The Oxcart, CS 219


Oxen Pulling a Covered Wagon

Oxen were used frequently in the pioneer companies. It is estimated that half to two-thirds of pioneer wagons were pulled by oxen. They were preferred over horses or mules for several reasons.  Stanley P. Kimball describes some of these in “History of the Mormon Trail:”

In many ways the Mormons were very much like their contemporary Oregonians and Californians.  West of the Missouri River they shared trails, campgrounds, ferries, triumphs, tragedies, and common trail experiences of the day, with thousands of other westering Americans. 

“The Saints used all kinds of wagons and carriages, but mostly they used ordinary reinforced farm wagons, which were about ten feet long, arched over by cloth or waterproof canvas that could be closed at each end. 

“The pioneers used a variety of draft animals, especially horses, mules, and oxen.  They often preferred the latter when they were available, for oxen had great strength and patience and were easy to keep; they did not balk at mud or quicksand, they required no expensive and complicated harness, and they could live better on the sparse grasses of the high plains. “ []

A very thorough description of the use of oxen in pioneer companies can be found in the article written by Dixon Ford (an actual ox drover) and Lee Kreutzer called “Oxen: Engines of the Overland Emigration.”  


Mormon Pioneers Travelling by Oxcart

Often the oxen pulled large covered wagons.  Sometimes they pulled smaller wagons called oxcarts.  The oxcarts were slow and extremely noisy because grease was not used at the wheel joints. Sufficient grease for such a purpose would not have been easily available, but, more importantly, the carts had open hubs that collected grit more readily when grease was applied. This grit quickly damaged the wooden wheels. The wood-on-wood grinding of axle inside wheel hub made the carts audible miles before they were visible on the horizon and the sound of their creaking, squealing wheels could still be heard long after they had faded from sight.

The song, “The Oxcart,” first appeared in church publications in a Children’s Friend magazine of July 1949.  Perhaps it had been an old pioneer song but, even in 1949, no one could remember who wrote the words or music.

Congregation Choir Arrangement

Our Congregation Choir for Primary arrangement of this song includes an enhanced piano part and a countermelody that could be used for voice or any appropriate instrument.

Listen to it here.  You will hear the enhanced piano doing the intro, then voices join in singing the melody, next the voices sing the countermelody and, finally, on the third verse, you will hear melody and countermelody together.




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