The Wagonmaster

“The kingpin of the whole freighting operation was the wagonmaster, and quite a man he must have been. He had full responsibility for $18,000 to $30,000 worth of wagons, livestock, and accessories that belonged to someone else . . . He had the responsibility for $25,000 to $250,000 worth of goods that did not belong to him. . . .

He had to be a farrier able to shoe oxen and mules and a wheelwright able to repair wagons with the simplest of tools. He had to know how to get wagons out of bog holes, up and down steep hills, and across rivers. He had to know where water and grass were to be found for the noon halt and the night camp. He was expected to be a physician to his men and a veterinarian to his animals. He had to be a hunter to provide fresh game as a relief from the usual sowbelly. He had to have the magic ability to be everywhere at one and the same time—riding out a mile or so ahead, scouting for campsites or bad places in the road, watching out for Indians . . . or looking up and down the lines of wagons stretched over a mile or more of prairie.”