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CHAPTER II: PIONEER LIFE
"Times change, and we change with time "
- The Customs of Early Days - The Manner of Building-Furniture, etc. -Pioneer Women - Their Dress- Table Supplies- Cloth, How Made - House-raisings - Log-rollings - Corn shuckings- Dances - Shooting Matches - Settlement of Disputes - Pioneer Mills - Hunting and Trapping - Serpents - Hunting Bee Trees -Bees - Quilting Parties- Wolves
It is a trite but true proverb that, "Times change, and we change with time;" and this is well illustrated in the changes in dress, condition and life, that have taken place in this country in less than half a century. We doubt not that these changes, as a who1e, are for the better. To the old man, indeed, whose life work is accomplished, and whose thoughts dwell mainly on the past, where his treasures are, there are no days like the old days, and no song awakens so responsive an echo in the heart as "Auld Lang Syne." The very skies that arch above his gray head seem less blue to his dimmed eye than they did, when, in the adoration of his young heart, he directed to them his gaze ; the woods appear less green and inviting than when in the gayety of boyhood he courted their cool depths, and the songs of their feathered inhabitants fall less melodiously upon his ear. He marks the changes that are very visible, and feels like crying out in the language of the poet - "Backward, turn backward, Oh, Time in thy flight." It is natural for the aged to sigh for a return of tile past, nor would we attempt the hopeless task of convincing them that, with the changes of the years, there has come an increase in happiness, an improvement in social life, a progress in education, an advancement in morality and a tendency upward in all that relates to the welfare of mankind.
We may learn lessons, however, from a study of that land over which the pardonable and fond imagination of the old settler has thrown the " light that never was Oil sea or land," if, withdrawing ourselves from the activities of the present, we let the old settler take us by the hand and lead us back into the regions of his youth, that we may observe the life of those who founded a great empire in a great wilderness. Let us leave the prow of the rushing ship, from which may be discerned a mighty future, rich in promise and bright with hope, and take our place upon the stern, and gaze backward into the beautiful land of the past. No doubt we shall be led to regret the absence among us of some of the virtues of those who lived in the early days. Gone is that free hearted hospitality which made of every settler's cabin an inn, where the belated and weary traveler found entertainment without money and without price. Gone is that community of sentiment which made neighbors indeed neighbors; that era of kindly feeling which was marked by the almost entire absence of litigation. Gone, too, some say, is that simple, strong, upright, honest integrity, which was so marked a characteristic of the pioneer. So rapid has been the improvement in machinery, and the progress in the arts and their application to the needs of man, that a study of the manner in which people lived and worked only fifty years ago, seems like the study of a remote age. It is important to remember that, while a majority of the settlers were poor, poverty carried with it no crushing sense of degradation, like that felt by the very poor of our age. They lived in a cabin, 'tis true, but it was their own, and had been reared by their own hands. Their home, too, while inconvenient and far from water-proof, was built in the prevailing style of architecture, and compared favorably with the homes of their neighbors. They were destitute of many of the conveniences of life, and of some things that are now considered necessaries; but they patiently endured their lot and hopefully looked forward to brighter days. They had plenty to wear as a protection against the weather, and an abundance of wholesome food. They sat down to a rude table to eat from tin or pewter dishes; hut the meat thereon -the flesh of the deer or bear, of the wild duck or turkey, of the quail or squirrel - was superior to that we eat, and had been won by the skill of the settler or that of his vigorous sons. The bread they ate was made from corn or wheat of their own raising. They walked the green carpet of grand prairie or forest that surrounded them, not with the air of a beggar, but with the elastic step of a self-respected freeman. The settler brought with him the keen ax, which was indispensable, and the equally necessary rifle -the first his weapon of offense against the forests that skirted the water courses, and near which he made his borne - the second that of defense from the attacks of his foe, the cunning child of the forest and the prairie.
His first labor was to fell trees and erect his unpretentious cabin, which was rudely made of logs, and in the raising of which he had the cheerful aid of his neighbors. It was usually from fourteen to sixteen feet square, and never larger than twenty feet, and very frequently built entirely without glass, nails, hinges or locks. The manner of building was as follows: First, large logs were laid in position as sills ; on these were placed strong sleepers, and on the sleepers were laid the rough-hewed puncheons, which were to serve as floors. The logs were then built tip till the proper height for the eaves was reached, then on the ends of the building were placed poles, longer than the other end logs, which projected some eighteen or more inches over the sides, and were called "butting-pole sleepers ;" on the projecting ends of these was placed the "butting pole," which served to give the line to the first row of clap-boards. These were, as a matter of course, split, and as the gables of the cabin were built up, were so laid on as to lap a third of their length. They were often kept in place by the weight of a heavy pole, which was laid across the roof parallel to the ridge pole. The house was then chinked and daubed. A large fire-place was then built in at one end of the house, in which fire was kindled for cooking purposes (for the settlers were without stoves), and which furnished the needed warmth in winter. The ceiling above was somewhat covered with the pelts of the raccoon, opossum and of the wolf, and to add to the warmth of the dwelling. Sometimes the soft inner bark of bass wood was used for the: same purpose. The cabin was lighted by means of greased paper windows. A log would be left out along one side, and sheets of strong paper well greased with "coon" grease or bear oil would be carefully tacked in.
The above description only applies to the earliest times, before the buzzing of the saw-mill was heard within our borders. The furniture comported admirably with the house itself, and hence, if not elegant, was in perfect taste. The tables had four legs, and were rudely made from a puncheon. Their seats were stools, having three or four legs. The bedstead was in keeping with the rest, and was often so contrived as to permit it to be drawn up and fastened to the wall during the day, thus affording more room for the family. The entire furniture was simple, and was framed with no other tools than an ax and anger. Each man was his own carpenter, and some displayed considerable ingenuity in the construction of implements of agriculture and utensils and furniture for the kitchen and house. Knives and forks they sometimes had and sometimes had not.
The common table knife was the jack-knife or butcher knife. Horse collars were sometimes made of the plaited husk of the maize, sewed together. They were easy on the neck of the horse, and, if tug traces were used, would last for a long time. Horses were not used very much, however, as oxen were almost exclusively employed. In some instances carts and wagons were constructed or repaired by the self-reliant settler, and the wonderful creakings of the untarred axles could be heard at a great distance.
The women corresponded well with the virtuous women spoken of in the last chapter of Proverbs, for they "sought wool and flax and worked willingly with their hands." They did not, it is true, make for themselves "coverings of tapestry," nor could it be said of them that their "clothing was silk and purple;" but they "rose while it was yet night and gave meat to their household," and they "girded their loins with strength and strengthened their arms." "They looked well to the ways of their household and ate not the bread of idleness." They laid "their hands to the spindle and to the distaff," and "strength and honor were in their clothing." In these days of furbelows and flounces, of lace and velvet trimmings, when from twenty to thirty yards are required by one fair damsel for a dress, it is refreshing to know that the ladies of that ancient time considered eight yards an extravagant amount to put into one dress. The dress was usually made plain, with four widths in the skirt and two front ones cut gored. The waist was made very short, and across the shoulders behind was a draw string. The sleeves were enormously large and tapered from shoulder to wrist, and the most fashionable -for fashion, like love, rules alike the "court and grove" - were padded so as to resemble a holster at the upper part, and were known as "mutton legs" or "sheep shank sleeves." The sleeve was kept in shape often by a heavily starched lining. Those who could afford it used feathers, which gave the sleeve the appearance of an inflated balloon from elbow up, and were known as "pillow sleeves." Many bows and ribbons were worn, but scarcely any jewelry. The tow-dress was superseded by the cotton gown. Around the neck, instead of a lace collar or elegant ribbon, there was arranged a copperas colored neckerchief.
In going to church or other public gathering, in summer weather, they sometimes walked barefooted till near their destination, when they put on their shoes or moccasins. They were contented and even happy without any of the elegant articles of apparel now used by ladies, and considered necessary articles of dress. Ruffles, fine laces, silk hats, kid gloves, false curls, rings, combs and jewels were nearly unknown, nor did the lack of them vex their souls. Many of them were grown before they ever saw the interior of a dry goods store. They were reared in simplicity, lived in simplicity and were happy in simplicity.
It may be interesting to speak more specifically regarding cookery and diet. Wild meat was plentiful. The settlers generally brought some food with them to last till a crop could be raised. Small patches of Indian corn were grown, which, in the earliest days of the settlement, was beaten in a mortar. The meal was made into a coarse but wholesome bread, on which the teeth could not be very tightly shut oil account of the grit it contained. Johnny-cake and pones were served up at dinner, while mush and milk made the favorite dish for supper. In the fire-place hung the crane, and the Dutch oven was used in baking. The streams abounded in fishes, which formed a healthful article of food. Many kinds of greens, such as dock and poke, were eaten. The "truck-patch" furnished roasting ears, pumpkins, beans, squashes and potatoes, and these were used by all. For reaping-bees, log-rollings and house-raisings, the standard dish was pot-pie. Coffee and tea were used sparingly, as they were very dear, and the hardy pioneer thought them fit only for women and children. They said they would not "stick to the ribs." Maple sugar was much used and honey was only five cents a pound. Butter was the same price, while eggs were only three cents a dozen. The utmost good feeling prevailed. If one killed hogs, all shared. Chickens were to be seen in great numbers around every doorway, and the gobble of the turkey and the quack of the duck were heard in the land. Nature contributed of her fruits. Wild grapes and plums were to he found in their season along the streams.
The women manufactured nearly all the clothing worn by the family. In cool weather, gowns made of "linsey-woolsey" were worn by the ladies. The chain was of cotton and the filling of wool. The fabric was usually plaid or striped, and the different colors were blended according to the taste of the fair maker. Colors were blue, copperas, turkey red, light blue, etc. Every house contained a card-loom and spinning wheel, which were considered by the women as necessary for them, as a rifle was for the men. Several different kinds of cloth were made. Cloth was woven from cotton. The rolls were bought and spun on little and big wheels into two kinds of thread, one the '' chain,'' and the other the ''filling." The more experienced only spun the chain, the younger the filling. Two kinds of looms were in use. The most primitive in construction was called the side loom. Time frame of it consisted of two pieces of scantling running obliquely from the floor to the wall. Later the frame loom, which was a great improvement over the other, came in use. The men and boys wore jeans and linsey-woolsey hunting shirts. The jeans was colored either light blue or butternut.
Many times, when the men gathered to a log-rolling or a barn-raising, the women would assemble, bringing their spinning wheels with them. In this way, sometimes as many as ten or twelve would gather in one room, and the pleasant voices of the fair spinners would mingle with the low hum of the spinning wheels. Oh! golden early days! Such articles as could not be manufactured were brought to them from the nearest store by the mail carrier. These were few, however. The men and boys, in many instances, wore pantaloons made of the dressed skin of the deer, which then roamed the prairies in large herds. The young man who desired to look captivating in the eyes of the maiden whom lie loved, had his "bucks" fringed, which lent them a not unpleasant effect. Meal sacks were also made of buckskin. Caps were made of the skins of the fox, of the wolf, wildcat and muskrat, tanned with fur on. The tail of the fox or wolf often hung from the top of the cap, lending the wearer a jaunty air. Both sexes wore moccasins, which in dry weather were an excellent substitute for shoes. There were no shoemakers, and each family made its own shoes.
The settlers were separated from their neighbors often by miles. There were no church houses, or regular services of any kind to call them together; hence, no doubt, the cheerfulness with which they accepted invitations to a house-raising, or a log-rolling, or a corn husking, or a bee of any kind. To attend these gatherings, they would sometimes go ten or more miles. Generally with the invitation to the men, went one to the women, to come a quilting. The good woman of the house where the festivities were to take place, would be busily engaged for a day or more in preparation for the coining guests.. Great quantities of provisions were to be prepared, for dyspepsia was unknown to the pioneer, and good appetites were the rule and not the exception. The bread used at these frolics was baked generally on johnny or journey-cake boards, and is the best corn bread ever made. A board is made smooth, about two feet long and eight inches wide, the ends are generally rounded. The dough is spread out on this board and placed leaning before the fire. One side is baked and the dough is changed on the board, so the other side is presented in its turn to the fire. This is johnny-cake, and is good, if the proper materials are put in the dough and it is properly baked. At all the log-rollings and house-raisings it was customary to provide liquor. Excesses were not indulged in, however. The fiddle was never forgotten. After the day's work had been accomplished, outdoors and in, by men and women, the floor was cleared and the merry dance began. The handsome, stalwart young men, whose fine forms were the result of their manly out-door life, clad in fringed buckskin trousers and gaudily colored hunting shirts, led forth the bright-eyed, buxom damsels, attired in neatly fitting, linsey-woolsey garments, to the dance, their cheeks glowing with health and eyes speaking of enjoyment, and perhaps of tenderer emotion. In pure pioneer times, the crops were never husked on the stalks as is done at this day, but were hauled home in the husk and thrown in a heap, generally by the side of the crib, so that the ears when husked could be thrown direct into the crib. The whole neighborhood, male and female, were invited to the "shucking" as it was called. The girls and many of the married ladies generally engaged in this amusing work. In the first place, two leading expert huskers were chosen as captains, and the heap of corn divided its nearly equal as possible. Rails were laid across the piles, so as to designate the division; and then each captain chose alternately his corps of huskers, male and female.
The whole number of working hands present were selected on one side or the other, and then each party commenced a contest to heat the other, which was in many cases truly exciting. One other rule was, whenever a male husked a red ear of corn, he was entitled to a kiss from the girls. This frequently excited much fuss and scuffling, which was intended by both parties to end in a kiss. It was a universal practice that taffa, or Monongahela whisky, was used at these husking frolics, which they drank out of a bottle; each one, male and female, taking the bottle and drinking out of it, and then handing it to his or her neighbor, without using any glass or cup. This custom was common and not considered rude. Almost always these corn-shuckings ended in a dance. To prepare for this amusement, fiddles and fiddlers were in great demand, and it often required much fast riding to obtain them. One violin and a performer. were all that was contemplated at these innocent rural games. About dark, when the supper was half over, the bustle and confusion commenced. The confusion of the tongues at Babel would have been ashamed at the corn-shucking,- the young ones hurrying off the table, and the old ones contending for time and order. It was the case in mime times out of ten, but one dwelling-house was on the premises, and that used for eating as well as dancing. But when the fiddler commenced tuning his instrument, the music always gained the victory for the younger side. Then the dishes, victuals, table and all, disappeared in a few minutes and the room was cleared, the dogs driven out, and the floor swept out, ready for action.
The floors of these houses were sometimes the natural earth, beat solid ; sometimes much excitement was displayed to get on the floor first. Generally the fiddler, on these occasions, assumed an important bearing, and ordered in true professional style, so and so to be done, as that was the way in North Carolina where he was raised. The decision ended the contest for the floor. In those days they danced jigs and four-handed reels, as they were called. Sometimes, three-handed reels were danced. In these dances there was no standing still; all were moving at a rapid pace from beginning to end. In the jigs the bystanders cut one another out, so that this dance would last for hours. The bottle went around at these parties, as it did at the shuckings, and male and female took a dram out of it, as it was passed around. No sitting was indulged in, and the folks either stood or danced all night. The dress of these hardy pioneers was generally homespun. The hunting shirt was much worn at that time, which is a convenient working or dancing dress. In the morning, all would go home on horseback or on foot. No carriages, wagons, or other vehicles were used on these occasions, for the best reasons - because they had none.
Dancing was a favorite amusement, and was participated in by all. "Alike all ages; dames of ancient days Have led their children through the mirthful maze, And the gray grandsire, skilled in jestic lore, Has frisked beneath the burden of three score." The amusements of that day were more athletic and rude than those of to-day. Among the settlers of a new country, from the nature of the case, a higher value is set upon physical than mental endowments. Skill in woodcraft, superiority of muscular development., accuracy in shooting with the rifle, activity and swiftness of foot, were qualifications that brought their possessors fame. Foot-racing was practiced, and often time boys and young men engaged in friendly contests with the Indians. Every man had a rifle and always kept it in good order his flints, bullets, bullet-molds, screw-driver, awl, butcher-knife and tomahawk were fastened to the shot-pouch strap, or to the belt around the waist. Target-shooting was much practiced, and shots were made by the hunters and settlers, with flint-lock rifles, that cannot be excelled by their descendants with the improved breech-loaders of the present day. At all gatherings, jumping and wrestling were indulged in; and those who excelled were henceforth men of notoriety. At their shooting matches, which were usually for the prize of a turkey, or a gallon of whisky, good feeling generally prevailed. If disputes arose, they were often ,settled by a square stand-up fight, and no one thought of using other weapons than fists. They held no grudges after their fights, for this was considered unmanly. It was the rule, if a fight occurred between two persons, the victor should pour water for the defeated, as he washed away the traces of the fray, after which the latter was to perform the same service for the former.
Among the first were the "band mills," a description of which will prove not uninteresting. The plan was cheap. The horse-power consisted of a large upright shaft, sonic ten or twelve feet high, with some eight or ten long arms let into the main shaft and extending out from it fifteen feet. Anger holes were bored in the arms on the upper side at the end, into, which wooden pins were driven. This was called the "big wheel," and was about twenty feet in diameter. The raw-hide belt or tug was made of skins taken off of beef cattle, which were cut into strips three inches wide; these were twisted into a round cord or tug, which was long enough to encircle the circumference of the big wheel. There it was held in place by the wooden pins, then to cross and pass under a. shed to run round a drum, or what is called a" trunnel head," which was attached to the grinding apparatus. The horses or oxen were hitched to the arms by means of raw-hide tugs; then walking in a circle, the machinery would be set in motion.
To grind twelve bushels of corn was considered a good day's work on a band mill. The most rude and primitive method of manufacturing meal was by the use of the grater, whereby the meal was forced through the holes and fell down in a vessel prepared to receive it. An improvement on this was the hand mill. The stones were smaller than those of the band mill, and were propelled by man or woman power. A hole is made in the upper stone, and a staff of wood is put in it, and 'the other end of the staff is put through a hole in a plank above, so that the whole is free to act. One or two persons take hold of this staff and turn the upper stone as rapidly as possible. An eye is made in the upper stone, through which the corn is put into the mill with the hand, in small quantities, to suit the mill instead of a hopper. A mortar wherein corn was beaten into meal is made out of a large round log, three or four feet long. One end is cut or burnt out so as to hold a peck of corn, more or less, according to circumstances. This mortar is set one end on the ground, and the upper end to hold the corn. A sweep is prepared over the mortar, so that the spring of the pole raises the piston, and the hands at it force it so hard down on the corn that after much beating the meal is manufactured.
HUNTING AND TRAPPING
The sports and means of recreation were not so numerous and varied among the early settlers as at present, but they were more enjoyable and invigorating than now. There were a good many excellent hunters here at an early day, who enjoyed the sport as much as any can at the present time. Wild animals of almost every species known in the wilds of the West were found in great abundance. The prairies, and woods, and streams, and various bodies of water, were all thickly inhabited before the white man came, and for some time afterward. Although the Indians slew many of them, yet the natural law prevailed here, as well as elsewhere- "Wild man and wild beast thrive together." Serpents were to be found in such large numbers, and of such immense size, that some stories told by the early settlers would be incredible, were it not for the large array of concurrent testimony which is to be had from the most authentic sources. Deer, turkeys, ducks, geese, squirrels, and various other kinds of choice game were plentiful and to be had at the expense of killing only. The fur animals were abundant, such as the otter, beaver, mink, muskrat, raccoon, panther, fox, wolf; wild-cat and bear.
HUNTING BEE TREES
Another source of profitable recreation among the old settlers was that of hunting bees. The forests along the water-courses were especially prolific of bee trees. They were found in great numbers upon all the important streams of the country. Many of the early settlers, during the late summer, would go in to camp for days at a time for the purpose of hunting and securing the honey of the wild bees, which was not only extremely rich, and found in great abundance, hut always commanded a good price in the home market. The Indians have ever regarded the honey-bee as the forerunner of the white man, while it is a conceded fact that the quail always follows the footprints of civilization. The following passage is found in the "Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the year 1842, by Capt. John C. Fremont," page 69: - " Here on the summit, where the stillness was absolute; unbroken by any sound, and the solitude complete, we thought ourselves beyond the regions of animated life; but while we were sitting on the rocks, a solitary bee came winging his flight from the eastern valley, and lit on the knee of one of the men. We pleased ourselves with the idea that he was the first of his species to cross the mountain barrier, a solitary pioneer to foretell the advance of civilization ." Gregg, in his "Commerce of the Prairies," page 178, vol. 1, says:- "The honey-bee appears to have emigrated exclusively from the East, as its march has been observed westward. The bee, among Western pioneers, is the proverbial precursor of the Anglo-American population. In fact, the aborigines of the frontier have generally corroborated this statement, for they used to say that they knew the white man was not far behind when the bees appeared among them." There were other recreations, such as quilting parties, which obtained in those days, and which were enjoyed to the fullest extent. These parties were especially pleasant and agreeable. The established rule in those days at these parties was to pay either one dollar in money or split 100 rails during the course of the day. The men would generally split the rail, and the women would remain in the house and do the quilting. After the day's work was done, the night would be passed in dancing. "All the swains that there abide, With jigs and rural dance resort." When daylight came, the music and dancing would cease, and the gallant young men would escort the ladies to their respective homes.
An old pioneer tells us that for several years after he came to what is now known as Audrain county, wolves were very numerous, and that he paid his taxes for a number of years in wolf scalps. His cabin was in the edge of the timber that skirted Cuivre creek, and at night the howls of these animals were so loud and incessant that sleep at times was out of the question. Often at midnight, all "At once there rose so wild a yell, Within that dark and narrow dell, As all the fiends from heaven that fell, Had pealed the banner cry of hell." At such times, the whole air seemed to be filled with the vibrations of their most infernal and diabolical music. The wolf was not only a midnight prowler here, but was seen, in the daytime, singly or in packs, warily skulking upon the outskirts of a thicket, or sallying cautiously along the open path, with a sneaking look of mingled cowardice and cruelty. The pictures here drawn of the pioneers, the modes of living, their customs and amusements, while lacking entire completeness, we feel arc accurate and truthful.