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Spotted Pup on the Cow Trail

“Cowpunchers took just what they got–sowbelly, beans and the ol’ coffeepot.”

H. H. Knibbs, Trail Driver

The cowboy commissary on the trail would have been limited to what could withstand the dust and rough ride in the back of a chuck wagon. Cookie had no butter, milk or eggs. His meals had to be hearty and plentiful, enough to satisfy men who spent most of their days and nights in the saddle. Cooking delicate pastries and complicated desserts would have been next to impossible.

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The seven basic food stuffs included on most every drive were beef, salt pork, beans, coffee, flour, dried fruit and molasses. Rice is also an important staple that would have withstood the harsh environment. “Air tights”, or canned goods were available. Canned tomatoes were cheap and cowboys could drink the juice when sources for fresh water grew scarce. “Canned cow”, milk, might also be added to the list of provisions but canned goods did add considerable bulk and weight to an already bulging chuck wagon. Cookie carried enough provisions for about a month before he had to stop for supplies. The trail drive could last anywhere from three to six months.

As the cowpunchers kept the herd moving northward, Cookie urged his mule team to stay ahead of the grazing Texas Longhorns. They averaged from 10 to 15 miles per day. The trail boss determined the best place for evening cow camp, preferably near water and if Cookie had the time he might construct a vinegar pie or molasses cake. More often than not meals were topped off with a plate of sourdoughs covered with molasses.

White Rice (Pinterest)

A man who has had a hand in the work and eaten chuck wagon food, while sitting on a pail, is not quite the same again. He has been his own man and lived free.


Spotted Pup is an old dish once served on the cow trail using basic ingredients bringing together the texture of rice, bitter sweet of molasses, and fruity goodness of raisins. It’s a pleasant surprise when it hits your tongue. Cookie knew when it was thick enough and done by the spoon that would stand straight up in the Dutch oven like a puppy’s tale.

This recipe brings that authentic flavor of the late 1800s. I can imagine cow punchers gobbling this up after a long day in the saddle.

Spotted Pup

2 cups water
1 cup rice
handful of raisins
1/4 cup molasses
cinnamon to taste
1 tablespoon vanilla

Instructions: Put everything in the pot and bring to a boil. Stir frequently until water is absorbed by the rice.

Spotted Pup is one of over 100 recipes you’ll find in my newest book along with favorites from today for chuck wagon dishes and from modern ranch kitchens, along with archival and ranch photography. It’s a fun mix of all things western. If you want to experience a taste of the trail and bring a little bit of the American West into your home KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’ is available now for pre-order at all online stores.

Keep a watch on this blog for more information and book signing event details. If you know of a club, group, museum, or public library that needs a speaker, I’m putting my research into a power point presentation titled “A Day on The Trail”. Contact tab is located at the top of the page.

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Natalie Bright is the author of the upcoming book, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’: The All-American Chuck Wagon Cookbook. With over 100 recipes, cattle drive history, archival photos, and her own Texas ranch photography, you can bring a taste of the old West to your kitchen! Available now for preorder at all online bookstores. She is also the author of the Trouble in Texas series for middle grade readers and an easy reader series featuring true stories about rescue horses, and written with co-author Denise McAllister, the WILD COW RANCH series is a western romance.