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Feast Your Eyes: Chuck Wagon Roundup

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The following is a  guest post for the Feast Your Eyes series by Brett Carnell, Head of Technical Services, Prints and Photographs Division.

Growing up in a ranching community means that when autumn is in the air, my mind drifts to the legendary fall roundup and its iconic chuck wagon as depicted in classic Western novels and films. My mouth waters for a tin plate of beans and a hunk of sourdough bread washed down with a strong cup of cowboy coffee, all accompanied by cheerful cowboy banter.

Historic photographs at the Library of Congress depict the realities of the chuck wagon. The cook gets his job done with just an open fire and a few cast iron pots. Hard-working cowboys take a break from their saddles and sit on the hard ground to eat. They balance their tin plates on their laps or place them directly on the ground. They use the knives of their trade as eating utensils. No doubt dinner sometimes included a dab of dust and the occasional bug.

This outdoor dining experience is a far cry from the tail-gate barbecues football fans are enjoying this fall!

Colorado. The round up, “grub pile”. Photochrom by Detroit Publishing Company, between 1898 and 1905.
J.A. chuck-wagon, getting dinner. Photo by Erwin E. Smith, 1907.
Cowboys at lunch. Photo by W. D. Harper, 1904.
Cowboys at lunch. Photo by W. D. Harper, 1904.
Roundup scenes on Belle Fourche in 1887. Photo by John C. H. Grabill, 1887.
Roundup scenes on Belle Fourche in 1887. Photo by John C. H. Grabill, 1887.

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