LIVING IN NEW COUNTRY: EVERY DAY ANOTHER CHALLENGE
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
The writer first inserted a portion of this article in the LaFollette Press on September 7, 2000 , and decided to re-enter it in its entirety. It tells of the many trials that the hearty pioneers went through
I trust a good deal to common fame, as we all must.
Farmers worked their places with much harder labor than at present. They rarely hired any help, except at harvest. The pioneer, with his wife and children, toiled on year after year with little assistance.
One pioneer wrote of the younger boy's part in breaking into the labor market. He writes:
"The boys were required to do their share of the hard labor of clearing up the farm, for at the time the country now under the plow was in every direction heavily timbered or covered with a dense thicket of hazel and young timber.
"Our visits were made with ox teams, and we walked or rode on horseback or in wagons to meeting. The boys pulled broke and hackled flax, wore two shirts and indulged aristocratic feelings in fringed hunting-shirts and coon-skin caps; picked and carded wool by hand, and spooled and quilled yarn for the weaving till the back ached."
There was usually a cow or two on the farm and the duty of milking and making butter fell upon the wife. So did that of making cloth. The husband made the shoes, except at the time when some wandering shoemaker sought shelter and a few days' work.
A clock was too expensive a thing to have; crude sun dials answered every purpose on bright days, and on dark days they guessed as to the hour.
The crockery was homely yellow ware, and was often shaped out by pewter and wooden dishes. Fine queensware and china were not to be seen.
It was a difficult thing, even after a family had some money, to get luxuries. Public sentiment frowned upon them as pretentious, and the shopkeepers did not have odd and curious articles on hand.
The chairs and tables were at the beginning made by the sturdy hands of the farmer himself. The beds were built in the house, and thongs of deer or coarse ropes were extended across from side to side, to give the structure elasticity.
Over this was a tick, filled with oat-straw, and the high structure was surmounted by a feather-bed, loved by all who were brought up to know it soft embraces.
Last of all were the sheets of linen, woven at home, and a counterpane (quilt or coverlet) carefully joined together from a multitude of different patterns of cloth, a true housewife's delight.
If there was a cradle, it was made by some handyman in the neighborhood.
Taxes were a burdensome act against the pioneer, not because they were so high, but because he had so little money to pay them with. Dr. Seybert in his Annals of the United States more than a century and one-half ago wrote of the taxes placed upon the citizen. He stated: "The beardless youth manages his taxed horse with a taxed bridle on a taxed road."
Most settlers arrived into the wilderness of the Ohio country with no specie, nor any way to obtain it. Ordinarily they arrived into the forests with scarcely the bare necessities of a primitive life. The small amount of money in circulation was confined almost exclusively to the centers of trade.
Spanish milled dollars, divided into halves or quarters, constituted what was called "cut money." It was so prepared in this way for the purpose of making change, as but a small amount of fractional money was to be obtained, and not enough to supply the demand.
The early settlers were generally a rough, hardy set, and their social gatherings were often marred by fisticuffs. They seldom ever visited each other simply for the purpose of a social call as is the practice of today.
The ladies took with them their knitting and sewing, or went with the expectation of quilting or cutting apples, or in some way helping a neighbor through the great mass of work. At the same time they would cultivate social and friendly relations.
In everything the pioneers were conservative, and they made the best of such advantages as circumstances furnished. The rifle, accompanied with the powder-horn, bullet molds, bullet pouch and wiping stick, was an essential weapon. Many items were left in their former homes in the East, so they placed reliance on their ingenuity to invent what they needed.
Each family accepted the conveniences at hand and wrought patiently toward the accomplishment of the object for which he had entered a strange country.
The social parties of the men were cabin raisings, corn-huskings, log-rollings, various gymnastic exercises, such as jumping, wrestling, shooting at a mark, etc. thus, little time was lost in sociability.
Hunting was essential as a source of livelihood for the settler, but it was sometimes considered a sport. Fortescue Cuming refers to this recreation in his tour as early as 1808. He writes:
"Shooting with a rifle is a favorite amusement at which they are very dexterous, meeting at taverns at short distances from town to shoot sometimes at a mark for wagers, and sometimes at turkeys provided by the tavern- keeper at so much a shot, the turkeys being the prize of the killer of it, the distance is generally one hundred yards and always with a single ball." Communities would sometimes combine their efforts to rid themselves of unwelcome wild beasts that threatened them and their domestic animals. There is every possibility that these aforementioned hunts could have been planned in the local taverns.
A great deal of ingenuity was used by the settlers in making traps to secure the wild animals of the forests, a pleasure endowed upon by the boys. Hogs and sheep were almost an impossibility to raise in some sections of the Tennessee country because of the constant depredations of wolves and bears. The bears invariably preferred pork to mutton, but the wolves always attacked the sheep in preference.
Many young men devoted their time almost exclusively to this business. For the purpose of catching them, a wolf pen was constructed of small logs, six feet long, four feet wide and three feet high. It was formed like a large box, with puncheon floor. The lid was made of heavy puncheons, and was removed by an axle at one end made of a small round stick. The trap was set by the ordinary figure 4 combination, and baited with any kind of meat except wolf meat, the animal preferring any other to his own. Upon gnawing the meat the lid fell, enclosing the surprised animal for the trapper.
Steel traps were generally used for the mink and muskrat, but with the raccoon, it was different. Its habits were considerable. It is well known that the raccoon frequented swamps and stagnant pools in search of frogs, one of his favorite meals when roasting-ears are not at hand. In his search for the frogs he will cross over the logs that are always to be found in the swamp. The trapper, understanding this, places his trap upon the log upon which the unwary animal must enter the swamp or make his exit.
The trap was a small log, placed lengthwise of the log which the raccoon must walk, and held up by the figure 4, to the treadle of which three or more strings are attached. It stretched along between the two logs in such a way that the raccoon must come in contact with him his passage, and thus spring the trap, letting the small log fall upon him. The log was purposely made quite heavy by weights to crush him.
At one village a story was reported that a large bear was caught in a trap. The gentleman found the trap down, and pieces of hair and fur attached to splinters of the trap.
Evidence of scratching and clawing were seen as only a bear would do. A mystery arose as what had happened to the furry animal.
One day, soon after, while residents of the town were working at a building, the subject was brought up. Another gentleman at once told the men present that for several days Indians had been carrying bear's meat along a trail near his house. He had noticed that they had a bear's head, but no pelt.
It was planned that the whole party should follow the trail until they came to where the Indians were encamped, and apprehend the bear's pelt.
An elected captain of the group agreed to abide by his orders. The first adventure that was met with was just east where the water from the springs crossed the main street. In the center of the road the water was three feet deep, and the captain exclaimed that they must follow and obey him. He plunged through the water, while the rest followed him.
It was quite dark, and they were wet on the first start, but this did not dampen their allegiance, as they had already taken treatment against the dew.
They suspected that the Indians were encamped a few miles east. They fired off their guns, and as they approached the Indian camp, they heard a general scrambling, and also heard the dogs barking from the bushes in the woods. The Indians had fled in their fear and dismay. The troop entered the cabin and discovered by the crackling of the coals that the Indians had taken the precaution to pour water over their fire before they took flight. They had apparently hoped that the intruders might think the cabin unoccupied and pass it by unmolested.
Some of the men thought that the Indians might have taken the pelt with them, however, the leader took down a pole which hung across the cabin. It was covered with numerous deer-hides, coon-skins, minks, etc. Rapidly throwing them aside, he soon came to a fresh bear-skin, which he recognized by the long shaggy hair. They took the bear-skin home and gloried in their great victory. They fired their guns several volleys, whooped and yelled much after the Indian fashion, thereby creating substantial alarm along the route. They disposed of the pelt for about $5 worth of whiskey, this drink costing generally 25 cents per gallon.
Wild turkeys and pheasants were plentiful, though not as numerous as the pigeons. One gentleman came upon a flock of three hundred wild turkeys that were having a furious battle amongst themselves. Apparently two strange flocks had come together to decide which were the "head of the roost." Traps were often set for these giant birds. An early pioneer left a report of how such a trap was built. He writes:
"A trench about fifteen feet long was dug sloping gradually down from both ends. Then a rail pen was built about three feet high and covered on the top with rails. One side of the pen was built directly across the middle of the trench. On the inside a few boards were laid across the trench next to the rails of the pen. Then corn would be scattered about the fields and a trail of corn leading to the pen.
" Turkeys, finding the corn, would follow the same to the pen, and picking up the corn in the trench would walk into the pen. When they wanted out they always looked up, running their heads between the rails. They never once thought of looking down the trench."
Wild turkeys were customarily the target of the hunter's gun. The old time inn-keepers would entice the traveler to visit his establishment, more frequently than not, with news of a huge wild turkey which had recently been killed.
The passerby would smell the fine aroma of the big bird as it was suspended over the fire place. A pan was placed among the coals to catch the drippings. A finer meal could not be had.
Another treat served by the inn-keeper was that of rabbit or squirrel. Squirrels were also very plentiful. Other such delicacies of the times were venison, bear and buffalo.
With the population of the white man gaining by leaps and bounds, soon the larger game of the Tennessee country began to disappear, namely the elk and buffalo. In contrast, bears and deer continued for decades.
Wild hogs were quite abundant in Tennessee that any farmer could shoot them in his own woods at will.
Two stories are told as to how they were so numerous. One story reveals that during the War of 1812 hundreds of the animals escaped from the commissary department of the Army, and that they multiplied in a few years to great numbers.
Another rather plausible story goes that these animals were the offspring of domestic animals that had been left by depressed settlers who had returned to their homes to the East.
The wild hog had a rather sweet meat, however, the lard would sour immediately. With an abundance of food-stuffs in which to feed, such as nuts found in great quantities in our virgin forests, they thrived in unlimited numbers.
Long before the extinction of the wild beast, domesticated hogs had come to take their place at the tavern table. The same holds true for the wild turkeys; tame ones took the place of the wild ones.
The American Indian taught the pioneer how to cure and "jerk" venison. The method of salting and smoking of pork was brought from old England.
Fresh beef or pork was used less in summer time. The absence of this luxury was made up for by the presence of fresh fish from the streams.
Rafters of the tavern smoke houses hung full with the choicest of fat hams, shoulders, bacon and strips of "jerked" beef. The latter was prepared by evenly cutting of the fleshy parts of the animal into sheets infrequently more than one inch in thickness. These prime strips were then exposed to the sun and wind and dried before the decaying process could set in.
A preservative process was then commenced by dipping these strips into brine or salt before drying. With this preliminary procedure, all the nutritive properties of the animal could be sustained.
The entire animal would be consumed, but many prejudices still exist in which the heart, liver and especially the brains and kidneys, would not be eaten by the pioneer, because these were considered the lesser part of the animal.
Mutton has not been a pleasurable treat at the table. William Oliver, an Englishman, wrote in 1842 that "mutton is never seen at table except at the house of some person from the old country or from the eastern states, and the natives cock their noses at it as we should do at a boiled rat. Sheep are kept solely for their wool."
The Reliable Old Milk Cow
The reliable old milk cow came to the rescue of many a pioneer. Products from this domesticated animal included then, as now, cream, butter, cottage cheese, and a whole family of home made nourishing cheeses.
Many taverns had their own spring, with a small upright building constructed of stone or brick, used as a covering known as the spring house.
These compact buildings housed the tavern supplies in all weather, except the coldest. Milk, butter and cream were kept in the coolness of the building, and here in the summer the churning was done.
Rows of crocks of cream and milk were kept cool in the shallow stream running from the spring. If the tavern keeper wasn't fortunate enough to have a spring, he used a deep well with a penthouse built over it. He would suspend the buckets of cream or butter from ropes for preservation.
Staple crops such as potatoes, beans, beets and peas were easily raised in the pioneers' fine gardens. Cabbage was a treat, but its cousins, cauliflower and brussel sprouts, were uncommon.
Tomatoes were taboo to our forefathers and many believed they were poisonous. They were generally used as ornaments on the mantel or other conspicuous places. They were originally called "love-apples" or " Jerusalem apples."
Orchards could hardly be mentioned without the name of Johnny Appleseed coming up. He arrived in the territory in 1801 with a horse-load of appleseeds gathered from the cider presses of western Pennsylvania.
The seeds were carried in leather bags thrown over the horse's back. His first plantings were on the banks of the Licking Creek in Licking County, Ohio. Working westward, he planted nurseries and orchards everywhere.
Each year he would return with more seeds which he carried by horseback, and in many instances, by canoe into many parts of the State. He also carried and planted the seed in Indiana. Here he died and was buried at Ft. Wayne.
After the days of Johnny Appleseed, a man by the name of Nicholas Longworth, a celebrated jurist of Cincinnati, who migrated to the Queen City in 1803, imported skilled gardeners and horticulturists from France. Large varieties of fruits and vegetables were raised in his nurseries. He was most famous for his grapes and strawberries.
The Civil War seemed to be the dividing point for commerce, as far as peddlers were concerned. Some sold everything: combs, razors, scissors, buttons, spoons, knives, forks, lace, books, perfume, pins, needles, lace. Many were specialized in their field.
Weavers and cobblers were much in demand. Some prided themselves in their trade by selling to the aristocrats. These sellers dealt in tinplate, clocks, antiques, furniture, washing coppers, etc. Next came the decorators, and portrait painters.
The adept traders could be seen arriving on foot, and some on horseback. Their merchandise was carried on long tin boxes on their backs or on their mounts. Endless bargaining was in store for the pioneer concerning the item of his or her choice.
Constant trickery was in store for the buyer. These traveling salesmen knew perfectly the art of all deception. High moral standings, or a sound practice of honesty, was last in the minds of these dealers.
One historian describes this group as "setting out each year in their thousands, ready to lie, trick, load the dice, swindle." The cumbersome peddler long remained a cumbersome figure in American folklore.
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