Covered Wagon Int

Leeverites, Do You Have Them?

I didn’t write this post from my home office. I was traveling, which required that I pack for another state, a higher elevation, and cooler temperatures. Before I left home, piles of clothes, shoes, and sweatshirts lie on the bed awaiting their fate, vying for room in a suitcase already spoken for by toiletries, a blow dryer, and a makeup case.

I awarded flat space to crucial outfits, the nooks and crannies to necessities like a sun hat, umbrella, and tennis shoes (since the impatients behind me in the airport security line would rather I quickly slip in and out of slides or flip flops, not concerned with the added weight and bulk in my suitcase).

Once the first stacks of necessities had made the cut, I pulled out a second suitcase. Now you know why I prefer to fly Southwest—two bags and a carry-on fly free. A big bonus when you don’t have the time or inclination to scrutinize every piece of cloth and plastic in your stacks on the bed, and a true gift to those of us who like options.

The above scenario is one of the reasons some family members find it amusing that I’m writing historical fiction, specifically, a wagon train series.

Trading the Mini-Van for a Covered Wagon

As the author of women’s historical fiction, I do a lot of time traveling to the 1800s…in my research and in my imaginings. I’ve written about mining camps and riverside cities, and put characters on trains to travel across the country. Packing a carpetbag, valise, or trunk for travel by railroad would’ve been enough of a challenge, but imagine having to pack for the Oregon Trail.

The standard emigrant wagon was a converted farm wagon, approximately eleven feet long by four feet wide, ten feet tall, including the canvas cover. Even if you were one of the rare ones who could afford a Conestoga wagon, they were only seventeen feet long by eight feet wide and twenty feet tall. How would you begin to pack for a five or six-month, 2,000 mile, road trip in a covered wagon?

The Packing List

You may still be mulling over my poor packing habits. Perhaps you’ve already been on Google for resources on packing light. You may even be in the middle of writing out a packing list for me–perhaps one for each season or occasion (vacation, writing retreat, speaking engagement, book launch…), including outfits and shoes for speaking, period costumes for book signing events, leisure clothes, and portable office supplies. Necessities, right?

Check out the Oregon Trail shopping list I found in Going Along the Emigrant Trails by Barbara Fifer.

824 pounds of flour

80 pounds of cornmeal

725 pounds of bacon

200 pounds of lard or suet (rendered at home)

160 pounds of sugar

75 pounds of coffee

10 gallons of vinegar (to soak tough meat and also to prevent scurvy)

25 pounds of salt

2 pounds of baking soda

200 pounds of dried beans

60 pounds of dried fruit

20 pounds of rice

Rare treats: canned milk, fruit and vegetables.

Granted that’s a generalized list of provisions for four people, but, still, it’s only the basic grocery list. All of that food has to fit into crocks, casks, hinged boxes, trunks, and barrels, along with cooking utensils, cast iron pots, and tinware. The pioneers may have only taken a couple of outfits per person, but clothes and materials also needed a bit of space. And what about equipment and tools for the trip? Furniture and goods for setting up housekeeping in a new land?

Quickly claimed, most floor space and all nooks and crannies are full.

The standard wagon weighs about 1300 pounds empty. Folks in later caravans had guidebooks for the trip, which recommended taking 1,600 to 2,000 pounds, about the weight of an American bison.

A barnwood mini-van powered by animals for a five or six-month trek across the country with the family. And traveling all that distance without an Applebees, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Costco, or Safeway. Nothing but an occasional outpost or settlement, and that was in the 1860s. Those who set out for Oregon in 1843 didn’t even have a trail to speak of.


What Seemed Important at the Time

When I had my necessities laid out on the bed at my home for the week, I saw that I had brought far more than I could wear in two weeks, even if I were to change my clothes two or three times a day. What seemed important at the time, I recognized as excess.

Like me packing for my trip, many overlanders over-packed. Understandably so, trying to pack for half a year road trip through a wilderness.

When the wagons rolled up to the river’s edge or the oxen stared up at the Rocky Mountains…when the oxen,  mules, or horses grew weary under the extra weight the pioneers had no choice but to lighten the burden.


Dumping the Leeverites

Sideboards, wardrobes, household good, even pianos, littered the hard stretches of the trail because the emigrants had to stop and “leave ‘er right here” to lighten their wagons. A leeverite is something you have to leave behind.

Like the pioneers, I have to stop and revaluate what is important and what is most important. That’s true in my routines, in my thoughts, in my personal preferences, in my tightly held beliefs, in my schedule, and on my over-packed to-do list.

In Hebrews 2:1, God breathed and Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Whether we’re running our life-race on foot, in a mini-van, on a motorcycle, or by wagon, we are on a journey…we have a course to run and finish.

Prudence requires that we stop; that you and I ask the Holy Spirit to help us evaluate the leeverites in our lives, whether they be internal or external.

Now if I could only do that with my luggage. But as long as two bags fly free on Southwest . . . .

Prairie Song

Follow the Boone’s Lick Wagon Train Company rolling away from Saint Charles, Missouri, in their quest for a better life out west.

Read an excerpt of Prairie Song.

Purchase Prairie Song online.


Do you struggle with leeverites? Or have a system for keeping leeverites to a minimum? 


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