Although settlers used a variety of different modes of transportation as they moved westward, the covered wagon is perhaps the most iconic. Covered wagons served as the “moving vans” of the 19th century, carrying settler’s belongings as they traveled westwards. When Joseph Naper and a group of 50 to 60 people traveled from Ohio to this area in 1831, they first traversed the Great Lakes in a steamship and then traveled the distance between Fort Dearborn (present-day Chicago) and Naper’s Settlement with covered wagons. Whether pioneers traveled on a water route or overland, the covered wagon was indispensable for all or part of the journey and served as both a moving van and a utility vehicle.
A wagon like this one required at last four horses, and while it could provide shelter in bad weather, family members walked along side it during the day. The wagon bed even had a boat-like shape and could be used to float across rivers that pioneers had to cross on their way west.