Cost of Livestock

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, $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.