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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Important Items In Lives Of Early Pioneers

Dallas Bogan on 18 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Fly Traps

Warm months of the seasons seemed to beckon to the flies to come in and join the guests at the table. Open doors and windows were commonplace. Screen doors and mosquito bars were unheard of then, thus fly-brushes of all sorts were in fashion.
The most common kind was made of layers of paper folded over the end of a long stick and fastened into numerous thin streamers that were waved over the table to drive away the unwanted pests.
One old settler at Jacksontown created a contraption that consisted of a long pole that had attached to one-end long papers cut into strips. At the opposite end of the eating table a man or boy was employed to maneuver the pole by means of a wire so as to drive the flies away from the food. These contrivances were recorded by many a traveler as they journeyed within the throngs of the wilderness.
The covered dish was a much more important discovery than the fly-brush. Vegetable and fruit dishes of all kinds came with removable lids, a breakthrough that was used not so much to keep the heat in as to keep the flies out.
Butter dishes, containers of fresh or cooked fruit, even the old-fashioned cake standing high with its glass cover that fit down over the sides of the cake, all destined to keep away the pesky flies.

The Honey Bee

Honey was probably the most and easily obtained natural sugars the pioneer discovered. Bee hunting, in pioneer days, was widespread. The early settler prided himself in excellence of the art. He would observe a bee sipping from a flower and trace it to its home high up in a hollow tree.
The tree would be marked and in September a crew would go out and cut it down to gather the honey. A single tree could produce several gallons. If the honey were kept too long, it would turn white and granulate. However, it was just as good and healthful as when fresh.
Some areas produced honey in such great quantities that it was considered a cheap commodity. In these areas bees were so plentiful that every hollow tree and crevice was filled to capacity. Swarms were captured and hived so as to supply the taverns and stage lines with the sweetener.

Cooking Stoves

Cooking and baking over the basic "open hearth" was a way of life in colonial days. Bread was baked in brick ovens, which necessitated the homemaker to have a separate fire, and to get the most out of the heat stored in the bricks. An alternative was to use a "bake-kettle."
This device was known as a "Dutch oven," or known generally as an iron pot. It held six to eight gallons and its accessories were an iron lid, ears for a bail, and four iron feet. It was used basically for rendering lard and tallow and for boiling meats and vegetables. One requirement was to keep a supply of fresh coals top and bottom, with a renewal every half hour for the period of the baking. This chore was a great sacrifice when many times other homespun tasks took priority.
Utensils such as a pie container were sometimes absent. Using a large fresh cabbage leaf where apple and peach pies, not too juicy, were easily baked in them solved this problem. The extreme heat of the oven would bake the crust to a nice brown firmness from which the dried cabbage leaf was easily removed.
Salt-rising bread was widespread in Ohio. It was described as delicious and could be made without yeast, certainly a great benefit when the supply of yeast ran short.

The Cast-iron Cookstove

Another type stove was brought about in the 1830's, the cast-iron cook-stove. It changed the way meals were cooked and consequently took over in the American kitchens.
Twenty years later so many designs had been developed that the housewife could have her choice of models. Some included reservoirs on the sides of the stoves that would furnish a continuing supply of hot water. Also included was a system of grates and baffles that could hold either wood or coal for fuel.
Advantages excelled by the multitude of the cook stove over the open-hearth. The former contained the heat of the fire, which in turn would spare the cook's clothing, and would contain the heat for more practical use of the fuel.

Household Furnishings

One pioneer has left with us an account of his struggles to get a frock for the baby:
"I built a log-house twenty feet square - quite aristocratic in those days - and moved into it. I was fortunate enough to possess a jack-knife. With that I made a wooden knife and two wooden forks, which answered admirably for us to eat with.
"A bedstead was wanted. I took two round poles for the posts, inserted a pole in them for a side-rail; two other poles were inserted for the end pieces, the ends of which were put in the logs of the house; some puncheons were then split and laid from the side-rail to the crevice between the logs of the house which formed a substantial bed-cord, on which we laid our straw- bed - the only bed we had on which we slept as soundly and woke as happy as Albert and Victoria.
"In process of time a yard and a half of calico were wanted. I started on foot through the woods ten miles to procure it; but, alas! When I arrived I found that, in the absence of both money and credit, the calico was not to be obtained.
"The dilemma was a serious one, and how to escape I could not devise; but I had no sooner informed my wife of my failure that she suggested that I had a pair of thin pantaloons which I could very well spare, that would make quite a decent frock. The pants were cut up, the frock made, and in due time the child was dressed."

Early Schools

Most pioneers were not educated in the ways that we are today. However, almost every family had a few books, the most important of which was the Bible, which was perhaps more read then than now.
A few books stood in the pioneer family such as "Pilgrim's Progress," "Paradise Lost," "The Saint's Rest," "Aesop's Fables," and the like. Newspapers were rarely seen, and if a letter came to the household it was considered a momentous event.
Many settlers did not fully appreciate the importance of education, and they neglected to give their children any opportunity to obtain this priceless knowledge.
Within all communities were found some settlers of intelligence and schooling who, as soon as they were able to handle the expense, worked to establish schools and procure teachers for them.
Quite often a school was taught in a deserted log cabin, and at other times in a spare room of a double log house.
When a schoolhouse was built it was of a rather crude style, but most comfortable in its arrangements. It was customarily made of hewed logs, and had a huge chimney of stones or sticks and mud at one end. The fireplace was wide and deep enough to receive a five or six-foot back-log, and a considerable quantity of smaller fuel. This was definitely enough to warm the house in winter and to ventilate in the summer.
As frequently was the case, one term of school was taught in a neighborhood each year. It was always held in the winter time, as the larger boys could then best be spared from their work to attend.
Cutting away a log in two sides of the building made the windows of the log schoolhouse and in the opening a few lights of assorted dimensions were set, or else greased paper was pasted over the opening.
The writing desk consisted of a heavy oak plank, or hewed slabs laid upon wooden pins driven into the wall in a slanting direction. Four legged benches, without backs, made from a split log, furnished the seats. The bench upon which the scholars sat while writing was usually so high that the feet of the younger pupils, some of whom had to be lifted upon the bench, could not reach the floor.
Text books were considered of small use. The chief books were the Bible and the spelling book; a scholar possessing either was considered to be well supplied. Reading, spelling, arithmetic and writing were the only subjects taught.
Subjects such as Geography and grammar were unknown to teachers and pupils of the pioneer days, they being introduced several years later. As these subjects were introduced into the schoolroom, many parents regarded these courses as useless compositions.
The early teachers were conscientious laborers and generally worthy of their hire. Their wages were small and their work was not easy. The practice of flogging was almost universally fashionable, and the teacher, in addition to educational requirements, must possess physical strength to enable him to handle the largest of his pupils, otherwise he was deemed an inefficient schoolmaster.

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This page created 18 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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