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Typical travel distance for wagon trains on fairly navigable land

I am wondering about what the average or typical distance traveled each day by a wagon train or lone travelers....this would depend I am sure on the type of terrain they were going over, I suppose for the purpose of this discussion, grassland prairie would likely be the easiest when in the absence of torrential rains, and mud or fact they may well have not traveled too much in the winter time for those reasons....anyone have any thoughts.....I would guess maybe a minimum of 6 or 7 miles, and possibly a maximum of 15 or 20.....given probably each day they would have to make camp, tend to the animals, cook a meal, whatever.....that in itself would slow you down considerably.... Lethalrancher

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Under normal conditions a wagon train pulled by mules could make from 15-25 miles a day. Horses and mules went about 3-4 mph. They required more rest and forage than oxen. If they were pulled by the reliable oxen they made 1-2 miles per hour and 10-15 miles.  Oxen were cheaper, $25, stronger and easier to work with than horses or mules, which cost $75. Oxen were also less likely to be stolen by Native Americans. I mean, what self-respecting Plains Indian would ride an oxen? They didn't stray and could be used as farm animals when the destination was reached.

thanks, that is good information......Lethalrancher

That's a good question and I think our readers of the TW Magazine would like it too. I can send it to the editor for my column but they require a name and town/state. 

If you want to keep that private you can drop me a line with the info to:

As far as individual travel went, a rider who was limited to 1 horse & wasn't in a particular hurry might make as much as 25 or even 30 miles in a day, but he'd be limited to abt 3 days of travel & then he'd have to rest the horse a day.  Cavalry had an old song that went '40 miles a day on beans & hay in the Regular Army, O.' Actually they made pretty close to that.  Starting at dawn, they'd ride for 3 hrs, then dismount, loosen cinches, & walk, leading horses, for 1 hr.  Then it was back in the saddle for 3 hrs, walk, leading horse, for 1 hr. They didn't ride at a trot or a gallop, either.  They walked the horses.  A horse can walk faster than a man--abt 5-6 mph as opposed to abt 2.5 to 3 mph--but, assuming 10 hrs of daylight with an evening halt before sunset in order to feed & water the animals & have a hot dinner prepared by the cooks, you've got abt 9 travel hrs.  You'll spend abt 7 of those in the saddle, 2 afoot.  Assuming 5 mph for horses & 2.5 for men, a Cav unit not moving under hostile conditions on easy-going ground could make abt 35 mi. in a day--but only for 3 days.  After that, regs required the horses be rested a full day.  In a week--6 days riding, 1 resting--Cav could cover a little better than 200 miles. 

Again, this assumes non-hostile conditions & easy ground.  Under hostile conditions, where you have to send scouts ahead & to the flanks to make sure there are no nasty surprises waiting, or in mountainous or extremely rocky terrain, the story is entirely different.  In desert terrain your distance will be determined by the distance between known, available non-alkaline water supplies.


thanks for this good information, very interesting.....kinda what got me to thinking about all of this is that as a young boy I remember my grandmother saying she and her family came from Mabank Texas to Temple Texas when she was a baby, and this in a covered wagon she said, she was born in 1890, so if she were an infant or young girl then it must have been 92 or maybe a bit later.....she died in 1957 at 67 years old, like everyone says later in life, I wished I had asked more questions of known photographs of her very early years, started seeing photos of her and her folks in the 20's or so.....thanks again ......lethalrancher

My dad was born in San Antonio in 1908 and grew up in Langtry and Del Rio. His first wife was the daughter of the constable of Langtry, Bart Gobble. The Trimbles came to Texas from Batesville Arkansas around 1840. I sure wish I'd not been so caught up in girls and baseball to ask questions. I'd drive him crazy if he was still alive.

In 1954 my folks & I were headed from Austin to Lubbock to visit Dad's 1st cousin, Ralph Lane.  We had 'Daddy Ben'--Mr. Ben Jackson, Ralph's stepfather--with us.  While we were somewhere around Abilene Daddy Ben turned to me & said "Charles, the last time I came up this way was in 1904, in a covered wagon."

Thanks Charley,

I'm going to make a copy of this and stick it in my files. I have a talk on the military coming up.  I'm calling it "Forty Miles A Day On Beans and Hay." I still have my old copy of Don Rickey's book with the same title. Of course it comes from the old cavalry song.


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