The Homes and Hearths of the Pioneers
From The History of Clark County, Ohio
Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881 - Page 247
The cabin or log house was invariably the dwelling of the settler, and was the first thing to see to after the arrival upon the ground. The family frequently camped out, or lodged in the wagon, during the building of the cabin.
Often the settler would precede the moving, and, after having selected his land, would get his house under roof, at least, before the family came, while at other times the family would be left at the cabin of the nearest neighbor until the new structure was reared.
The building itself was erected by rolling logs, previously selected, one upon the other, and "half-notching" each log at the corners in such a way that it would lay fairly upon the one underneath. The roof was composed of bark, or oftener of clapboards, split from some convenient timber that was straight-grained, or "free-rifted," as it was sometimes called. To keep the roof in place, long, heavy poles were laid upon the courses of clapboards.
The openings for the two doors, the chimney, and one or two little windows, were either cut out with the ax after the cabin was raised, or the logs "butted" off as they were laid in place. The floors were made of puncheons, i.e., split logs, with the upper surfaces hewed. The hewing was sometimes omitted for want of time. The doors were composed of two or three clumsy planks made as the clapboards and puncheons were, and pinned to a couple of stout ribs which formed part of the hinges. The door-latch was of the same order, and was raised from the outside by a string, which was thrust through a hole in the door. At night, this "latch-string" was pulled in, and the door was thereby locked.
To have the latch-string outside was a sign of welcome or free-heartedness, as is well expressed in the subjoined lines:
"His latch-string hangs outside the door
As it had always done before.
In all the States no door stands wider
To ask you in to drink our cider."
It was common to have two doors, one directly opposite the other, so that a draught or current of air could be obtained, if necessary, to clear the room of smoke, or for ventilation. This arrangement also permitted a horse to be driven through the house when a huge back-log was to be taken in for use in the fireplace. it will not be necessary to go into all the details of the log cabin, such as the chinking and daubing with clay, and the rude notched logs that were set up on an angle as a substitute for stairs or a ladder.
Nearly everything for the house was made on the spot. Furniture of all kinds was improvised, and if the pioneer had been thoughtful enough to provide a few tools, such as a saw and two or three augers, he soon found his household wants as well supplied as could be expected.
The frontiersman soon learned to rely upon himself for as many of the necessities of life as his ingenuity and labor would produce.
The forest furnished roots and barks and herbs for all sorts of ills. There, too, could be found many natural fruits, nuts and vegetables, which contributed not a little to the comfort of the seeker.
"Domestic medicine" was practiced by every housekeeper, as there were no doctors within ten miles, may be, and no roads at that.
Accidents would sometimes happen, resulting in broken bones or dislocations, or the ax would glance and bury itself in the foot or leg of the woodman. Then help must be procured as best it could; but, to offset the disadvantages of the situation, each settler was ever ready to drop his own business and attend to the wants of those in distress, with a degree of promptness not often met with in the whirl of busy life which exists at present.
In those days there was a multitude of little things which required attention that are in no way troublesome to-day — for instance, the fire must never be suffered to go out; to be sure, the flint and tinder-box were at hand, but that sometimes failed, and instances are plenty where long journeys on foot were necessary to procure fire.
The wooden-ware of to-day was represented by troughs, or "dug-outs," or by what are called "gums." These latter were obtained, by a little labor, from the trunks of hollow trees.
The sycamore or buttonwood was frequently found of large size, and with the whole interior portion rotted away, leaving only a thin rind or shell on the outside. To cut off a length from one of these trunks and scrape away the loose frangments of decayed wood was an easy task, when, with the addition of a bottom, sometimes made of a broad sheet of bark, a good substitute for a tub was obtained.
These "gums" were used for bins for storing grain, for vats and tanks, for improving some favorite natural spring of water, and for any purpose which the ingenuity of the pioneer might fit them for, not forgetting the cradle, wherein was rocked some of the future "stalwarts" of public and professional life.
Tinware was not to be obtained in the early days, but gourds of many varieties and sizes were raised and used as substitutes.
Wooden trenchers did service as plates and platters; spoons were frequently carved from the wood of the sugar maple, which was also used for case-knives, being shaved down into a thin, spatula-shaped blade.
The bark of the elm and some other woods was peeled off the trees in long shreds and used for strings, twisted into cords for beds, etc.
The fire-place was a spacious, cavern-like recess in the end of the cabin, and was the source of light and heat to its inner life, as the sun is to that of the outer world. it was wide and ample, often eight feet or more in width by six or seven feet high, and a yard or so in depth. This structure was composed of the most suitable material to be found convenient — refractory stones, banks of earth, sticks and clay, etc., but most frequently a combination of all these. The chimney, or upper portion was laid up of small poles or split sticks, and the whole thoroughly plastered, inside and out, with a heavy coating of clay. The fuel, of course, was wood, and the more of it used the better; the fire-place was large enough to take in great bolts of timber, and save the trouble of chopping it into smaller pieces. The cooking was done "before the fire," it being a matter of doubt sometimes which was the nearest "done," the cook or the cookery, so intense was the heat from the crackling bonfire within the cavernous walls of the fire-place.
At night, the whole interior was lighted by the same blazing log heap, lamps or candles being used as movable lights only. A kind of lamp was made by immersing a few strands of twisted tow in a gourd full of any kind of melted fat; when cold, it could be carried about without danger of spilling, and was ready for use when wanted. A modification of this was sometimes called a "slut candle."
Every settler owned and used a rifle, the appendages of which were the powder-horn, bullet-pouch, wiping-stick and bullet-molds; powder and lead were bought by the quantity, and each man made his own bullets by filling the molds with molten lead. An iron ladle was part of the outfit of every pioneer, to be used for this purpose, but its absence or loss could be replaced by a gourd filled with clay, out of which a dish-like cavity was scooped; in this cavity was placed the lead, and live coals placed thereon, the lead soon melted and the bullets were run, regardless of the iron ladle. A block of green wood with a hollow in it answered as well as the gourd ladle.
The cooking utensils were few and simple, consisting mainly of one or two iron pots, a bake-kettle with a heavy iron cover, a frying-pan and a skillet, or long-handled spider, to which list was added an iron tea-kettle as soon as one could be procured. The old-fashioned fire "slice" or flat shovel, with its long handle, was part of the outfit, also a pair of tongs of peculiar fashion, well calculated to produce blood blisters upon the hands of the uninitiated.
The evenings and rainy days were improved by meeting some of the many demands for the little odds and ends of every-day life. There were ax-helves, neck-yokes, ox-yokes, and other wooden ware to make; corn to be shelled and pounded, or some chore to be done, that would interfere with the regular work if performed at other times.
Iron mongery was beyond the reach of the pioneers. All kinds of hardware — nails, bar-iron, tools, etc. — were scarce and high, besides the services of a blacksmith were not to be had on every corner. If an ax failed or was lost, it might cost a journey of fifty miles to reach some one skilled in Vulcan's art who could make it good. The blacksmith was of nearly as much importance as the doctor, and was patronized by a greater number of people. His range of handicraft extended over a wider field than the smith of to-day ventures to occupy. He was a gunsmith, farrier, coppersmith, millwright, machinist, and surgeon general to all sorts of broken implements and utensils. His work-shop was the meeting-place of the frontiersmen from every direction, each waiting his turn to be served, as he did at the grist-mill. sometimes those in waiting were obliged to remain overnight, and the house of the artisan therefore became a sort of wayside inn.
As a consequence, the man of grime was high authority for all that was new in regard to the Indian outbreaks, political news, and gossip generally.
The blacksmith's shop was the scene of many a trial of skill in wrestling, lifting, running, rifle-shooting, etc., and if there chanced to be a bit of "fire-water" in the party, the hard work of every-day life at home was forgotten for the hour. With no desire to laud the evils of a promiscuous use of liquor, it must be borne in mind that the general custom of the people of those days was to drink any kind of spirituous liquors that could be obtained. It seems, too, that the practice was in a great measure warranted by the situation. The pioneer was constantly engaged in the most arduous varieties of physical labor, and was often placed in positions where nothing short of the highest pitch of human endurance would save him or his friends from suffering or death. Under such circumstances, the exhilarating influences of a "drink" was a Godsend indeed.
Then again, the settlements were isolated from the social establishments of the older parts of the country, and often from each other, so that "society," in anything like the sense which the term conveys to our modern understanding, was out of the question. With that, as with everything else, the settler must deal with himself and improvise a substitute. It is then little wonder that he made the most of his hours of recreation by a more or less limited alliance with King Alcohol.
Every settlement, almost, had its "still," where the various grains were converted into whisky, and the apples into cider brandy, or "apple-jack."
Cider was as common as milk, perhaps more so, and was "on tap" from one year's end to the other in many of the early homes.
One of the first things to require attention was the preparation of a patch of ground, wherein was planted the apple-seeds which had been "brought from home," and a nursery started. In due time, the sprouts were transplanted in the lot where the future orchard was to be. These young shoots were encouraged in their growth by all the means and attention at the command of the pioneer, until the young orchard began to bear fruit. Then the cider-mill, usually a couple of rude rollers, made from short lengths of the trunk of some hardwood tree was erected, and the liquid encouragement for the raisings, elections, huskings and meetings of the next year began to flow. Cider was used as a remedy for all sorts of ills. A kind of "tea" made of strong hard cider, with a pepper pod sliced into it, was a dose to make rheumatism beat a retreat; willow bark and the heart of an ironwood pickled in cider was good for fever and ague. Wild cherry bark and cider was a "warming" tonic, etc. Some of the good old pioneers were opposed to "drunk'ness" produced by whisky, and thought "moderation in all things" should be the motto of every man, yet many of these same men would drink moderately of hard cider so often during the day that when night came they hardly knew whether they were moderate drinkers or otherwise. Hard cider and all that comes of it was as distinctively a feature of the early times of this country as the ax and rifle. During the Presidential campaign of 1840, it, in conjunction with the log cabin, was emblazoned upon the banners of the Whig party as typical of the character of Gen. Harrison. The following is from the "Log Cabin Song Book" of forty years ago:
Tune – Rosin the Bow
Come ye who, whatever beside her,
To freedom have sworn to be true,
Prime up in a mug of hard cider,
And drink to old Tippecanoe.†
On tap I've a pipe of as good, Sir,
As man from the cock ever drew;
No poison to thicken your blood, Sir,
But liquor as pure as the dew.
No foreign potation I puff, Sir,
In freedom the apple tree grew,
And its juice is exactly the stuff, Sir,
To quaff old Tippecanoe.
Let "Van"* sport his coach and outriders,
In liveries flaunting and gay,
And sneer at log cabins and cider —
But woe for the reckoning day.
Root beer was a favorite beverage with the early settlers, it being available in all its details of sugar, roots and spring water.
Home-brewed ale was also used to some extent, and, if properly made, was a good substitute for stronger liquor, being both refreshing and stimulating; but these shadows disappeared when the orchard began to furnish fruit for the substance — hard cider.
The early settlers procured their subsistence in all sorts of ways, according to the circumstances surrounding them for the time being. Many who possessed means enough to do so purchased the staple articles until the new farm was in a condition to yield a portion of the bread and meat. But the great mass of settlers were men who possessed nothing but energy, courage, health and hope — a combination of "faith" with "works" that would almost defy censure. Corn was planted as soon as possible, and seems to have been the main dependance as a food-yielding cereal. Potatoes were cultivated with little trouble, and furnished an important item in the list. Wheat was not so generally sown at first, on account of the great difficulty in preparing the ground and securing the crop, while the ordinary list of garden vegetables received such limited attention as time would permit.
Of live-stock, the hog headed the list, as furnishing a greater amount and variety of food than any other animal, and with as little trouble to the owner; as the forest was full of nuts, roots and grubs, the hog took care of himself during the seasons of summer and early autumn; being "at home" there, he sometimes "back-slid" and started after the idols of his fathers, making it difficult to find him when wanted, and much more difficult to catch when found.
There was also quite a demand for pork, in its various forms, all along the frontier; this, then, was one source from which money could be obtained by the settlers. The first shipment of "goods" or produce from Clark County was a flat-boat load of pork, by David Lowry.†
Cattle and horses were introduced slowly, at first, on account of the absence of forage, yet it must not be understood that the first comers were entirely destitute of this class of stock, as nearly all of them moved into the country with teams of oxen or horses.
Ox teams were better suited to the wants of the pioneer farmer than horses were. A stout pair of cattle would twist and turn through woods, over logs, hummocks and fallen timber, without jumping, or napping some part of a harness, thereby causing an expensive delay. For "logging," a well-broken team of oxen was necessary, on account of their strength and steadiness.
Did some fallen oak of enormous size and weight lie half buried in the forest mold, resisiting all efforts of the woodman with fire and handspike, it was sentenced to be "snaked" out by the cattle. A little trench was punched through the dirt underneath it, the proper "hitch" made with the log-chains, a "skid" laid in place, the team backed into position, and, everything being ready, the word was given, the chains clinked as the "slack" came out of them, and for an instant there was a balancing of forces that made the result doubtful. A sharp crack of the whip, and a yell from the driver, the faithful team crouching almost to the ground, the well-packed earth around the giant trunk begins to crack, and the next moment the worm-eaten and moldy monster is high and dry above ground, where the ax and wedge soon reduce it to a condition for burning. Meanwhile, the oxen are quietly ruminating over the result, with an expression that seems to indicate "next."
Grain of all kinds was sown here and there among roots and stumps, scratched in with a bushy tree-top as a substitute for a harrow, reaped with a sickle, thrashed with a flail, and winnowed in any manner that would remove the chaff.
Mills were rudely constructed and slow in their operation, besides being few in number and at long distances apart. Some of the first settlers of this county were obliged to go to Lebanan, Warren County, for a little grist of corn.
Sugar was made in the woods from the sap of the sugar maple, and was a good substitute for cane sugar. It was prepared in several different forms, such as caked sugar, stirred or dry sugar, tub sugar, etc. As the country grew older and cane sugar came into market at a fair price, the well-to-do housewife discovered that maple sugar "wasn't nice for cake," and would "turn tea," so for a period both were kept in stock; but the forests went down to make way for the plow, and maple sugar, as a plain backwoods necessity, disappeared, only to come to the surface again, in after years, as a high-priced and frequently adulterated luxury, in the crowded markets of the towns and cities, which in some cases now occupy the former sites of pioneer sugar camps.
A recent writer of early history says: "The Indians learned the art of making sugar from the whites, but how to be cleanly about it they never would learn. It required a strong appetite to eat their sugar. * * * * When their sirup was about ready to granluate, they would have a raccoon ready to cook, which they would put into the sirup, hair, skin, entrails and all. The coon would get 'done' in a short time, when he was removed and allowed to cool. A crust of sugar came away with the hair and skin. The flesh seemed nicely cooked, but the sugar — well!"
Wild honey was sometimes found in what were called bee-trees. Some of these would be found to contain one or two hundred pounds of honey. The tree, of course, would be hollow for a portion of its length; this cavity was usually at or near the upper portion of the tree, and could not well be seen from the ground. The bear has a great love for honey, and a natural instinct for finding it; besides, he can climb, all of which make him the natural enemy of the bees, as well as a pretty good guide to their whereabouts. This state of things made it possible for the hunters to get a "clew" to the location and operations of both, sometimes, that would result in a supply of honey and bear's grease, both of which could be used to good advantage in the household.
The money of those days was confined to the centers of trade more than it now is. To-day, the frontier is reached by rail about as soon as a settlement is made, and with the locomotive comes the result of trade, viz., money. Many of the early pioneers had no money after their arrival on the land, and were dependent on whatever could be turned to advantage for the wants of life. Exchange of labor was a practice engaged in by all; the settler who could swing a broad-ax would "hew" for the one who could not, and he in turn would plow or "log" for the hewer; the shoemaker went from house to house and worked up the leather, and sometimes took leather for pay. The miller and sawyer were paid by a system of tolls, sharing, etc. The money proper consisted of Government coin and Spanish milled dollars, or a paper circulation representing it in value. "Cut money" was nothing more nor less than the Spanish dollars cut into halves or quarters, for the purpose of making change, as the fractional currency of the times was vastly inadequate to the demand.
Nearly all the real money the settler could raise was expended in payments on his land, and for taxes. Barter, traffic, "changing work" and "swapping" were the details of business three-fourths of a century ago.
Flour was purchasable at Chillicothe, Zanesville, and at Cincinnati. Goods were high; they were hauled in wagons to Pitttsburgh, floated down the Ohio to Cincinnati, and thence hauled or packed up. Tea retailed at $2 to $3 per pound; coffee, at 75 cents; salt brought $10 to $12 per hundred pounts; calico was $1 per yard; whisky was $1 to $2 per gallon, and the Indians were excellent customers. Store keepers are said to have given liquor free to encourage purchases.
† Gen. Harrison was so called.
* Martin Van Buren
† In the year 1800, David Lowry built a flat-boat upon Mad River, to voyage down to the Miami, thence to the Ohio and Mississippi down to New Orleans, with a load of pickled pork, five hundred venison hams and bacon. The venison was taken on, and this first of flat-boats navigated down to Dayton, where, assisted by a man named Ross, Lowry made barrels to hold his pork. The boat floated down the Miami to the Ohio, and was rowed up to Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Lowry had his hogs driven from his farm to the same place, where they were slaughtered, the pork salted in barrels, and started for New Orleans. Arriving at the end of his tedious journey, the pork yielded $12 per hundred and the venture proved remunerative. Call to mind the stretch of route traversed, the rude craft and uncertain result, and appreicate the pluck which carried Lowry through, and see the same spirit manifested in the manifold industries of Clark to-day.
Battle of Piqua
Early Clark County
George Rogers Clark
Education in Clark County
Indians in Clark County
The National Road
Springfield in 1852
Springfield in 1863
SHS 1951 Yearbook
Then & Now