EARLY PIONEERS LIVED IN ONE-ROOM LOG CABINS, HEATED BY FIREPLACE IN WHICH WOOD WAS COOKED
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
The early pioneers lived in a one-room cabin made of round logs minus nails and sawed lumber. Logs of the proper length were cut, the ends being notched simply to keep them as close as possible.
Enclosed within this dwelling was a fireplace, which was cut out of one end of the cabin where a mud and stick chimney was constructed on the outside. Poles were placed on each side of the fireplace with a mantle over all. This was a catchall for the family and also served as a candle for light.
Kettles were held over the fire hanging from trammels, which were held by strong poles. A most essential utensil was a long handle pan used for cooking meat, held on the fire by hand.
The best item for baking was a flat-bottomed kettle with a tight-fitting lid known as a Dutch oven. The bread would bake quickly with hot coals over and under this admirable invention.
A doorway was cut into one of the walls, and a door made of clapboards was hung on wooden hinges. Pulling a leather latchstring operated this opening. If the latchstring hung outside the door it was a sign of welcome for all.
The floor was made of puncheon and the boards that covered the roof were rived by hand and held up by weight poles.
Furniture of the pioneer cabin was homemade. Beds, split-bottom chairs, a pine table, cupboard, and sometimes a spinning wheel were the essential items.
Neighbors, being poor and on equal footing, were described as hospitable. The worst diseases were described as the chills and fever, with quinine and boneset tea being the common cure for the ill. Neighbors were of a caring nature and when a whole family became ill at once they would go and care for them.
Matches were obsolete, the fire being borrowed from a neighbor. Prairie fires were a definite threat in the fall and all dreaded them. Spreading quickly, all precaution had to be taken to protect the dwellings and outbuildings.
Blackberries, plums and other wild fruits were considered a lifeline in the pioneer days. Deer, wild turkey and other game were found in abundance, but foodstuffs were every so often scarce. Wild hogs were found in great quantity, and the bees in the early day created a custom to go bee hunting. Many of the early settlers would travel for miles into the wild country in search of the hive. He would simply follow the bee to his home.
Maple trees, with their sugar taps, provided syrup and sugar. A few families grew flax for fabric, and the sheep were raised for their wool. A small wheel spun the flax into finer fabrics such as dresses; wool was spun to yarn for knitting.
Fish were plentiful. Herbs were refined for doctoring. Concoctions from these herbs were called tonics and administered to prevent illnesses.
As a general understanding there was a law against cutting down apple trees in the early American days. One tree provided raw fruit, cider for drinking, applesauce, dried fruit, and vinegar. The first apple trees were trained to grow low, so pickers did not always have to use ladders. The invention of an item called a chair-ladder could either be stood upon or climbed, it being light enough to carry around.
Worshipping was in a sense the way of the early pioneer. He was forever thankful to God for his very being. The house of worship was in the early 1800's very cold. It was considered improper to place a stove in such a place. The local folks came to church in large fur coats and lap robes. The preacher stood on a tin of hot coals and wore heavy fur mittens while he conducted the service. The entire congregation withstood the long drive to church with a small charcoal stove under the lap robes. When entering church you took your stove with you.
Spring chores included stump pulling and locating hoop wood. After the settling of the ground under a long winter, roots were subsequently made looser and the larger tree stumps were ultimately easier to pull out. The tough roots were impossible to burn, so farmers pushed them into a large fencerow.
Stump pulling and finding hoop wood were spring chores. After the ground had raised and lowered and eventually settled, and winter was done, roots were looser and big tree stumps were then easier to pull out. The tough roots were impossible to burn, so the farmers pushed and shoved them, making them into a fence formation which wasn't very attractive, but lasted much longer than an ordinary fence.
Coopers or barrel makers used the hoop wood to make barrels and buckets. In May the black ash and hickory are alive with new sap, consequently, six-foot poles were cut from the saplings. The poles, after a good soaking, were pounded and rived, or cut into strips for making barrel hoops.
There was a piece of wagon hardware that is virtually obsolete. It is called a drag-shoe or ruggle. It was hung in front of the rear wheels and when, in going down hill, a heavy load threatened to roll forward and push the horse over, the iron shoe was slid under the wheel, or both wheels. As a result the back part of the wagon became a sled and the horse could pull the load downhill. This was the braking system before the addition of wheel-brakes to wagons.
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