As the cattle industry flourished and trail herds began coming north to graze the northern plains, dining a la “cart” improved. Goodnight’s invention of the chuck box meant the cook had a place to store pots and pans, “eating irons” (commonly called knives and forks), as well as a carefully guarded bottle of snakebite remedy.
Firewood wasn’t always easy to come by, and often a cowhide sling was fastened under the wagon where wood or prairie coal could be stashed. Otherwise known as cow chips or buffalo chips, prairie coal smelled like a grass fire.
A “wreck pan” for the dirty dishes, a barrel of water and a coffee grinder were pretty much standard equipment as well. In time, some outfits even had a small stove, but variations were numerous. Most outfits had their cattle brand painted on the canvas wagon sheet or burned onto the wagon.
There were trail drives which lasted months, and roundups which lasted weeks. The cooking could be a little fancier on a roundup, when several different outfits got together to gather all the cattle in a district. Just as these roundups were the beginning of rodeo style competitions, they are probably also the forerunner of “chili cook-off.”
But that’s enough about the rolling restaurant. Let’s get to the meat of the matter.
Meat. Well, that could be a bit of a problem. The boss wasn’t particularly happy to have the hired hands chowing down on his profits. Besides, there was more meat on a steer than could be conveniently consumed before it spoiled. An injured animal which couldn’t keep up with the herd might have to be killed. A rather repellent recipe for a young calf called for the marrow gut to be included. This contained partially digested milk and was considered by some to be quite a delicacy.