prairie schooner

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PRAIRIE SCHOONER, a wagon used for long-distance travel and freight transport in the nineteenth century. The wagon was made with six or seven arching wooden bows supporting a canvas cover. Seen from a distance, the vehicle so resembled a ship at sea as to suggest the name. Mormons, California gold-seekers, emigrants to Oregon, freighters operating on the Great Plains, and settlers seeking homesteads all used the schooner after it was brought into common use in the Santa Fe trade soon after 1821. It was not only the chief means for the transportation of goods, but it also provided a home for pioneer families as they journeyed west in search of land.


Dunbar, Seymour. History of Travel in America. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1915.

Winther, Oscar Osborn. The Transportation Frontier: Trans-Mississippi West, 1865–1890. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Edward EverettDale/f. h.

See alsoConestoga Wagon ; Oregon Trail ; Transportation and Travel ; Wagon Trains .

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prairie schooner, wagon covered with white canvas, made famous by its almost universal use in the migration across the Western prairies and plains, and so called in allusion to the white-topped schooners of the sea. It was a descendant of the Conestoga wagon. Whereas the latter usually required a six-horse team even on good roads, the prairie schooner was much lighter and rarely needed more than four horses, and sometimes only two, even on virgin prairie trails. Oxen were frequently used instead of horses. The average prairie schooner was an ordinary farm wagon fitted with a top, drawn in at both ends, with only an oval opening to admit air and light to the interior, where women and children usually slept and rode. In crossing the Great Plains groups of prairie schooners customarily traveled together for protection (see wagon train).

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prai·rie schoon·er • n. a covered wagon used by the 19th-century pioneers in crossing the North American prairies. The prairie schooner resembled the Conestoga wagon but was smaller.