The chuck wagon was designated the official state vehicle of Texas in 2005. Chuck wagons carried food and cooking equipment on the prairies of the U.S. and Canada as part of wagon trains and was used for feeding nomadic workers like cowboys and loggers. The "cookie" was in charge of the chuck wagon, usually second only to the "trailboss" on a cattle drive. The cookie would often act not only as cook, but also barber, dentist, and banker.
Of course, some type of mobile kitchens already existed, but Charles Goodnight (a Texas rancher) is credited with the concept of the chuck wagon in 1866, based on the Conestoga wagon (also called "pairie schooner" or simply "covered wagon"). "Chuck" was a slang term for food, and chuck wagon food included items that were easy to preserve such as salted meats, coffee, beans, and sourdough biscuits. Food was also gathered on the trail (chile peppers were said to be planted along the cattle trails for future use (or sprang from discards).
Texas also recognizes several of the ingredients used and dishes cooked on "chuck" wagons as state symbols: native chiltepin pepper, jalapeño pepper, Pan de Campo (cowboy bread), tortilla chips and salsa, prickly pear cactus, sweet Texas onion, and chili (as well as the cast iron Dutch oven as state cooking implement).
Senate Concurrent Resolution S.C.R. No. 8
WHEREAS, The Legislature of the State of Texas is pleased to recognize the importance of the chuck wagon to the state's history and culture and to designate it as the official vehicle of Texas; and
WHEREAS, The chuck wagon has been important in Texas since the great cattle drives that lasted from the end of the Civil War to the mid-1880s; during that period, approximately 10 million head of cattle were driven along trails all the way from Texas to railheads in Kansas, Missouri, Wyoming, and Canada; and
WHEREAS, During the early days of the trail drives, a cowboy relied for survival strictly on what he could carry with him, experiencing hunger and discomfort; and
WHEREAS, In 1866, Texas rancher and Civil War veteran Charles Goodnight first used an army surplus Studebaker wagon on the trail drive; the Studebaker proved itself sturdy enough to withstand trail drives that could last up to five months; and
WHEREAS, Goodnight then designed and added a chuck box and a boot to the rear of his wagon; this innovation became the prototype for all future chuck wagons; the wagon's box was used to carry the cowboys' bedrolls, guns, personal effects, bulk food supplies, feed for the horses, and other supplies; and
WHEREAS, Today The American Chuck Wagon Association has 123 registered chuck wagons and over 200 members; the association's members are committed to restoring and maintaining chuck wagons with their own resources, which has ensured that the chuck wagon will continue to function as a viable tool on many of our Texas ranches and add to our state's historical and cultural charm; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 79th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby acknowledge the important value of preserving the chuck wagon and designate the chuck wagon as the official vehicle of Texas; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That a copy of this resolution be prepared as an expression of esteem from the Texas Legislature.
Dutch oven cooking on campfire - click to see all cultural symbols
Dutch oven on campfire photo © Jason Slemons (used by permission). See All State Cultural Symbols.