Archive for November, 2013

GROWING UP IN THE PIONEER HOUSE

November 29, 2013

Most homestead houses were razed after they served their purpose of standing proof that someone was actually living on the said homestead. The female addition to the pioneer family usually insured that a proper house was eventually constructed. Most women, even pioneer women, weren’t willing to live in a poorly constructed 10-foot by 10-foot shack with a dirt floor. Insulation was not used as a rule and during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930’s more than one woman despaired at the piles of dirt stacking up in the kitchen corner.

Unlike many western residents, I grew up in the homestead house. In 1910, my grandfather commissioned a large addition to the homestead “shack”, but the house contained the remainder of the earlier incarnation. The kitchen and back porch were the homestead house. The living room and two postage stamp-sized bedrooms were the 1910 addition, plus a two-room upstairs accessed by the steepest, narrowest set of 14 steps known to man. I fell down those stairs enough times to suffer my own version of a closed head injury.

When the 1910 carpenter added the addition, several things were/or weren’t part of the construction. In the upstairs addition, the carpenter didn’t bother to remove the wood shingles on the roof slope. This made for a wonderful built-in slide of about 4 feet in one of the bedrooms. It also added a nice scaling wall so young residents could climb up through the window and lay on the back porch roof on hot summer nights.

In the 1960’s my father capitulated to my mother’s request and added a large picture window to the living room. That’s when we discovered what the carpenter had added to the walls for insulation. Behind the plaster and lathe, were old newspapers, magazines, and more than one pair of overalls and jeans. The properties of this insulation were never questioned.

Heat was always a problem, since the “central” heating in my growing years consisted of a stove in the center of the living room and the kitchen cook stove. Surprisingly the stove pipes never provided as much heat as my Mother was sure they should and the upstairs remained the temperature of a refrigerator freezer during the entire winter

Many times modern is really better.

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HOLIDAY TRAVEL

November 22, 2013

 

Within the next few days, thousands, if not millions, of Americans will hop in their vehicles and follow that old song, “to Grandmother’s house we go.” Even though the song is old, the tradition of going to “Grandmother’s house” is not old. For the record, holiday travel is a rather new tradition.

Think for a moment about travel in pioneer times. We’ve covered that aspect of life in the 1880’s through 1910, but for a review here. In this era, travel generally meant being attached somehow to a horse. On relatively straight roads in reasonable weather, the horse might make twenty miles a day. In November, on a cold, snowy day, discounting the insanity of sitting in the cold wind, travel was much slower and nearly non-existent.

Unless Grandma lived on the next homestead over, and sometimes she did, travel to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving wasn’t even up for discussion.

On the rare chance that a railroad was close to the homestead, pioneers might travel to see Grandma and stay until after Christmas, but in the main, Thanksgiving was a family celebration with perhaps a neighbor or two thrown in for companionship.

Next time we’ll discuss some memorable Thanksgivings.

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A PIONEER THANKSGIVING

November 15, 2013

With the preparations for Thanksgiving looming on the calendar, perhaps it is time to take a few minutes to discuss the extremely different celebrations of the homesteaders and pioneers.

Thanksgiving was a new and very different feast for those on the plains compared to their eastern relatives. A turkey dinner was rare. Unless the homesteader happened to add a turkey to his spring chicken order, turkey was not on the menu. Many early pioneers were totally opposed to raising turkeys, as they were “dumb.” Turkeys would look up at the sky with their mouths open during a rainstorm and literally drown. They were also notorious for falling into water tanks and cisterns thus drowning. Pioneers preferred livestock that was more low maintenance.

A chicken might be used for the celebration unless every hen was laying eggs and needed to keep the family fed. On the plains of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska, the homesteader might be lucky enough to find a sage hen for the meal.

If the homesteader had a well-stocked garden, a selection of root vegetables including potatoes graced the Thanksgiving table. Cranberries were too difficult to obtain; so most pioneers didn’t add them to the menu.

If pumpkins were grown in the garden, then pumpkin pie might be a holiday treat, but more likely the pie for dessert was dried apple pie.

Despite the meager meal, the pioneers were indeed thankful. Surviving another year in thethe harsh environment was always cause to be grateful

ELECTION DAYS

November 8, 2013

 To homesteaders and town folk’s early elections were very important. Unlike some U. S. citizens today, it was a rare occurrence that men and later women didn’t vote. The convenience of “mail-in” ballots wasn’t available so early residents had to travel to the polling place. Usually polling places were located in the local schools, since that was the closest public building.

Election Day became a holiday on the plains. Unless the weather turned out to be an all-out blizzard, voters traveled to the polling place carrying a casserole dish of some kind. Although women weren’t allowed to vote until the 20th century, a chance to socialize with neighbors was always welcome. Men and women dressed in their Sunday finest hitched up the horses to a buggy and headed for the Election Day dinner (held at noon).

Children were allowed time off from their studies so they could participate in the celebration of citizenship, of course few cared other than it meant a shared lunch with neighboring families. It also meant that the neighbor lady who made the excellent pie or cake would probably is bringing her specialty to the potluck.

The afternoon would pass with some men touting their favorite candidate or issue, while others sat quietly keeping their choices to themselves.

Election results weren’t known for several days, if not weeks, as after the polls were closed the ballots had to be delivered to the county seat for a final count. Results would be posted in the local newspaper and those without a paper sometimes waited months before hearing how their favorites fared.

Unlike today, pioneer Election Day was an occasion for fellowship and citizenship rather than a hurried and exasperating trip to the polls.

WINTER GAMES TO PLAY

November 1, 2013

 

“What did they do for fun?, many of the young students I speak to ask during our discussions of early pioneer life. I usually explain that even though the homesteader’s life was difficult, children managed to take time out for games and fun.

Inside games were supposed to be quiet games. Well-behaved children were to be seen and not heard. Games like “Button-Button, whose got the button” or perhaps “Twenty Questions” couldn’t become boisterous, if they did, children were banned from playing them.

Pioneer children played “Hide and Seek” or “Red Rover” despite the weather. “Fox and Geese” required a healthy snow to trace out a circle and divide it into quarters. Many other winter games were variations of summer ones but played no matter the cold or depth of snow.

Of course, old barrel slats could be improvised as skis, newer barrels or large pans became sleds and if a child was very lucky a new pair of skates might appear under the Christmas tree. Skates meant attending skate parties at a local pond or in some cases, a farmer or rancher would flood an area with enough precious water to make a skating rink.

Without Nintendo® or XBox® pioneer children managed to occupy their leisure hours. Spending hours with a favorite book or a new book exchanged with a neighbor child not only built better reading skills but made the winter hours pass pleasantly.