Draft animals were the single most expensive component of an overland Ford draws on his historical knowledge of the period to point out the economics of buying stock. “In 1847, [when the Mormon pioneers crossed the plains to Utah], horses cost fve times as much as oxen,” he explains. “A team of two horses would have cost $100. A team of two oxen would cost $20 in the early to mid-1840s. A team of two mules, which were much more in demand [by the army], would cost $150 to $125.”
Of course, livestock costs rose and fell with demand. Historian John Unruh reported that the price of a yoke of oxen at Independence jumped from $25 in 184 , when approximately 2,700 people headed west, to $ 5 in 1849, when 25,450 emigrants made the trip. Randolph Marcy, a U.S. Army ofcer and author of The Prairie Traveler, a popular guide to the overland trails, wrote in 1859 that a six-mule team cost around $ 00, whereas four yoke of oxen (the number often recommended in published emigrant guides) could be purchased for about $200. In addition, neck yokes and chain for four yoke of oxen cost only about $25, whereas harnesses for four to six spans (pairs) of mules or horses ran hundreds of dollars. . . .
According to the online historical currency converter MeasuringWorth.com, $200 in 1859 dollars is the approximate equivalent of $5,700 in 2014, and $ 00 would have a value of about $17,100 in today’s dollars.