Although covered wagons were commonly used for transporting goods within the United States, in the mid-nineteenth century thousands of Americans took them across the Great Plains from developed parts of the Midwest to places in the West such as California, Oregon, Colorado, and Montana. Overland immigrants typically used farm wagons, fitting them with five or six wooden bows that arched from side to side across the wagon bed, then stretching canvas or some other sturdy cloth over the bows, creating the cylindrical cover. Sometimes, these wagons would be as long as 15 ft (4.6 m).
Covered wagons were primarily used to transport goods. Small children, the elderly, and the sick or injured rode in them, but since the wagons had no suspension and the roads were rough, many people preferred to walk, unless they had horses to ride.