Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

April the First, There was a Day!/Pioneers Liked to Play Tricks

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 8 April 1962

Early Tri-City area pioneers really celebrated April Fool’s Day. Jokes and surprises were played on each other to celebrate the occasion. No one took offense on any prank that was played on them – if it was done in the spirit of jest and fun. If one had been fooled by someone he accepted the joke in the spirit in which it was given and attempted to even the score by getting a joke back on the perpetrator who had fooled him.

Thus April Fools Day was filled with fun and foolishness. Mother generally checked up the first joke by filling the sugar bowl with salt and sticking the sugar spoon into it. Everyone sweetened his coffee and oatmeal mush with salt. The first victims would always grin and bear it until the entire family had fallen victims of the hoax. When she had the laugh on everyone she would say “April Fool,” replace fresh cups, bowls and mush, and amid hearty laughs by the parents and children everyone continued with their morning meal. When the morning hotcakes were served, Oh! Oh! There was cotton batton in the hotcake batter and the family was sue for another surprise. After everyone had fallen for this joke, Mother served her regular delicious hotcakes. The children would play their pranks or jokes on each other, such as “Oh, look out for that spider on the back of your neck!”; or, “Sis, you have lost your hair ribbon,” or , “Johnny, your shirt tail is out of your pants”, or “Charley, the front of your pants are unbuttoned.” The shout of “April Fool” would ring out as each victim attempted to correct his deficiency, and get even with the rest.

The older residents would play jokes on each other, also. The black derby English hat was unliked by the pioneer who wore their broad brim Stetsons. The old black derby hats were hung up in the attic to be used on April Fools day. The pioneer would bring them out and dust of the cobwebs, fasten a brick or stone in the inside of its crown, then lay it nonchalantly in the road crossing top side up where the pedestrians would pass. The pioneer would see the old hat and through his in-born dislike of the bowler, would give it a terrific kick and oh boy! What a shock his corns received. His memory told him that it was April first again. Another April Fool’s joke that always worked was to carefully remove the canvas covering from a ham, fill it with sand, sew it together again and place the dummy ham as though it had fallen out of a passing wagon. It would not be too long until some passing pioneer is his rig would see it, stop and pick it up. When he discovered the joke, he would quickly drop it back where he found it. Then sheepishly look around to see if anyone had witnessed him in the act of being fooled. He would pick up a few road pebbles and climb back on his rig and drive on looking back to see the next sucker that would be caught.

Farther down the road a nice new flour sack filled with dirt and sewed to look like a new sack of flour was dropped in the middle of the road to catch the unsuspecting driver. Old hats were also fastened to the wooden sidewalks that invited the pedestrian to pick up or kick into the street. There were also old coin purses filled with small pieces of paper that some trickster youth had attached a tread by which he could pull it away when anyone attempted to pick it up. The child would call out a merry “April Fool” and heartily enjoy his prank.

The pioneer’s life was uncertain and ever changing. The economy of the Tri-City area changed from log-drivers, railroad construction, sheep growing, cattle raising, horse breaking, dry farming and irrigation in a period of less than 10 years.

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