To maintain a sense of domestic decorum while on the road was a challenge. While Eliza McAuley has a good experience camping for the first time, Polly Coon's group is very much inconvenienced by it but is determined to make the most of the situation. Eliza McAuley also describes the curiosity of those not making their way West -- a "local" comes to look at McAuley and her companions as though they were an exhibit of some sort.
Frequently, a cow, if not a herd of cattle was taken along with the family. A cow provided milk and cream and women continued their chore of making butter and cheese during the journey. A churn may have been to large an object to include in the wagon inventory and, in any case, trying to churn while riding in a cramped wagon cannot have been easy. One way of accomplishing the job was to hang a pail of cream on the wagon and let the rocking motion churn the butter.
At night, the campfire would be covered to preserve live coals for starting the fire again in the morning. Matches were an expense to be avoided if possible. It was not uncommon the take a bowl and "borrow fire" from a neighbor if a family were unlucky enough to have their fire go out.
"The travelers carried their own bedding. In the summer it was an easy matter to spread a blanket on the ground and make a simple but hard bed there. On colder nights they often stopped near some settler's haystack and let the oxen eat hay while they made a mattress of 'prairie feathers.' This famous bed was made by spreading a thick layer of hay on the ground, placing two blankets over it and covering the blankets with another thick layer of hay. The traveler then took off his overcoat, for use as a pillow, and, fully clothed, wiggled down between the two blankets" (245-246) Polly Coon describes her experience with bedding down on the prairie.
Many of our narrators refer to a desire to keep Sunday as a day of rest even if they were not able to halt their Westward procession for a whole day. It was necessary, however, to stop occasionally for such chores as clothes washing, cooking for the next few days, repairs to the wagon, and care of the livestock. Eliza McAuley mentions stopping for such a day.
"Monday, April 12, 1852. Tonight we pitch our camp for the first time. Our campground is a beautiful little prairie, covered with grass and we feel quite at home and very independent."
"Camped this evening on the bank of a little stream. While we were eating supper a lady who lives close by came to see, as she said, how campers did."
"Sunday, May 30th. There is a very large camp here and most of them are remaining for the day."
Eliza Ann McAuley
"it is not so cold but what we live in our tent very comfortable. they say they have seen as cold as we shall see."
Martha S. Read
"we struck our camp for the first time, & found that we had truly left all comfort behind at least as far as the weather is concerned. But all are in health & spirits seeming determined to manufacture as much comfort as possible from what material we have."
"11th [May] Traveled near about 16 miles & camped again on a large Prarie [sic] near a beautiful spring which we consider a great treat After getting our tents pitched & supper nearly in readiness a heavy thunder shower struck us & we were nearly drenched but succeeded in keeping our beds tolerable dry."
Polly Lavinia Coon