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The Conestoga wagon was a large horse-drawn wagon used to haul freight and farm products. The 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 too heavy.

 

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 single
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.

Morris 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
 

Oneta 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.
 

     
 

The 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.

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Wyoming Centennial Wagon Train
 

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 Anniversary 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.

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

     

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