House & Home Comforts

The first buildings in the county were not just like the log cabins that immediately succeeded them. The latter required some help and a great deal of labor to build. The very first buildings constructed were a cross between hoop cabins “ and Indian bark huts. As soon as enough men could be got together for a “ cabin raising,” then log cabins were in style. Many a pioneer can remember the happiest time of his life as that when he lived in one of these homely but  comfortable old cabins.

A window with sash and glass was a rarity, and was an evidence of wealth and aristocracy which but few could support. They were often made with greased paper put over the window, which admitted a little light, but more often there was nothing whatever over it, or the cracks between the logs, without either chinking or daubing, were the dependence for light and air. The doors were fastened with old-fashioned wooden latches, and for a friend, or neighbor, or traveler, the string always hung out, for the pioneers of the West were hospitable and entertained visitors to the best of their ability. It is noticeable with what affection the pioneers speak of their old log cabins. It may be doubted whether palaces ever sheltered happier hearts than those homely cabins. The following is a good description of those old landmarks, but few of which now remain:--

“These were of round logs, notched together at the corners, ribbed with poles and covered with boards split from a tree.  A puncheon floor was then laid down, a hole cut in the end and a stick chimney run up. A clapboard door is made, a window is opened by cutting out a hole in the side or end two feet square and finished without glass or transparency. The house is then ‘ chinked ‘ and ‘ daubed’ with mud. The cabin is now ready to go into. The household and kitchen furniture is adjusted, and life on the frontier is begun in earnest.

The one-legged bedstead, now a piece of furniture of the past, was made by cutting a stick the proper length, boring holes at one end one and a half inches in diameter, at right angles, and the same sized holes corresponding with those in the logs of the cabin the length and breadth desired for the bed, in which are inserted poles. Upon these poles the clapboards are laid, or linn bark is interwoven consecutively from pole to pole. Upon this primitive structure the bed is laid. The convenience of a cook stove was not thought of, but instead, the cooking was done by the faithful housewife in pots, kettles or skillets, on and about the big fire-place, and very frequently over and around, too, the distended pedal extremities of the legal sovereign of the household, while the latter was indulging in the luxuries of a cob-pipe and discussing the probable results of a contemplated deer hunt on Salt river or some one of its small tributaries.” These log cabins were really not so bad after all. The people of to-day, familiarized with “Charter Oak” cooking stoves  and ranges, would be ill at home were they compelled to  prepare a meal with no other conveniences than those  provided in a pioneer cabin. Rude fire-places were built in  chimneys composed of mud and sticks, or, at best,  undressed stone. These fire-places served for heating and cooking purposes; also, for ventilation. Around the cheerful

blaze of this fire the meal was prepared, and these meals were not so bad, either. As elsewhere remarked, they were not such as would tempt an epicure, but such as afforded the most healthful nourishment for a race of people who were driven to the exposure and hardships which were their lot. We hear of few dyspeptics in those days. Another advantage of these cooking arrangements was that the  stovepipe never fell down, and the pioneer was spared being subjected to the most trying of ordeals, and one probably more productive of profanity than any other.

Before the country became supplied with mills which were of easy access, and even in some instances afterward, hominy-blocks were used. They exist now only in the memory of the oldest settlers, but as relies of the “ long ago,” a description of them will not be uninteresting:  A tree of suitable size, say from eighteen inches to two feet in diameter, was selected in the forest and felled to the ground. If a cross-cut saw happened to be convenient, the tree was ‘” butted,” that is, the kerf end was sawed off, so that it would stand steady when ready for ilse. If there was no cross-cut saw in the  neighborhood, strong arms and sharp axes were ready to do the work. Then the proper length, from four to five feet, was measured off and sawed or cut square. When this was done the block was raised on end and the work of cutting out a hollow in one of the ends was commenced.

This was generally done with a common chopping ax. Sometimes a smaller one was used. When the cavity was judged to be large enough, a fire was built in it, and carefully watched till the ragged edges were burned away. When completed the hominy-block somewhat resembled a druggist’s mortar. Then a pestle, or something to crush the corn, was necessary. This was usually made from a suitably

sized piece of timber, with an iron wedge attached, the large end down. This completed the machinery, and the block was ready for use. Sometimes one hominy-block accommodated an entire neighborhood and was the means of staying the hunger of many mouths. In giving the bill of fare above we should have added meat, for of this they had plenty. Deer would be seen daily trooping over the prairie in droves of from 12 to 20, and sometimes as many as 50 would be seen grazing together. Elk were also found, and wild turkeys and prairie chickens without number. Bears were not unknown.