Archive for April, 2014


April 25, 2014


Wonderful words, School’s out. For every child regardless of age or grade, the words brought visions of running freely through oceans of prairie grass. Of course, the future of helping at home was ignored.

As stated before, release from school in early May was necessary for homesteader’s children. Every available hand, no matter how small was required for helping with cattle and in the field. So dull work with numbers and reading were only replaced by hard physical labor.

The end of the school celebration held the promise of being in the next grade in the fall and in some cases, the introduction into the working world. In many cases, boys and girls were only educated through sixth grade, then they were considered old enough to take their place among the field hands. Many youngsters were allowed to continue on until Eighth Grade Graduation before ending their formal education.

The following is a portion of an Eighth Grade Final Test given in Salina, Kansas in 1895.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000.. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt



April 18, 2014


The Easter celebration for pioneers didn’t vary significantly from other Sundays for the pioneers. Easter traditions of new clothes, hats, shoes, and egg hunts weren’t in evidence for the pioneer family. Eggs were a valuable commodity, so having extras for boiling and dyeing was far too lavish. What few eggs which might have been dyed were colored using natural dyes like beets for red and fresh grass for a light yellow color.

New clothes were also out of the question. Most pioneer women would have considered it a frivolous expense to purchase a bolt of cloth for new dresses. Fifty pound flour sacks were printed with patterns of flowers or leaves, but most of the sacks were saved for a new school dress in the fall. At best a child might be given a new apron or pinafore to wear over the dependable school dress or a new sunbonnet which would later serve as protection from the summer sun’s rays. New shoes were not an option. If the child’s feet had grown out of the school shoes, the child might be encouraged to go barefoot through the spring and summer. Any shoes which had any wear left in them were polished and handed down to the next child, no fancy slippers here, unisex boots were the requirement of the day. No wonder that young ladies were thrilled to be able to go out on their own and could purchase feminine shoes.

Easter Sunday religious services might fall a week earlier or later than the calendar date as traveling preachers, known as circuit riders, visited congregations on alternating Sundays. Since pioneer towns built churches later in their existence, most services were held in the local schoolhouse.

Most early pioneers wouldn’t recognize the modern Easter celebrations.

 One final note, a special thank you to my followers, your support encouraged me to submit some of these blogs to the Colorado Authors League blog contest and I’m a finalist.  Thanks so much. 


April 11, 2014


The seed catalog has been my companion since January. Stolen spare moments found me with my order list checking and rechecking what will grow in growing area 3. At a little over 6,500 feet it is better to err on the side of too cold rather than too warm. Yes, I live east of Denver. Yes, we are higher in altitude than the “Mile-High” city.

Occasionally I yearn for the perfume of orange or lemon trees, but the knowledge that these frivolous expenditures would have to live year-round in my living room makes me sigh and bypass the ordering phase.

What of pioneer gardening? Seed companies were not in evidence like today. The general store might stock the common seeds, like carrots, turnips, or rutabagas, but nothing exotic. Planting those shrivel-up specimens left in the potato bin generally grew potatoes. Most had gangly white roots trailing from each potato eye which produced several “seed potatoes’ if cut carefully. Peas and bean seeds might be traded with neighbors or might arrive as a precious package from relative in the East.

Gardens were watered with wastewater. Obviously soap would kill the tender shoots, so the choice of wastewater might be limited.

Flower seeds were a rare treat. Most pioneer women weren’t able to grow flowers, which grew in the East—altitude being the problem once again. Occasionally neighboring women might give a start of an acclimated flower or a few precious seed, which had adapted to the harsh climate of homestead life.

It is no wonder that dandelions were scattered by a European woman desperate for some color in her drab life.


April 4, 2014

For the early homesteader, spring was a busy season. Once the soil had thawed, land needed to be plowed, disked, or harrowed then planted. With the hard clay soil of the plains, this operation might not be an easy project. In modern farming, acres of land can be tilled in a single day, but in the 1800’s with a mule, horse, or in some cases a cow the task could take a week or longer.  

Sometimes the homesteader plowed to the end of a row, stopped, turned the heavy metal disk or plow by hand, and then plowed the next row. Usually the farmer walked beside the team of animals as he/she plowed.

Just a note, probably as many women as men worked the fields. In the settlement of the plains many women worked the land while husbands worked “town Jobs” to keep some money flow until the homestead became profitable. In one local story, three Swedish sisters homesteaded and proved up on their land while each of their husband’s worked at other jobs. One of the husband’s worked as a gold miner in the Cripple Creek area over one hundred miles away. I don’t imagine that he came home to the homestead very often, if at all.

In previous blogs I’ve written about spring calving and other difficult activities the homesteader faced in his or her residence on the demanding Great Plains.