Can You Name the Official State Vehicle of Texas?

Frankly Speaking by Frank Jordan (Published in the Vindicator, May 20, 2010)

The Official State of Texas Vehicle is a 145 year old Studebaker purchased and rebuilt from Army Surplus in 1866!  Renamed for its purpose, you probably know this amazing part of Texas history better as a Chuckwagon!  A former Texas Ranger named Charles Goodnight, in preparing for moving a herd of 2,000 longhorns from northern Texas to Denver, designed and constructed the first Chuckwagon as a portable kitchen wagon drawn by oxen or mules for cowboys on the trail.

Goodnight used very tough bois d’arc wood.   Bois d’arc , translated “wood of the bow,” is a small tree from which the Osage Indians made superior bows and arrows.  More than a century after completion, Goodnight’s original Chuckwagon was declared the Official State Vehicle of Texas in 2003 and is now on display at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in the Fort Worth Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Chuck“ was the slang word for “food” to the cowboys, but the term “chuck” had been used since the early 17th century in England in the meat business to refer to the lower priced part of a beef carcass (chuck steak or roast) and this was the cut of meat most often used on the trail rides.

“Cookie,” who managed the Chuckwagon, was second only to the “Trailboss” on a cattle drive; often performing as the cook, barber, dentist, and banker while supervising the cooking and social center. When “Cookie” said, “Come and get it!, there was instant and total response.

The most unique innovation of the Chuckwagon was the sloping “chuck box” constructed on the rear of the wagon with a hinged lid that lowered to become “Cookies” worktable at the destination for the day. The box stretched across the width of the wagon with shelves and drawers for utensils and food.  On the front of most wagons was a “jockey box,” used for storing tools and equipment.

Bows of wood were placed across the top covered by waterproof sheets. Often a cowhide called a “possum belly” was stretched underneath the wagon and fastened at the corners to hold wood and dried cow chips used for making camp fires.

The water barrel, saws, cleavers, shovels, other equipment and gun were attached for easy access. The coffee grinder was always present for the coffee essential in the mornings. Foods served always included beans (frijoles), salted meat, sourdough breads, skillet corn bread and stews. Flour, salt and sugar were kept in the boxes in the pantry box. On special occasions “Cookie” might prepare a pie or cobbler, usually with the outfit brand in the crust.

As the actual home on the range, the Chuckwagon was the official address of the cowboys while on the trail.  Definite unwritten laws applied, including approaching riders always stayed downwind so they didn’t blow up dust into the food and cooking area.  No fights around the Chuckwagon for the same reason.

No nibbling or snacks were allowed unless permitted by Cookie.  When dishing out food from a pot, a lid was not to touch the ground and after the meal, cowboys scraped their plates into a “wreck” pan.  The last piece of meat or food could not be taken until all in the group had food to eat. Offenses were punishable by starvation for a period determined solely by Cookie!

Frankly speaking, these homes on the range have always been a fascination to this writer and recently a completely restored Chuckwagon from 1890 was acquired for enjoyment by children, grandchildren and adults alike.   Being honest, there was no idea at the time of my beloved Chuckwagon purchase, I had just inadvertently acquired an authentic version of the Official Vehicle of Texas!