$100 Drink of Water

ABOVE: Dry desert of the California Trail in Nevada

Would you spend $100 for a glass of water? Some pioneers on the California Trail did. Dying of thirst in the middle of the desert, they had no choice.

Although it's unlikely anyone on the Oregon Trail paid that much for water, the cost of other supplies was often exorbitant. For example, at the start of the journey, flour could be purchased for $4 a barrel, but further along the price rose to a $1 per pint. Sugar cost up to $1.50 per pint and coffee was over $1 per pint.

Surprisingly, other items were amazingly cheap. At Ft. Laramie for example, bacon could be purchased for a penny per pound. Those emigrants with excess bacon often considered it worthless and dumped it by the side of the road. One pioneer reported seeing ten tons of abandoned bacon on one pile.

The basic laws of supply and demand caused the wide disparity in prices. Because most wagon trains had large supplies of bacon, it had little trading value. Liquor, on the other hand, was in short supply, thus commanding a high price.