Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Bubbles Caused Embarrassement/Pioneers Copied Indians

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 15 July 1962

The water sports and amusements of the Tri-City pioneers were quite different than those of today.

There were few places where picnics could be held that would give the picnickers a chance to play and swim in the water. The rapid current of the waters of the Columbia, Snake and Yakima Rivers in these early days gave the sun little time to warm their waters. There were a few lagoons and sloughs in which the currents were sluggish. The warm summer sun heated these waters so that they were quite agreeable for bathing. The banks of these lagoons and sloughs were covered with sumac and willows which afforded shade for the picnickers. The picnickers kept a few old Indian log canoes tied in these bathing places. The picnickers had much fun paddling around in them. Some brought skiffs loaded on hay racks from home.

A majority of the pioneers came on partly filled hayracks which gave the children something in which to play and supplied food for the draught stock during the day.

In these pioneer days, there were no thermos bottles, dry ice, or the vacuum utensils of today. Large coffee pots, tea kettles and dutch ovens were brought in which to prepare the food. Bathing was not allowed until at least an hour after eating. The swimming suits of the pioneers were not glamorous. The men's swimming trunks were denim overhauls which were cut off at the knees. The women wore long Mother Hubbards. It took much experience and care in wearing these Mother Hubbards in the water to see that air bubbles did not form under these skirts, causing them to rise over the heads of the wearers, making a very embarrassing situation. The fleshier ladies confined their water sports to wading and sitting on the bank with their feet in the water. The younger belles wore long black stockings, held in place above the knee by brilliant round garters. Above the knee to the waistline were white panties, bordered with crochet or knitted lace; above the waistline to the neck was a white corset waist. The head apparel was a large home made hat. The brim of the hat was circular, cut out of a piece of tea cheat matting; the crown of the same material was buttoned on to this brim. Over this entire ensemble the Mother Hubbard was worn like a linen duster. If the wearer had long tresses, she braided them in two braids, tieing the ends of each braid with a bright ribbon. To protect her feet when walking on the ground, she wore sandals made from pieces of wood on which leather loops cut from old boot tops were nailed.

The girl children wore clothes similar to their female elders and the boys like their fathers.

The only life preservers were inflated pig bladders and empty coal-oil cans. There were no auto inner tubes in these early days.

Very little diving was done by the pioneers as they thought it was injurious to the ears and to the eyes.

The swimming pioneer picnics were very enjoyable to both the old and the young. There were swimming races of every description. The early Tri-City pioneers swam like the Indians, which was low in the water with a combination crawl stroke. A frog kick was never used. The style was for endurance and not for speed.

The Wanapum Indians were the best swimmers of all the Indians of this region. Captain Charles E. Lum was one of the most powerful swimmers of the Northwest. He had swam all the great rivers in the United States: the Hudson, the Ohio, the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Snake, the Columbia and many others. He never wore clothing of any kind. He said the Columbia, because of the coldness of its waters and its whirlpools, was the hardest to swim of all.

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