“It would be inappropriate to omit reference to one more item in the emigrants’ bill of fare—whiskey. This was brought along in casks or barrels, and it was an important item. Furniture, mattresses, stoves, anvils, or even fine linen and silver might be discarded, but never whiskey. Not all trains carried this commodity, of course, but a high percentage of the journalists mentioned its use. . . . The emigrants used it on very special occasions, as on the Fourth of July or to celebrate a birthday or arrival at a milestone like Fort Laramie, but their original intention was that it be purely medicinal, to combat colds of cholera, or to restore flagging energy and spirits after moments of crisis, such as punishing hailstorms or dangerous river crossings.
Addison Crane mentions another use: ‘Most emigrants take five to ten gallons of whiskey to a wagon under the notion that by mixing it with the bad water it becomes in some mysterious way healthy and purified.’ Cagwin says that molasses was used as an extender, and the resultant combination was known as ‘skull varnish.'”