National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier Idaho


Mules, Horses or Oxen?

ioneers with covered Wagon with team and horses
Oxen were slow, but strong, tough and reliable
(click for larger version)

Which would be best to pull your heavy wagons? Mules are strong, can go faster, but are often tricky to handle. Mules also had tendencies to bolt and become unruly. Oxen are slower, but more reliable and tougher than mules. They will eat poor grass. Oxen were very strong and could haul fully-loaded wagons up ravines or drag them out of mudholes. A large wagon needed at least three pairs of oxen to pull it.

Scholars put the percentage of pioneer wagons pulled by oxen at one-half to three-quarters.   The cost of a yoke of oxen during the last half of the 1840s varied from a low of $25 to a high of $65.

Pioneer with oxen pulling a covered wagon

Once on the trail the care and feeding of draft animals became

a very crucial part of the days activities.  With each mile covered

their value increased.

An Ox Bow

An ox bow


Wagon Train on the Oregon Trail

Wagons being pulled by horses and mules

Trail Basics
The Trek West
The Starting Point
The Wagon
Mules, Horses or Oxen
A Day on the Trail