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Moving Pioneers


Wesley Wallenberg

Senior High Division


The first people who broke the trails out West were thepioneers of our country. They were ordinary people as we are today. Mostof us in the centuries ahead of the pioneers are descendants of the pioneersthat broke the trails out to the unexplored country. The pioneer went onmany routes to the great Northwest.

Pioneers never die, and they never fade away, there arepioneers in our day and age. We have pioneers studying techniques to keepup with the times. They are probing space, building new techniques to helpman as much as possible.

The pioneers were ordinary people like you and me onlywith twice or more times as many hardships as we have, and with the sameamount of discomforts, they had little if any sleeping places or food whichis as fine as we have. They had to travel by means a lot different thatwe do. Wagon trains moving westward had many things to contend with, suchas, Indians who were a great threat. There were many wild animals, the heatof the summer sun, and the cold of the winter breeze, the force of the raindropswhen it rained. There were many deaths caused while crossing the plainsfor lack of water. Water was something which wasn't easy to find on theplains.

The pioneers made many vows in crossing the new land, anddespite the hardships they moved on in hopes it would occasionally get betterfor them.

The pioneers on their travels to the West had to face thetreacherous mountains because the mountains were not our modern highwayswhich are smooth and straight, but the mountain passes were rough and mightysteep in some places. At the bottom of the mountains was the thick forestsand undergrowth which had to be cut to pass through. When the pioneers cameto a river, they either had to wade across or swim across or maybe builda raft if it was too deep.

The pioneers, while on their way West, wouldn't have manyplaces to sleep. Some slept inside the wagons, some on the ground coveredwith animal furs. This was about the only protection the pioneers had throughthe night.

Pioneers used many methods of getting West, some came incarts, some walked, some rode on horseback, while still others used boatson the water.

During the long journey to the West over the plains, woodwas scarce so the pioneers had to use buffalo chips for fuel for the firesof the camp. When it rained, the fires for food would be built inside orunderneath the wagons.

The meat that was usually cooked, was buffalo meat, whichwas prepared in various ways. Many men enjoyed the stewed buffalo meat aftera day's work. Often the pioneers would stop a day or two to make cured buffalomeat for future use, the meat cured in this manner was called pemmican.

The tongue of the buffalo was a rare delicacy to the pioneerbuffalo hunters. The tongue was placed by the fire to roast and when doneit was served with wild berries that were picked by the kids that roamedaround the camp.

Some pioneers would carry enough food for the entire journey.The pioneers had butter, which was made from the cream from milking, thiswas placed in a barrel and tied to the wagon, while the wagon swayed backand forth, the cream would churn to butter.

After the long journey to the general area where they wantedto settle, the pioneer had to find a good spot for the house to settle inand raise a family. The first houses were made of what materials were available.

The first homes of the pioneers in this country were merehuts put together for a time until a strong one could be made. The firstones were simple ones with some poles and grass. Even caves were used, somebig trees were used and sometimes a large hole dug in the side of a hillserved as a temporary home - the hole was lined with brush and poles.

On the large prairie, the pioneer couldn't lodge his familyin a cave or hut but he could house them in a dugout. These were made bydigging in the ground on sort of a hillside. The holes were then coveredwith rough poles and sod and earth. The pioneers had a saying that the doorson the houses should face south and most of the doors were facing south.The floor of the cabin was dirt which was packed so that even the housewifecould sweep it.

The simple sod, grown up by weeds and tall grass was usedto make even a more permanent home than a dugout. These houses were builton level and hilly land. The farmer would get out the plow and plow up astrip of land and the windrows of overturned sod was cut into strips abouteighteen to twenty inches wide, about thirty-six inches long and about sixinches thick. These strips were piled up like bricks, (one on top of anotherso seams don't match), this made up the side walls, the front walls werebuilt a little different because they came to a peak, and a pole was placedfrom end to end on the point, branches laid from the top of the wall tothe pole and covered with sod made the roof, the floor was solid groundpacked to make a solid floor. The doors and windows were made from old boxes.The sod house was a comfortable house. It was cool in the summer and plentywarm in the winter. These houses could be built at little cost. These houseshad their little own garden of flowers when it rained - they would blossomout of the sod bricks. "There is said to be an old sod house that issaid to be the finest ever built, it is a two story construction and itstill stands today." (1)

The most common cabin which was constructed by the woodsmore often was the log cabin which most of us know and partly live in becausethe house you live in is somewhat the same. The most common cabin was startedwith the straightest logs the pioneer could find. He cut four huge onesto make up the base or foundation, then the smaller logs that were notchedto fit one over another were placed on top of the base to make the wallswhich were usually seven to eight feet high. The walls were so high andthe logs were so heavy that a man and boy couldn't lift them by themselves,so all the friends and neighbors would get together and have a house raisingparty, everybody helped at the party. The women cooked big meals which wereneeded when the meal time came. After the walls were completed, the roofwas started. First, the men fitted logs together on top of the walls toform the frame, then clapboards are fastened to the frame. The clapboardsare fastened so that they overlapped the walls so when it rained the waterran off and not on the walls.

Metal nails were scarce around pioneer times, so insteadof using metal nails, they would use wooden ones. Many of the boys weretoo young to make the house so they would get the whittling job of makingnails out of wood. The roof required many nails for the roof so the boyswere busy most of the time.

The house had a sturdy framework with four walls, a roof,and the floor of the cabin was nothing but mere ground which was only temporaryuntil the wooden floor could be finished. The wooden floor was started byfirst splitting logs into boards called puncheons. After splitting the logsfor the underneath floor, the logs were set with the bark side down andthe split side up. They are placed lengthwise inside the house, wedgingthem tightly together. The puncheons were smoother boards placed on topand nailed to make a smooth floor.

The inside of the cabin was almost done. The pioneer hadwindows to put in which were usually made of animal skin or of greased paper.The greased paper was preferable because it let in more light. The pioneerusually put in glass windows when he was able to. The door was another mustfor the house. The door was usually constructed of heavier puncheons fastenedto crosspieced boards. The door had a latch for the door which was tiedwith a string and set outside for the day and pulled in for the night. Thecabin also had a fireplace, which was usually the job of the wife to keepgoing for use during the day and night. The daytime duties of the pioneerwife were to cook with the fire and to keep it going for warmth. At nightthe fire was used for light. The house was complete. Almost all that wasleft was to fill in the cracks between the logs. This process was calledchinking. The process involved putting clay mixed with straw and grass inthe cracks which was usually done by the women and children.

The new house was now ready to move into. The furniturewhich was very little was moved in first. The pioneer father made threelegged stools and tables of slabs of split logs. The wooden ware for eatingwas carved by the boys who were skilled carvers in carving dishes, bowls,plates, and cups. Almost all the pioneer homes had a deer rack hanging somewherein the home for the gun. The pioneer drove pegs into the wall to hang clothesand stuff on.

Every member of the family, young and old, had work todo around the farm area. The father or man of the house had the land toclear and get the ground ready for the new harvest. First, he had to clearthe trees out of the area and then take his horse team and pull the stumpsout. Then he takes his horse team and hooks one of them up to the woodenplow. Then a wooden drag was hitched up to smoothing out the field and tomake many tiny furrows to put the seeds in. The female around the farm hadthe chore of feeding the farm animals. She also had to do the washing, knitting,sewing, and the weaving of wool.

The pioneers got geese whenever they could because theywould keep the feathers to make blankets and pillows.

All pioneer boys and girls learned to do all their workwell. The girls learned duties of housework and cooking while the boys learnedthe duties of farming from the men. The men also taught the boys how touse the ox and rifle.

It was said that one custom the pioneers had was to offerany stranger that came to your farm some food and lodging but an insultto accept pay from the lodger. The children were disciplined not to acceptthe money also.

Many pioneers took supplies of corn meal along when theytraveled and they also had a cow along. The corn meal made several differentvarieties of dishes, such as, mush, Johnny cake, hoecake, or corn bread.All of these are made of meal, salt and water, but it's just the way theyare made that makes them different.

The pioneers usually managed to get a few chickens fromwhich they would get fresh eggs now and then, and a cow for milk. Salt wasscarce and pioneers couldn't afford to pay the nine or ten dollars for abarrel. So, in order to get salt, many of the pioneers would make a triponce a year to the salt licks and would gather enough salt to last the peoplefor a full year.

The pioneers planted gardens in which they grew: squash,pumpkins, potatoes, and cabbage. The pioneer women made a lot of stews formeals with the fresh vegetables they grew and many different kinds of meat.

The pioneer families had a lot of trouble making clothesfor themselves. This was even more trouble than getting food and shelter.The main piece of material was deer skin which they used for clothes. Somepioneers acquired great skills which they got from making the hide softand pliable. The pioneers copied a lot of the ways of the Indian, thus theshirt was open at the neck and tied with a belt. On their feet they wouldwear moccasins which were generally made large and stuffed with deer hairor dried leaves to provide warmth and keep their feet dry.

Even though the pioneers had to face many hardships whilemoving West, they did have their good times right along with the bad. Theydid come through it all and settled in many areas including the Red RiverValley and made their homes. The pioneers played an important part not onlyin our history but also in our lives. They gave us many customs and traditionsand the pioneer should not be forgotten.

(1) "Pioneer Life In America," Encyclopedia WorldBook, 1972 ed., vol, 15


Murray, Myrtle, Lancaster, MN, Interviewed, January 18,1975

"Pioneer Life," Encyclopedia Compton's, 1967,ed., vol, 11, pp. 220-335

"Pioneer Life In America," Encyclopedia WorldBook, 1972 ed., vol 15, pp. 428-441

Wallenberg, Ed., Lancaster, MN, Interviewed, January 19,1975

Wallenberg, Pearl, Lancaster, MN, Interviewed, January19, 1975


2 ed., vol 15, pp. 428-441

Wallenberg, Ed., Lancaster, MN, Interviewed, January 19,1975

Wallenberg, Pearl, Lancaster, MN, Interviewed, January19, 1975