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Ships on the Prairies ATOS 5.3

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Ships on the Prairies

Pioneers began moving west in the 1800s in search of land and new opportunities. At this time, there were few transportation choices for pioneers. North America did not yet have a railroad that connected the two coasts. Most pioneers used wagons to travel westwards.

Families packed their belongings into small farm wagons measuring about 12 feet by 4 feet (6 by 1m). Wagons had curved wooden hoops along the top to form a roof, which were covered with white canvas, to keep out rain or dust. On the green prairies, the wagons' white covers reminded people of sailing ships. This is how covered wagons became known as 'Prairie Schooners.'

Some wagons had pictures painted on their covers. Others had painted slogans. Some slogans read 'Oregon or Bust.' This meant the pioneers were determined to reach the west coast.

Not all wagons were white. Some people painted their wagon covers with bright colors. This way it was easier to identify wagons travelling together. People thought it was better to travel westwards in groups. They felt it was safer and they could ask each other for help. The wagons would travel one in front of the other like the cars on a train. This is why these groups were called wagon trains. Each wagon train had a guide called a captain. This man decided where the group would camp and in what direction they would travel. He was helped by a scout. A scout knew the land well. Some scouts had worked as trappers. It was the scout's job to advise the captain of the best trails and where to cross rivers or over mountains. Children had jobs along the trail. They collected berries, looked after small farm animals such as chickens, and collected buffalo chips. These chips were dried cow dung which pioneers burned for fuel.

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