on many of the Wagon Trains organized
and led by Morris Carter. In 1990 Oneta was in charge of all
trail riders for the Blue Circle, during the Wyoming
Centennial Wagon Train Casper to Cody. On the 1993 Oregon
Trail Wagon Train, if Morris Carter was busy then you asked
Oneta (then only 19) what needed to be done. She kept everyone
organized and she had a great way of handling people. In 1999,
Oneta served as the Wagon Train Captain of "The Official
California Trail Gold Rush Wagon Train of the 49'rs" directing
and leading the way each day. This historic event also marked
the first Wagon Train trip of the youngest member of the
Carter clan, Oneta's 2 year old son, Caimen Houston.
When her sisters were old enough to start driving teams, Oneta
along with her Grandmother, taught them a lot about driving
and horses. Of her sister, Airian Carter says, "When we were
at Topeka, Kansas on the Historic Oregon Trail Wagon Train in
1993, Oneta was driving Hoot and Holler, her first team that
Dad had given her. I was sitting beside her and I don't think
that I'll ever forget that moment when she was giving me
pointers on driving like the older sister she is, one of the
best teamsters I will ever have the pleasure of knowing and
being taught by. She was driving that team like they were
butter and anyone who knew Hoot and Holler know that with
their dispositions they are a far cry from butter. I will
always regard her as an excellent teamster."
Always interested in the history of our country, Oneta Carter
Houston has become a great representative for women. On the
1993 Oregon Trail Wagon Train, when Oneta and her sisters
would drive their teams into small communities, those
"old-timers" with the age and experience to know would come
right up to them and swap teamster stories and advice." You
could tell by the sparkle in their eyes that they appreciated
what my sister and I were doing and they were plumb tickled
that young people were interested in the history of our
country. A lot of old timers wouldn't say a word but just come
up and shake our hands and that was enough," relates Airian
Carter women traveled on the Casper, Wyoming 100th
Anniversary Wagon Train in 1989. They also went the entire
distance of the Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train in 1990.
Ivy, Oneta, Airian and Katrena assisted with the Official
Historic Oregon Wagon Train in 1993. As Wagon Masters, the
Carter women play a vital role in the overall coordination
of the wagon train. The Carter sisters have been involved
in the wagon train business, including presentations of
history for large groups, harnessing and driving teams,
setting campsites, caring for the guests, livestock,
telling the history of the area and its heritage. Since
early childhood, they were part of a ranching family,
learning aspects of the business and being taught to drive
a team by Edna R. Carter, their grandmother.
Featured in Casper
Wyoming Centennial Wagon
In 1989, Morris Carter and his
family began wagon expeditions and have expanded their tours
to include many adventures. The Carter
family traveled on the
1990 Casper, Wyoming 100 Year
Wagon Train to commemorate Wyoming's centennial. Carter helped
organize and lead the 1990 Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train, as
the Wagon Master of the Blue Circle. The wagon train lasted 31
days, traveling on the Bridger Trail, from Casper to Cody. The
Centennial Wagon Train had 100 wagons and 400 horseback riders
when the train ended in Cody. The Carter family built their
first four Conestoga wagons in 1990 that traveled on the
Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train. Carter conducted tours between Tummacacori Mission and the Tubac Presidio on the Juan
Baptiste De Anza Trail, a National Historic Trail, from 1994
to 1996. In 1996, Morris rode with the 200th commemorative
year ride of the De Anza Trail. Through Historic Trail
Expeditions, and now Historic Trails West, The Carter Family
has covered over 3,500 miles from 1993 to 1997, doing tours on
the Oregon, California and Pony Express Trails.
The Official Historic
Trails Wagon Train
Re-Enacting the Oregon Trail 1843 to 1993
In 1993, to commemorate the
150th anniversary of the Oregon Trail, Carter and his four
daughters Oneta, Ivy, Airian, and Katrena organized and led
the Official Historic Trails Wagon Train. Established the
trail route campsites, and organized the logistics including
permits and other requirements such as special permissions
and insurance coverage; to cover 2,600
miles through 6
states. The Carter family also built 3 more Conestoga wagons
to traverse the trail. They began on May 2, in Independence,
Missouri and ended November 6, in Astoria, Oregon. The trip
lasted 6 months and 6 days, crossing four mountain ranges
and fording four rivers. As a result, the Carter Family
brought the attention of the world to the Historic Trails of
the American West.