The word of the day was grub; as in the slang word for food used by cowboys in the 1880s. It was called substandard slang by the author of the article I read. But that is not what intrigued me. What got my attention was the phrase “grub was served up by the chuck wagon”. Chuck wagon, I have always wondered why it was called a chuck wagon. Once upon a time I thought it was because the wagon belonged to a guy named Chuck. NOT true.
A Texas rancher named Charles Goodnight “invented” the first chuck wagon. Concerned about feeding his cow hands while they were on cattle drive fueled his creativity and he converted a Studebaker wagon into a place for the cook to store, prepare and transport the items needed to feed the crew. Yes, you read that right, Studebaker as in the car, wagon.
Chuck wagon Catering Company original 1895 Studebaker Chuck wagon
The Studebaker family came from Holland and arrived in America at the Port of Philadelphia in 1736. On a census from Pennsylvania dated 1798 the occupation of the men of the family was listed as wagon makers. In 1835 they are found in Ohio and John Studebaker and 5 of his sons list their trade as wagon makers.
1852 members of the family are in South Bend, Indiana. Another family member is in Placerville California 1n 1849 making wheelbarrows for miners. 1857 found family members building wagons for the United States Army. In 1895 Mr. Fish who had married Grace Studebaker was toying with the idea of a horseless carriage and in 1904 Studebaker was manufacturing gasoline powered motorized vehicles.
About one third of the wagons crossing the prairies during the migration toward Oklahoma and beyond were Studebaker wagons. Our rancher, Mr. Goodnight used a wagon that had seen service in the Military during the late Civil War.
The food served from a chuck wagon was easily stored, preserved and cooked such as salted meats, dried meats, beans coffee and sourdough biscuits. The word chuck comes from a word used on ships during the early 1800s to mean biscuit, bun, scone or muffin. The closest word I could find was a Swedish word, kex which translates to biscuit. In the late 1600s chuck referred to a very cheap cut of beef in English market places.
The chuck wagon was not named chuck in honor of Charles Goodnight; even if his good friends did call him Chuck.
This week we present the Artz of Chuck Wagon.