The Chuckwagon

It was as important to a successful cattle drive as the drovers themselves. The chuckwagon is what made sure the cowboys had hot meals while driving cattle herds north to the railroad towns in Kansas and elsewhere.


Chuck Wagon

As a side note, the term Chuckwagon is spelled as both one word and as two. You’ll see both Chuckwagon and Chuck Wagon used.

Another interesting fact is that the word “chuck” was derived from 1700’s English meat merchants where it was used to describe a lower priced meat.

You might think that the chuckwagon was simply a wagon transporting food. Of course any horse drawn wagon could transport food and supplies but the chuckwagon was different. It’s creation is generally credited to one well known rancher of the 1800’s..

Charles Goodnight’s Invention

The chuckwagon was developed in 1866 by Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher who is also referred to as the “father of the Texas Panhandle“. Goodnight essentially modified a Studebaker Wagon. This was a wagon built by the Studebaker brothers whose family first arrived in America during the 1700’s. The Studebaker family would later go on to be early American automakers.

chuck wagon

Chuck Wagon interior for supplies

Originally the Studebaker brothers were blacksmith’s in South Bend Indiana. Later they would form a company to build horse drawn wagons. The Studebaker’s business was helped by the demand created by the California Gold Rush. Later the brothers won a large government contract to build wagons for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. These two events made for a lucrative manufacturing business.

What was a Studebaker Wagon? The Studebaker Road Wagon resembles to a degree a conestoga wagon that the pioneers are pictured traveling along in wagon trains. Four wheels and a wood body. The Studebaker Road Wagon however was much better. Made of rosewood, the Studebaker Wagon was considered very durable, easy to handle and a quality made product. Studebaker would also be a top producer of what would be called “farm wagons”.

An interesting side note is that when you’ve seen the Budweiser Clydesdale horses pulling that wagon loaded with beer they are pulling a Studebaker Wagon.

chuck wagon photo


The year 1866 was an important one for ranchers in Texas. While the Civil War raged for five years, the number of heads of cattle in Texas grew enormously. The Civil War kept shipments quite low and when the war ended there was more cattle in Texas than ever before. While the big cattle drives as we know them started after the Civil War, cattle had been driven from Texas to Louisiana as far back as 1836.

How the Chuck Wagon was Built

As mentioned above, rancher Charles Goodnight took a Studebaker Wagon and made modifications. He built a pantry box on it’s rear end that had a hinged door. The hinged door would lay flat to serve as a table. The cook would use this table as a work area.

Shelves and drawers were built in to keep the cook’s gear and supplies in easy reach. Invention is the father of necessity and what Charles Goodnight did was merely take a surplus supply wagon and convert it to a mobile kitchen. Goodnight well knew that a cowboy was a much better worker when he could eat well while on the trail. The key to eating well on the trail was to be able to have a “hot meal“. Cattle drives could easily last two months or so therefore the Chuck Wagon had to be constructed to last. The old Studebaker surplus wagon bought from the army was a durable wagon.

See additional Trips Into History photo articles on the links below.

Cowboys and Cattle Drives

The Great Western Cattle Trail

The National Ranching Heritage Center / A Texas Treasure

chuckwagon supplies

Wagon converted to Chuckwagon

Today’s Celebrations of the Chuck Wagon

Many communities and associations, mostly in the western U.S., put on events during the year that include chuck wagon cooking. One of these is at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK. The museum has been celebrating the Chuck Wagon Gathering and Children’s Cowboy Festival for twenty-three years as of this writing.

Another interesting event is put on by the American Chuck Wagon Association. The association hosts several events throughout the country each year. The association will help those wishing to put on Chuck Wagon competitions. The ACWA was formed in 1997 in Bryson Texas. It’s goal is to preserve the heritage of the chuck wagon. For more information about this group see website

chuckwagon table

Fold out work table for cook

Every October in LLano Texas you can attend the Llano Texas Chuck Wagon Cookoff. Chuck Wagons are set up in the morning and authenticity judging takes place later. Llano is located southwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth area and northwest of Austin. For more information see website

The New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe is featuring a very large exhibit about cowboys lasting through March 16, 2014. The exhibit is titled Cowboys Real and Imagined. Among many artifacts and photographs on display is a Chuck Wagon. This is one of the best exhibits of cowboy artifacts and information assembled under one roof.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)


A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park


Today the site of Fort Apache is an Arizona State Historic Park located off Arizona State Hwy 73. The site of Fort Apache is in the White Mountains of Arizona about 190 miles north of Tucson and about 177 miles northeast of Phoenix.  The fort is also four miles south of Whiteriver Arizona in a very scenic and pine forested part of the state.

fort apache arizona

Fort Apache Captain's Quarters

It’s a fun and educational stop during your Arizona vacation road trip and one of Arizona’s finest historic landmarks. You’ll also find several other historic sites within a thirty mile radius.

Fort Apache

Fort Apache was a major outpost during the Apache wars (1861-1886) and remained a military post until 1922.

Today, the 288 acre site is comprised of 27 buildings dating between 1870 and 1930. Buildings include a guardhouse, officer quarters, stables and dormitories. Also included is the White Mountain Apache Cultural Center and Museum.

The museum features an exhibit about the legacy of Fort Apache and an exhibit “Footprints of the Apache”. Many very interesting photos and artifacts make this a must see during your Arizona vacation. It’s one of the most historic of Arizona State Parks and it’s an ideal family road trip destination.

fort apache state historic park

Fort Apache Commanding Officer's House

Some may even remember the 1948 John Ford directed film Fort Apache starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple. The film involves an honorable and veteran war captain who finds conflict when his regiment is placed under the command of a young, glory hungry lieutenant colonel with no respect for the local Indian tribe.

The Battle of Fort Apache

The Battle of Fort Apache took place on September 1, 1881. It was an engagement between the cavalry of Fort Apache and dozens of mounted White Mountain Apache’s. The attack on Fort Apache was actually a  reprisal for the Battle at Cibicue Creek in which a notorious medicine man had been killed along with a cavalry officer.

theodore roosevelt indian school

Theodore Roosevelt School Dormitory Building

The Fort Apache battle lasted all day but the Apaches more or less stayed outside of the range of the cavalry riflemen. Reinforcements arrived a few days later but by that time the Apaches had scattered into hiding.

Only three American soldiers were wounded and White Mountain Apache casualties were unknown. While the battle itself was not large in scope, it’s repercussions were.

After the battle other groups of Apaches left their newly formed reservations. They either escaped to northern Mexico or joined Geronimo and other Apache leaders in their war against the whites, both military and civilian. Many innocent people were killed in this running conflict. Geronimo was to later surrender at Skeleton Canyon New Mexico in1886. This represented the ending of the Apache Wars.

fort apache buildings

First Commanding Officer's Quarters log cabin

The Great Indian Leaders

Geronimo remains a Native American legend much the same way as Cochise, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The difference was that each of these Native American leaders met a different ends.

Cochise was sent to Florida as a captive, returned to Indian Territory and died, Sitting Bull was slain during the uprising that led to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 and Crazy Horse was killed by a soldier at Fort Robinson Nebraska in 1877. Geronimo like Cochise was sent to Florida as a prisoner only later to be sent to the Indian Territory where he died.

What to See at Fort Apache

Fort Apache is one of the most preserved old forts in the southwest. The twenty-seven historic buildings on the site will give you plenty of opportunities for picture taking.

One interesting group of buildings was part of the original Theodore Roosevelt Indian Boarding School which was established at the fort during the 1920’s. Several of the  school buildings you’ll view were built during the 1930’s by the WPA.

battle of cibucue creek

Cibucue Creek Battle Monument

Other finely restored structures include the commanding officers quarters, the captains quarters and general barracks structures. Visiting Fort Apache is definitely a trip back into history.

Another excellent stop to make is to the Kinishba Ruins.  The ruins are a National Historic Landmark and are located just four miles west of the fort. The Kinishba Ruins are what remains of a pueblo village that was once occupied by ancestors of today’s Zuni and Hopi pueblo tribes. The site was initially excavated during the 1930’s and was partially rebuilt. This historic site dates back to 1200 to 1400 A.D.

Each year there is an opportunity to attend the annual Apache Song and Dance Celebration at the fort. Arts and crafts are on display as well as food vendors, trail hikes and tours of Fort Apache / Theodore Roosevelt School National Historic Landmark. Information can be found at website

For additional information regarding planned events, visit website

You’ll also enjoy additional TripsIntoHistory photo articles found on the links below.

The Comanche Indians

Stagecoaches in Black Canyon Arizona

Fort Apache State Historic Park is open daily from 7A to sunset. The Nohwike’ Bágowa museum at the historic park is open Monday-Saturday 8am to 5pm during the summer, and Monday-Friday 8am to 5pm during the winter.

(Content and photos copyright TripsIntoHistory)