The Farm Families Dilemma
Many of the ordinary chores of the pioneer farm home wereextremely time consuming in contract to modern day routines. The simplenecessities of living took up most of their time.
From down to darkness, the pioneer families worked togetheras a unit trying to make enough to exist on. Few lived without experiencingthis struggle sometime in life.
In the hustle-bustle of trying to get everything done inthe day that had to be done, and without the equipment and knowledge wehave, it was impossible for the sanitation program to be properly developed.Despite this fact they did the best they could with what little they hadwith them.
Because of the inability to keep everything dirt and germfree people and buildings were sometimes plagued with bugs. This was nothingunusual, and no one thought anything less of a person who had them. Differenttypes of lice and bugs were very common. Many people today remember someof the different experiences they had with them.
Schools seemed to be the ideal place for children to comein contact with head lice. Children mingled together and the first thingyou knew they all needed immediate attention. The teacher immediately senthome notes, informing the parents of the problem, and from then on it wasmore or less out of her control. At home the child would have its hair brushedand combed thoroughly, then washed with a strong soap, and then kerosenewould be combed all through it. This got rid of them for awhile, and thenin about two weeks the child came home with another note. It seemed to bea never ending cycle. If one school was completely cleared of lice, everyonewas pretty careful about whom they associated with. Once a girl went tothe St. Vincent School just for a short period of time, and developed asevere case of lice just from going into the cloakroom where all the woolenclothes were hanging.
Hotels were another place where the bugs were thick. Thistime however, bed bugs were included. Ernest Turner recalls a hotel in St.Vincent in which he stayed one night. He said that after he turned the lightsout he could hear strange hitting sounds. He said it sounded like the bedbugswere playing baseball on the ceiling. If you ran your finger down a wallyou could squish a straight line of them.
It was hard for hotels to keep the mattresses clean whenso many people who cared so little about cleanliness slept in them. At nightthe pillowcases were covered with lice. The only way to really get completelyrid of them was to burn the mattresses and wash down the room and the bedsteadwith a kerosene-water-soap mixture.
Harvest time was the perfect time for a man to contactbody lice. These creatures were bigger than the ordinary head lice, andthey had a somewhat similarly big bite all of their own. Farmers wore heavyunderwear when they worked in the field and this caused them to sweat profusely.Sweating was one thing that invited these bugs, also along with the factthat those folks were too busy to bathe very often during harvest.
Saturday night was bath night. In those days they didn'thave a porcelain tub set-in the floor, but just an old tin tub in whicheveryone bathed. The water was heated and everyone had to wait his turn.There were sometimes fights about who was to bathe first. It was said thatthe best men always won.
Sickness often turned into epidemics. When one familyfound out it had a disease, it was often too late to put them into quarantine.If a doctor was needed he came out to the house, and if the problem wasone in which constant and continual nursing was needed, they would havea woman from the village come out to nurse them. Then, when all were well,she found employment in someone else's home. After a sickness, a house hadto be fumigated. This was done by setting a large pot of sulfur burningin one room. Then all the outside doors of the house had to be closed tightlyand the inside ones opened widely, and those fumes permeated the house andrid it of any germs that were left in the air from the disease.
Dentists in those days didn't have quite the business thatthey do today. Most of their jobs consisted of examining teeth, and thenpulling them. Cocaine was used as a pain killer, but sometimes some mengot it into their heads that whiskey would kill the pain just as well, ifnot better, than anything else. So, before they got to the dentist theystopped and had a few snorts. They didn't stop with one because that tooththey had was going to be a tough one and they certainly didn't want to feelany pain. If only they knew what this was going to do to them they wouldhave left that visit out of their trip entirely. Little did they know thatafter whisky, cocaine had no effect on a person, and the pain they had toendure was just as bad as if they had nothing given to them. The majorityof these men learned their lesson after the first time this happened.
Even though it might be thought that most of the work ona farm was a man's duty, this was not so. For the more intricate and tediousjobs were done by the woman.
Making butter was a steady and monotonous job for the housewifeto perform. Most of the time in the summer months the women churned butterevery two or three days while in the winter it was only done when they neededit. Twice a day, seven days a week, the housewife also had to wash the milkingutensils, the milk pails, the cream cans, and the cream separators.
The lack of refrigeration or cooling of any kind causeda constant struggle to keep foods fresh. Keeping cream sweet from day today was a big problem. One way that these products were kept cool was bystoring them in a cellar, which in some homes was no more than a hole dugout under the kitchen. The foods in the cellar stayed frozen well into thesummer, but the temperatures often went into the fifties in the summer downthere. Foods were often packed into pails and put into wells where theyfloated on the water. Here it was at least cooled to the ground temperature,which was sometimes forty degrees.
Those who had livestock were very fortunate for after theanimal's most productive years were over, it was fattened and butchered.The man who owned the animal usually kept what he needed and sold the restto his neighbors. But during harvest butchering wasn't necessary becausea meat wagon came around frequently, sometimes daily, and sold meat cheaplyto the farmer's wives.
It became the custom for neighbors to get together in lateNovember and December to butcher beef and hogs, since at this time the weatherwas cold enough so the carcass would not spoil. This way two cattle andfive hogs might be butchered in one day.
The first step of butchering a hog, after it was killedand bled, was to dunk it in a fifty gallon barrel filled with boiling water.This step alone took many men and a great amount of water.
Then the intestines were turned inside out and scrapedclean to be made into sausage casings. The animal hides were saved to makerobes and mittens out of. All the fat from the animals was saved to be madeinto soap or table lard. After butchering, many days were taken to smokethe meat. This involved a pre-curing with special salt before the meat washung in a smoke house where a constant smoke fire was kept burning for one,two, or sometimes even three weeks. The common smoke house was about 4 x6 feet wide, and 6 to 8 feet long, and about 6 feet high.
The processing of the meat had to be done as quickly aspossible after the butchering because of no refrigeration. Because of this,days and nights slid together as one long, steady working period.
During the winter, a carcass would be frozen and then sawedinto tiny chunks and buried into the grain bins. The grain acted as an insulatorand kept the meat frozen way into May. Sometimes mice got to the meat beforethe family did, but this wasn't too common.
Washing clothes was also a woman's chore. Cisterns werebuilt to store a supply of soft water for washing clothes and bathing.
Often the early cisterns consisted of just a barrel ortwo set at each corner of the house of nearby buildings to be collectingthe water as it ran down the roofs. In the winter time, snow was meltedto provide this soft water. One of the reasons that bugs and lice were socommon was that washing with the washboard and having to make such a bigcommotion about it that this process couldn't be repeated as frequentlyas was probably needed.
One of the major problems in sanitation was the story ofthe outside bathrooms. These were simply holes dug in the ground with asimple wooden building constructed around them. Many people remember whengoing to school a student would raise his hand with one finger up and thiswould grant him silent permission to go to the outhouse. He would have tobundle up with all his scarves and mittens when this happened in the winter.When the lavatories in houses were invented, many people were thankful forthe newly added comforts.
Despite the fact that the farm family was so busy at alltimes, they found some moments for entertainment. Music in the home seemedto be a tradition of every family. Neighbors and relatives came visitingwithout an invitation and knew they would always be welcomed warmly.
Obviously, life was more simple in those days. As a resultof this simplicity, jobs were done the hard way because no one rally hadtime to sit and figure our newer, more economical and efficient ways. However,the pioneer families survived through these marginal years, facing hardships,determined to make life worth living, no matter how much involvement wasconcerned. Because of this, when one of that generation tells us storiesof their youth, they'll often get a twinkle in their eye and in amongstthe laughter you'll get the outline of a story, which is really a pictureof life that is remembered as a happy and a good one.
Diamond, Margaret: Interview, January 6, 1972
Drache, Hiram M.: The Challenge of the Prairie: c. 1970North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies: page 134
Hoglin, John: Interview, January 5, 1972
Hoglin, Gertrude: Interview, January 5, 1972
Turner, Ernest: Interview, January 6, 1972
John: Interview, January 5, 1972
Hoglin, Gertrude: Interview, January 5, 1972
Turner, Ernest: Interview, January 6, 1972