prairie schooner, wagon covered with white canvas, made famous by its almost universal use in the migration across the Western prairies and plains, and so called in allusion to the white-topped schooners of the sea. It was a descendant of the Conestoga wagon. Whereas the latter usually required a six-horse team even on good roads, the prairie schooner was much lighter and rarely needed more than four horses, and sometimes only two, even on virgin prairie trails. Oxen were frequently used instead of horses. The average prairie schooner was an ordinary farm wagon fitted with a top, drawn in at both ends, with only an oval opening to admit air and light to the interior, where women and children usually slept and rode. In crossing the Great Plains groups of prairie schooners customarily traveled together for protection (see wagon train).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.