THE LOG CABIN WAS THE PALACE OF THE PIONEER - CHINKED LOGS, COVERED WITH CLAPBOARDS - RIFLE AND SPINNING WHEEL - ALMOST ANYTHING WAS A BEDROOM - COOKING WAS PRIMITIVE FOR SHARP APPETITES - WELCOME FOR THE WAYFARER - PRAIRIE FIRES AND WOLF HUNTS - AMUSEMENTS FOR THE FRONTIER PEOPLE WERE NOT LACKING - WHAT UNREMITTING TOIL HAS ACCOMPLISHED.
Most of the early settlers of Iowa came from older states, as Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio, where their prospects for even a competency were very poor. They found those states good - to emigrate from. Their entire stock of furniture, implements and family necessities were easily stored in one wagon, and sometimes a cart was their only vhicles.
THE LOG CABIN
After arriving and selecting a suitable location, the next thing to do was to build a log cabin, a description of which may be interesting to many of the younger readers, as in some sections these old time structures are no more to be seen. Trees of uniform size were chosen and cut into logs of the desired length, generally twelve by fifteen feet, and hauled to the spot selected for the future dwelling. On an appointed day the few neighbors who were available would assemble and have a "house-raising." Each end of every log was saddled and notched so that they would lie as close down as possible; the next day the proprietor would proceed to "chink" and "daub" the cabin, to keep out the rain, wind and cold. The house had to be redaubed every fall, as the rains of the intervening time would wash out the greater part of the mortar. The usual height of the house was seven or eight feet. The gables were formed by shortening the logs gradually at each end of the building near the top. The roof was made by laying every straight small logs or stout poles suitable distances apart, and on these were laid the clapboards, somewhat like shingling, generally about two and a half feet to the weather. These clapboards were fastened to their place by "weight poles" corresponding in place with the joists just described, and these again were held in their place by "runs" or "knees" which were chunks of wood about eighteen or twenty inches long fitted between them near the ends. Clapboards were made from the nicest oaks in the vicinity, by chopping or sawing them into four foot blocks and riving these with a frow, which was a simple blade fixed at right angles to its handles. This was driven into the blocks of wood by a mallet. As the frow was wrenched down through the wood, the latter was turned alternately over from side to side, one end being held by a forked piece of timber.
The chimney to the western pioneer's cabin was made by leaving in the original building a large open place in one wall, or by cutting one after the structure was up, and by building on the outside from the ground up, a stone column, or a column of sticks and mud, the sticks being laid up cob house fashion. The fireplace thus made was often large enough to receive fire wood six to eight feet long. Sometimes this wood, especially the "back-log," would be nearly as large as a saw log. The more rapidly the pioneer could burn up the wood in his vicinity the sooner he had his little farm cleared and ready for cultivation. For a window, a piece about two feet long was cut out of one of the wall logs, and the hole closed, sometimes by glass, but generally with greased paper. Even greased deer hide was sometimes used. A doorway was cut through one of the walls if a saw was to be had, otherwise the door would be left by shortened logs in the original building. The door was made by pinning clapboards to two or three wood bars and was hung upon wooden hinges. A wooden latch, with catch, then finished the door, the latch was raised by any one on the outside by pulling a leather string. For security at night this latch string was drawn in, but for friends and neighbors, and even strangers, the "latch string was always hanging out," as a welcome. In the interior over the fireplace would be a shelf, called the "mantel," on which stood the candlestick or lamp, some cooking and table ware, possible an old clock, and other articles. In the fireplace would be the crane, sometimes of iron, sometimes of wood. On it the pots were hung for cooking. Over the door, in forked cleats, hung the ever trustful rifle and powder horn. In one corner stood the larger bed for the "old folks," and under it the trundle bed for the children. In another stood the old fashioned spinning wheel, with a smaller one by its side, in another the heavy table, the only table, of course, there was in the house. In the remaining was a rude clapboard holding the table ware, which consisted of a few cups and saucers and blue edged plates standing singly on their edges against the back, to make the display of table furniture more conspicuous, while around the room were scattered a few splint bottom or Windsor chairs and two or three stools. These simple cabins were inhabited by a kind and true hearted people. They were strangers to mock modesty and the traveler seeking lodging for the night, or desirous of spending a few days in the community, if willing to accept the rude offering, was always welcome, although how they were disposed of at night the reader might not easily imagine, for, as described, a single room was made to answer for the kitchen, dining room, sitting room, bedroom and parlor, and many families consisted of six or eight members.
The bed was very often made by fixing a post in the floor about six feet from one wall and four feet from the adjoining wall, and fastening a stick to this post about two feet above the floor on each of two sides, so that the other end of each of the two sticks could be fastened in the opposite wall. Clapboards were laid across these, and thus the bed made complete. Guests were given this bed, while the family disposed of themselves in another corner of the room, or in the "loft." When several guests were on hand at once they were sometimes kept over night in the following manner: When bedtime came the men were requested to step out of doors while the women spread out a broad bed upon the mid-floor and put themselves to bed in the corner. The signal was given and the men came in and each took his place in bed next to his own wife, and the single men outside beyond them again.
To witness the various processes of cooking in those days would alike surprise and amuse those who have grown up since cooking stoves and ranges came into use. Kettles were hung over the large fire, suspended with pot hooks, iron or wooden, on the crane, or on poles, one end of which would rest upon a chain. The long handled frying pan was used for cooking meat. It was either held over the blaze by hand or set down upon coals drawn out upon the hearth. This pan was also used for baking pancakes, also called "flap-jacks," batter cakes, etc. A better article for this, however, was the cast iron spider, or Dutch skillet. The best thing for baking bread those days, and possible even in these latter days, was the flat bottomed bake kettle, of greater depth, with closely fitting cast iron cover, and commonly known as the Dutch oven. With coals over and under it bread and biscuit would quickly and nicely bake. Turkey and spare-ribs were sometimes roasted before the fire, suspended by a string, a dish being placed underneath to catch the drippings.
Hominy and samp were very much used. The hominy, however, was generally hulled corn - boiled corn from which the hull or bran had been taken by hot lye, hence somethimes called "lye hominy." True hominy and samp were made of pounded corn. A popular method of making this, as well as real meal for bread, was to cut out or burn a large hole in the top of a huge stump in the shape of a mortar and pounding the corn in this by a maul or beetle suspended by a swing pole like a well sweep. This and the well sweep consisted of a pole twenty to thirty feet long fixed in an upright fork so that it could be worked, "teeter" fashion. It was a rapid and simple way of drawing water. When the samp was sufficiently pounded it was taken out, the bran floated off, and the delicious grain boiled like rice.
The chief articles of diet in an early day were corn bread, hominy or samp, venison, pork, honey, pumpkin (dried pumpkin for more than half the year), turkey, prairie chicken, squirrel and some other game, with a few additional vegetables a portion of the year. Wheat bread, tea, coffee and fruit were luxuries not to be indulged in except on special occasions, as when visitors were present.
Besides cooking in the manner described, the women had many other arduous duties to perform, one of the chief of which was spinning. The "big wheel" was used for spinning yarn and the "little wheel" for spinning flax. These stringed instruments furnished the principal music of the family, and were operated by our mothers and grandmothers with great skill, attained without pecuniary expense, and with far less practice than is necessary for the girls of our period to acquire a skillful use of their costly and elegant instruments. But those wheels, indispensable many years ago, are all now superseded by the mighty factories which overspread the country, furnishing cloth of all kinds at an expense ten times less than would be incurred now by the old system.
The loom was not less necessary than the wheel, though they were not needed in so great numbers. Not every house had a loom, one loom having a capacity for the needs of several families. Settlers, having succeeded in spite of the wolves in raising sheep, commenced the manufacutre of woolen cloth. Wool was carded and made into rolls by hand cards and the rolls were spun on the "big wheel." We still occasionally find in the house of old settlers a wheel of this kind, sometimes used for spinning and twisting stocking yarn. They are turned with the hand and with such velocity that it will run itself while the nimble worker, by her backward step, draws out and twists her thread nearly the whole length of the cabin. A common article woven on the loom was linsey, or linsey woolsey, the chain being linen and the filling woolen. This cloth was used for dresses for the women and girls. Nearly all the clothes worn by the men were also home made. Rarely was a farmer or his son seen in a coat made of any other. If occasionally a young man appeared in a suit of "boughten" clothes, he was suspected of having gotten it for a particular occasion, which occurs in the life of nearly every young man.
The traveler always found a welcome at the pioneer's cabin. It was never full. Although there might already be a guest for every puncheon, there was still "room for one more," and a wider circle would be made for the newcomer at the big fire. If the stranger was in search of land he was doubly welcome and his host would volunteer to show him all the "first-rate claims in this neck of the woods," going with him for days, showing the corners and advantages of every "congress tract" within a dozen miles of his own cabin.
To his neighbors the pioneer was equally liberal. If a deer was killed, the choicest bits were sent to his nearest neighbor, a half dozen miles away perhaps. When a "shoat" was butchered, the same custom prevailed. If a newcomer came in too late for "cropping," the neighbors would supply his table with just the same luxuries they themselves enjoyed, and in as liberal quantity, until a crop could be raised. When a newcomer had located his claim, the neighbors for miles around would assemble at the site of the newcomer's proposed cabin and aid him in "gettin" it up. One party with axes would cut down the trees and hew the logs, another with teams would haul the logs to the ground, another party would "raise" the cabin, while several of the old men would "rive the clapboards" for the roof. By night the little forest domicile would be up and ready for a "house warming," which was the dedicatory occupation of the house, when music and dancing and festivity would be enjoyed at full height. The next day the newcomer would be as well situated as his neighbors.
An instance of primitive hospitable manners will be in place here. A traveling Methodist preacher arrived in a distant neighborhood to fill an appointment. The house where services were to be held did not belong to a church member, but no matter for that. Boards were collected from all quarters with which to make temporary seats, one of the neighbors volunteering to lead off in the work, while the man of the house, with the faithful rifle on his shoulder, sallied forth in quest of meat, for this truly was a "ground-hog" case, the preacher coming and no meat in the house. The host ceased not the chase until he found the meat in the shape of a deer. Returning, he sent a boy out after it, with directions on what "pint" to find it. After services, which had been listened to with rapt attention by all the audience, mine host said to his wife, "Old womean, I reckon this 'ere preacher is pretty hungry and you must git him a bite to eat." "What shall I get him?" asked the wife who had not seen the deer; "thar's nuthin' in the house to eat." "why look thar," returned he, "thar's a deer, and thar's plenty of corn in the field; you git some corn and grate it while I skin the deer, and we'll have a good supper for him." It is needless to add that venison and corn bread made a supper fit for any pioneer preacher and was thankfully eaten.
Fires set out by Indians or settlers, sometimes purposely and sometimes permitted through carelessness, would visit the prairies every autumn and sometimes the forests, either in autumn or spring, and settlers could not always succeed in defending themselves against the destroying element. Many interesting incidents are related. Often a fire was started to bewilder game, or to bare a piece of ground for the early grazing of stock the ensuing spring, and it would get away under a wind and soon be beyond control. Violet winds would often arise and drive the flames with such rapidity that riders on the fleetest steeds could scarely escape. On the approach of a prairie fire the farmer would immediately set about "cutting off supplies" for the devouring enemy by a "back fire." Thus by starting a small fire near the bare ground about his premises and keeping it under control next to his property, he would burn off a strip around him and prevent the attack of the on-coming flames. A few furrows or a ditch around the farm were in some degree a protection.
An original prairie of tall and exuberant grass on fire, especially at night, was a magnificent spectacle, enjoyed only by the pioneer. Here is an instance where the frontiersman, proverbially deprived of the sights and pleasures of an old community, is privileged far beyond the people of the present day in this country. One could scarcely tire beholding the scene, as its awe inspiring features seemed constantly to increase, and the whole panorama unceasingly changed like the dissolving views of a magic lantern, or like the aurora borealis. Language cannot convey, words cannot express the faintest idea of the splendor and grandeur of such a conflagation at night. It was as if the pale queen of night, disdaining to take her accustomed place in the heavens, had dispatched myriads upon myriads of messengers to light their torches at the alter of the setting sun until all had flashed into one long and continuous blaze.
The following graphic description of prairie fires was written by a traveler through this region in 1849:
"Soon the fires began to kindle wider and rise higher from the long grass. The gentle breeze increased to stonger currents, and soon formed the small, flickering blaze into fierce torrent flames, which curled up and leaped along in resistless splendor, and like quickly raising the dark curtain from the luminous stage, the scenes before me were suddenly changed as if by the magician's wand, into one boundless amphitheater, blazing from earth to heaven and sweeping the horizon round, - columns of lurid flames sportively mounting up to the zenith, and dark clouds of crimson smoke, curling away and aloft till they nearly obscured stars and moon, while the rushing, crashing sounds, like roaring cataracts mingled with distant thunders, were almost deafening. Danger, death, glared all around; it screamed for victims, yet, notwithstanding the imminent peril of prairie fires, one is loth, irresolute, almost unable to withdraw to seek refuge."
In the early days more mischief was done by wolves than by any other wild animals and no small part of their mischief consisted in their almost constant barking at night, which always seemed so frightful and menacing to the settlers. Like mosquitoes, the noise they made appeared to be about as dreadful as the depredations they committed. The most effectual, as well as the most exciting method of ridding the country of these hateful pests, was that known as the "circular wolf hunt," by which all the men and boys would turn out on an appointed day in a kind of circle comprising many square miles of territory, with horses and dogs, and then close up toward the center of their field of operations, gathering not only wolves, but also deer and many smaller "varmint." Five, ten, or more wolves by this means would sometimes be killed in a single day. The men would be organized with as much system as a little army, every one being well posted in the meaning of every signal and the application of every rule. Guns were scarcely ever allowed to be brought on such occasions, as their use would be unavoidably dangerous. The dogs were depended upon for the final slaughter. The dogs, by the way, had all to be held in check by a cord in the hands of their keepers until the final signal was given to let them loose, when away they would all go to the center of battle, and a more exciting scene would follow than can easily be described.
The chief public entertainment for many years was the celebrated spelling school. Both young and old looked forward to the next spelling school with as much anticipation and anxiety as we nowadays look forward to a general 4th of July celebration. And when the time arrived the whole neighborhood, yea, and sometimes several neighborhoods, would flock to the scene of academical combat, where the excitement was often more intense than had been expected. It was far better, of course, when there was good sleighing, then the young folks would turn out in high glee and be fairly beside themselves. The jollity is scarcely equaled at the present day by anything in vogue.
When the appointed hour arrived, the usual plan of commencing battle was for two of the young people who might agree to play against each other, or who might be selected to do so by the teacher, to "choose sides," that is, each contestant would choose the best speller from the assembled crowd. Each one choosing alternately, the ultimate strength of the respective parties would be about equal. When all were chosen one could be made to serve, each side would "number," so as to ascertain whether amid the confusion one side had more spellers than the other. In case, he had some compromise would be made by the aid of the teacher, the master of ceremonies, and then the plan of conducting the campaign, or counting the mispelled words, would be canvassed for a moment. There were several ways of conducting the contest, but the usual way was to "spell across," that is, the first on one side would spell the first word, then the first on the other side; next the second in line on each side, alternately, down to the foot of each line. The question who should spell the first word was determined by the "choosers." One would have the first choice of spellers, the other spell the first word. When a word was missed, it would be repronounced, or passed along without repronouncing (as some teachers strictly followed the rule never to repronounce a word), until it was spelled correctly. If a speller on the opposite side finally spelled a missed word correctly, it was counted a gain of one to that side. If the word was finally corrected by some speller on the same side on which it was originated as a missed word, it was "saved" and no tally mark was made. An hour perhaps would be occupied in this way and then an "intermission" was had, when the buzzing, cackling, hurrahing and confusion that ensued for ten or fifteen minutes were beyond description.
Coming to order again, the next style of battle to be illustrated was to "spell down," by which process it was ascertained who were the best spellers and could continue standing the longest. But often good spellers would inadvertently miss a word in an early stage of the contest and would have to sit down humiliated, while a comparatively poor speller would often stand till nearly or quite the last, amid the cheers of the assemblage. Sometimes the two parties first "chosen up" in the evening would again take their paces after recess, so that by the "spelling down" process there would virtually be another race in another form; sometimes there would be a new "choosing sides," for the "spelling down" contest, and sometimes the spelling down would be conducted without any party lines being made. It would occasionally happen that two or three very good spellers would retain the floor so long that the exercise would become monotonous, when a few outlandish words like "chevaux-de-frise," "Ompompanoosuc" or "baugh-naugh-claugh-ber," as they used to spell it sometimes, would create a little ripple of excitment to close with. Sometimes these words would decide the contest, but generally when two or three good spellers kept the floor until it became tedious, the teacher would declare the race ended and the standing spellers acquitted with a "drawn game."
The audience dismissed, the next thing was to go home, very often by a round about way, "a-sleighing with the girls," which, of course, was the most interesting part of the evening's performances, sometimes, however, too rough to be commended, as the boys were often inclined to be somewhat rowdyish.
THE BRIGHT SIDE
The history of pioneer life generally presents the dark side of the picture, but the toils and privations of the early settlers were into a series of unmitigated sufferings. No; for while the fathers and mothers toiled hard, they were not adverse to a little relaxation and had their seasons of fun and enjoyment. They contrived to do something to break the monotony of their daily life and furnish a good hearty laugh. Among the more general forms of amusements were the "quilting bee," "corn husking," "paring bee," "log rolling" and "house raising." Our young readers will doubtless be interested in a description of these forms of amusements, when labor was made to afford fun and enjoyment to all participating. The "quilting bee," as its name implies, was when the industrious qualities of the busy little insect that "improves each shining hour" were exemplified in the manufacture of quilts for the household. In the afternoon, ladies for miles around gathered at the appointed place, and while their tongues would not cease to play, the hands were as busily engaged in making quilts, and the desire always manifested to get it out as quickly as possible, for then the fun would begin. In the evening the gentlemen came, and the hours would then pass quickly by in "plays," games, singing and dancing. "Corn huskings" were when both sexes united in the work. They usually assembled in a large barn which was arranged for the occasion, and when each gentleman had selected a lady partner, the husking began. When a lady found a red ear of corn she was entitled to a kiss from every gentleman present. When a gentlman found one he was allowed to kiss every lady present. After the corn was all husked, a good supper was served, then the "old folks" would leave, and the remainder of the evening was spent in the dance and in having a general good time. The recreation afforded to the young people on the annual recurrence of these festive occasions was as highly enjoyed and quite as innocent as the amusements of the present boasted age of refinement and culture.
The amusements of the pioneers were peculiar to themselves. Saturday afternoon was a sort of half holiday. The men usually went to town and when that place was reached, "fun commenced." Had two neighbors business to transact, here it was done. Horses were "swapped," difficulties settled and free fights indulged in. Whiskey was as free as water. Twelve and a half cents would buy a quart, and 35 cents or 40 cents a gallon, and at such prices enormous quantities were consumed.
WHAT THE PIONEERS HAVE DONE
Iowa is a grand state, and in many respects second to none in the Union, and in everything that goes to make a live, prosperous community, not far behind the best. Her harvests are bountiful; she has a medium climate and many other things that make her people contented, prosperous and happy; but she owes much to those who opened up these avenues that have led to her present condition and happy surroundings. Unremitting toil and labor have driven off the sickly miasmas that brooded over swampy prairies. Energy and perseverance have peopled every section of her wild lands and changed them from wastes and deserts to gardens of beauty and profit. When but a few years ago the barking wolves made the night hideous with their wild shrieks and howls, now is heard only the lowing and bleating of domestic animals. Only a half century ago the wild whoop of the Indian rent the air where now are heard the engine and rumbling trains of cars, bearing away to markets the products of our labor and soil. Then the savage built his rude huts on the spot where now rise the dwellings and schoolhouses and church spires of civilized life. How great the transformation. This change has been brought about by the incessant toil and aggregated labor of thousands of tired hands and anxious hearts, and the noble aspirations of such men and women as make any country great. What will another half century accomplish? There are few, very few of these old pioneers yet lingering on the shores of time as connecting links of the past with the present. What must their thoughts be as with their dim eyes they view the scenes that surround them? We often hear people talk of the old fogy ideas and fogy ways and want to enterprise on the part of the old men who have gone through the experiences of pioneer life. Sometimes, perhaps, such remarks are just, but considering the experiences, education and entire life of such men, such remarks are better unsaid. They have had their trials, hardships, misfortunes and adventures, and shall we now, as they are passing far down the western declivity of life, and many of them gone, point to them the finger of derision and laugh and sneer at the simplicity of their ways? Let us rather cheer them up, revere and respect them, for beneath those rough exteriors beat hearts as noble as ever throbbed in the human breast. These veterans have been compelled to live for weeks upon hominy, and if bread at all, it was bread made from corn ground in hand mills, or pounded up with mortars. Their children have been destitute of shoes during the winter; their families had no clothing except what was carded, spun, wove and made into garments by their own hands; schools they had none; churches they had none; afflicted with sickness incident to all new countries, sometimes the entire family at once; luxuries of life they had none; the auxiliaries, improvements, inventions and labor-saving machinery of today they had not; and what they possessed they obtained by the hardest of labor and individual exertions; yet they bore these hardships and privations without murmuring, hoping for better times to come, and often, too, with but little prospect to realization.
As before mentioned, the changes written on every hand are most wonderful. It has been but three score years since the white man began to exercise dominion over this region, erst the home of the red men; yet the visitor of today, ignorant of the past of the country, could scarcely realize that within these years there has grown up a popilation of 1,500,000, who in all the accomplishments of life are as far advanced as are the inhabitants of the older states. Schools, churches, colleges, palatial dwellings, beautiful grounds, large, well cultivated and productive farms, as well as cities, towns and busy manufactories, have grown up and occupy the hunting grounds and camping places of the Indians, and in every direction there are evidences of wealth, comfort and luxury. There is but little of the old landmarks left. Advanced civilization and the progressive demands of revolving years have obliterated all traces of Indian occupancy, until they are remembered only in name.
In closing this section we again would impress upon the minds of our readers the fact that they owe a debt of gratitude to those who pioneered this state, which can be but partially repaid. Never grow unmindful of the peril and adventure, fortitude, self-sacrifice and heroic devotion so prominently displayed in their lives. As time sweeps on its ceaseless flight, may the cherished memories of them lose none of their greenness, but may future generations alike cherish and perpetuate them with a just devotion to gratitude.