Would you spend $100 for a glass of water? Some 49ers on the California Trail did.
Because of poor planning or a bad guide, many western-bound 49ers were unprepared for the hot, dry deserts of Nevada. A few sharp businessmen in California knew this and took advantage of the situation. They traveled eastward with barrels of water. Extremely thirsty, many 49ers paid $1, $5, even $100 for a glass of precious water.
But water was not the only expensive item on the Oregon-California Trail. For example, at the start of the journey, flour could be purchased for $4.00 a barrel, but further along the price rose to a sky-high $1.00 per pint. Other staples could also be quite expensive:
·Sugar $1.50 per pint
·Coffee $1.00 per pint
·Liquor $4.00 per pint
Surprisingly, there were other staples that were amazingly cheap. For example, at Ft. Laramie, bacon could be had for a penny per pound. Those who had excess bacon often considered it worthless and dumped it by the side of the road. One emigrant reported seeing ten tons on one pile.Why the wide disparity in prices? The basic laws of supply and demand were at work. Most wagon trains took too much bacon and so it had little trading value. Water, on the other hand was in short supply and thus commanded a high price.