Fact Frenzy-Conestoga Wagon FactsFacts About the Conestoga Covered Wagon

Covered Wagons were the primary means of transporting freight and pioneer families for more than 100 years. Conestoga wagons were built to carry heavy freight over rough terrain.

Conestoga wagons were a type of covered wagon used during colonial times. These wagons were built specifically for carrying heavy freight over rough land.

Conestoga wagons could carry up to 6 tons of cargo. The floor was curved, almost like a bowl, in order to help keep things from spilling out as the wagons crossed some bumpy terrain.

The Conestoga Wagon was first built in Conestoga, PA around 1750.

Conestoga Wagon (1883) by Newbold Hough Trotter (1827-1898). Painting in the State Museum of Pennsylvania
Conestoga Wagon (1883) by Newbold Hough Trotter (1827-1898). Painting in the State Museum of Pennsylvania

6 or 8 oxen or horses were used to pull the Conestoga wagons.

The Conestoga wagon and its animals would measure as far as 60 feet long.

The cover on the wagon was made of a white canvas material which was stretched over bows. The canvas cover protected the rider and contents from storms and heat, and provided privacy.

The bows that provided the frame under the canvas were made of wood. There were usually 8 to 12 on each Conestoga covered wagon to support the cover.

Conestoga wagon wheels would be built up to 6 feet high. The height of the axles was intended to clear ruts in the roads and tree stumps.

The wheels had 10 inch broad oak rims, to help prevent the covered wagon from sinking in the mud. Conestoga wagon wheels were painted red.

The entire wagon stood up to 11 feet high, and was up to 24 feet long, from the front and rear canvas tips.

On the back of the Conestoga covered wagon, a feed box was mounted for the animals.

On the side of the Conestoga covered wagon a tool chest was mounted. Next to it, a water barrel was also mounted which was especially needed in long trips.

The “lazy board” was the projecting oak board on the Conestoga wagon. This is where the driver would sit or stand to guide the animals, rest, or operate the brake.

The “tongue” was the arm that protruded from the front of the Conestoga wagon to the animals that pulled the wagon. They were about one horse’s length.

The body of the Conestoga wagon was painted blue and red. The sides were built very deep to protect against arrows and bullets during an attack.

The body of the wagon was built with pitch and/or tar in between the board seams. This prevented leaks, which made it possible for the Conestoga wagon to cross rivers.

The front and back ends of the Conestoga covered wagon were slanted to keep the contents (and people) from spilling out while traveling on steeper hills.

Another generation of wagons that came from the Conestoga covered wagons were “prairie schooners.” They were designed for carrying less weight, but going greater distances as pioneers traveled and moved westward. These descendants of the Conestoga wagons were said to look like “boats” as they crossed the prairies. This is because the slanted ends gave the body a boat-like appearance. Additionally, the grasses of the prairies would often be as high as the wheels. Therefore, from a distance, the covered wagon would have the illusion of a boat gliding across the “water” as it moved smoothly above the tall grass.


Fact Sources:

Prentice-Hall, Inc. “The Conestoga Wagon” (Student activity page)

https://www.britannica.com/technology/Conestoga-wagon, Encyclopædia Britannica, “Conestoga wagon,” Published May 03, 2011, Accessed April 11, 2019