Prairie Schooner

“The vehicle was known simply as a ‘wagon’ or a ‘farm wagon,’ and was designated as ‘one-horse’ or ‘two-horse,’ though such description was retrospective, and in the actual journey the wagons were not pulled by horses and and always by more than one or two animals. In addition, the term ‘light’ was generally applied to both sizes of wagons. Such vehicles could carry a ton or more, but three-fourths of a ton was considered enough of a load to start with. Even the romantic name ‘prairie schooner’—almost never used by the emigrants themselves—makes the analogy not with a big three-master, but with a small, maneuverable, and almost homelike vessel. . . .

“At length, the wagons reached ‘the coast of Nebraska.’ Many people have taken this to be a figure of speech continuing the frequent analogy between the prairies and the sea, and such people have ben like to wax eloquent at the thought of the ‘prairie schooners’ approaching the coast. But the phrase is a translation of the French le côte de la Nebraska, in which ‘Nebraska‘ serves as an alternate name for Platte, and ‘côte’ is a term to indicate a line of bluffs along a stream.” 

[N.B. For a reference to sighting the “Coast of Nebraska,” see Paden, The Wake of the Prairie Schooner, p. 81]