Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life in Pioneer America

Part of this information came from the Messenger/Fort Dodge, Iowa  Mon. Sep 19, 2005

Comparing family values, social customs, world events, clothing and language from yesteryear to today, you might think you were in a different world altogether.  Pioneer life was harsh and pioneers used the resourcefulness and logic they possessed to survive, and  we need to remember that.  Raising families was especially hard due to the lack of healing medicines and proper clothing.  Lots of families lost all of their children due to illness.

In remembering what their life was like we need to look at some of the differences from our own lives.  

Woven cotton was considered luxurious fabric, given the long hours required to weave it.  

A woman's apron served far more purposes than to keep the dress beneath it clean.  Among its other uses, a woman wiped her hands on it as she worked about the kitchen, used it as a pot holder, wiped tiny noses, shielded her face outside in wind and snow and used its pockets to hold clothes pins and any number of small necessities.

Older single women (be it spinster aunts or widowed relatives) who came to live with a younger relative's family, usually had the job of weaving and spinning.

Clothing was precious - it took a great deal of time to spin and weave, therefore, people often owned only one set of clothing for summer, one for winter, or one for good and one for everyday.  Wills written by testators of that period mention clothing left to various heirs, which reflects the value clothing had.

Sugar was sold in crystal blocks which chipped down.  Because it was expensive, sorghum and honey were often substituted.
Coffee was sold by the pound and in bean form, which had to be ground.  (One fact that might be similar to today).

It was usual for a member of the party to be assigned the duty of journalist on the Oregon Trail.

Women settlers who worked the fields left their infants on blankets or in baskets at the side of fields to sleep as the mother worked (a practice which today would get her arrested for child indangerment).

It was very expensive to journey west, so middle age couples rather than young people were usually the ones to take this journey.  A wagon with a team of mules (they preferred mules because they were stronger) or horses, farm equipment and three to six months of supplies had to be purchased.  Families often emigrated in whole family units, including middle aged parents, grown children and even grandparents.   Wagon trains with large family units were organized with a leader.  There is safety in numbers and it often took many hands to move heavy wagons up and down mountains, across swollen rivers and across swamps.  A couple in a lone wagon would not have undertaken such a journey alone.

In pioneer journals and letters, the primary complaint was mosquitoes, rather than poor conditions such as heat and humidity.

While walking on the prairie, settlers learned to carry a stick to flush out snakes in the brush and tall grass they passed through.

Temperatures on the prairie were often far below freezing and the nearest neighbor was far away, so keeping a fire going in a fire pit or in a fireplace was extremely important.

When the emigrant reached his destination it was more important to clear land and get the crops planted than it was to build a house.  They continued living in their wagons  until this job was done.

Even though it was a hard life, these families were happy and children learned the value of hard work.

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