Volume 1, Number 2 - Winter 1961


by Joseph M. Branson

(Mr. Branson is now 85 years old. He very kindly sent these recollections of a way of life now gone. Mr. Branson resides at 4228 E. 61st St., Kansas City 30, Missouri.)

The first generation of our ancestors lived in conditions hard for us to realize today. No mail, no newspapers, no schools. It was a world with out steam, gasoline or electricity. No machines. Imagine our world with these important things taken away!

There were no matches. Fire was kept by burying wood in ashes. Sometimes this method failed. It was serious to be without fire. Sometimes a trip to a neighbor was made to "borrow fire." This was carried back in a cast-iron frying pan. It would be a strange sight to see today! Sometimes two pieces of wood were rubbed together until they blazed (a hard job). Some times gunpowder was mixed with fine kindling and a spark from a flint rock and steele made a new start.

There was no kerosene oil. Light was provided by using a cup of grease with a string in it. Pine knots were collected and burned on the hearth to produce light. Rich resinous pine was split fine and tied into bundles to make a torch which provided light for a short time.

Candles were made by dipping a string repeatedly into h ot tallow until it became large enough to stand and burn slowly. My grandmother said she "felt aristocratic when she got her first candlemold."

No orchards or "tame fruit." There was an abundance of wild berries and grapes. Wild Muscadine grapes were fine. Wild honey was plentiful in ho]low trees. Hunting "bee trees" and cutting them afforded a pleasant recreation. Many families had maple sugar and maple syrup that would be luxuries today.

No drugstores. Doctors carried a small supply of medicine (mostly powders) in saddle pockets. This they dosed out in small bits of paper. "Teas" were made of various herbs, barks, leaves and roots and used as a home remedy. These may have done some good. Many mild cases went untreated.

Our ancestors were the early pioneers who subdued the wilds and carved homes out of the deep tangled forests - a huge task! The East is humid and the rainfall double what it is in the Ozarks. Trees grow big and tall. Grandfather had logs so large that he had to chop notches to stand in so he could reach the lowerside with his axe. He had no saw. Those who did


have a saw had to cut notches on each side so a saw would reach through. Clearing away logs so land could be cultivated was no child's play. There were many old worthless logs around the fields. My Grandfather pounded these logs with a c1ub to frighten crows and squirrels away from the grain. Ammunition was too expensive to be used.

The first settlers had to prepare stones and trees to build their plain, simple, humble homes. Houses had only one living room - no kitchen, parlor or bedrooms at first. Also a house was needed for the oxen or horse, one for the chic kens, a crib for corn or grain and a smokehouse for meats.

All stock lived out on the open land and fields for cultivation had to be fenced - mostly rails were used to make the old "worm fences." Forest fires were dreaded and did great damage. All able went out to fight fires.

The first houses were made of logs hewed with a "broadaxe" to about 8-inch thickness. The ends. were notched to fit snugly into a tight wall. Clay or lime was used to fill cracks. Smooth straight trees were selected to be split into beards. No sawed lumber.

Nails were scarce and sometimes could not be got. Often the boards needed to finish a log house were held in place by wooden pins. Boards of the roof were held down by placing log "riders" on them.

No stoves. Each home had a chimney with a "fireplace" (hearth) which served for beating, lighting and cooking. Cooking vessels, pots and pans were of cast i r a n. No graniteware or aluminum. There were some copper vessels and kettles. Glass and tin were scarce. There were a few porcelain cups, plates and bewls. Gourds were used for cups and bowls. A large cast- iron pan with a cast-iron lid was used for an "oven." This oven was set on hot coals and hot coals were placed on the lid. Skill was required to "set the oven" to get just the right amount of heat. Results varied.

Many early windows were without glass. Greased cloth was used to let in light. A wooden shutter protected the window.

The second generation of pioneers had greatly improved living conditions, mainly due to the coming of the waterwheel. The first generation had suffered a sad lack of power, known to us, which is furnished by steam, gasoline and electricity. The waterwheel was the "fair angel" that came to the rescue of the first pioneers. It was the water wheel that turned the mills that ground the meal and flour for bread-that sawed lumber and turned the wheels of a great variety of machinery. The rainfall in the East is double that in the Ozarks and there are fine streams with qood locations for water wheels.

The coming at the country general store contributed much to the welfare of the second gener ation of pioneers. The supplies of civilization had been distant. Hard tiresome trips for necessary things had to be made, and transportion was crude, slow and painful. The country store furn ished many articles that had been inconvenient to get. There were salt, soda and a few drugs. There were dried meats and lard. No canned goods. Canning was invented in 1850. There was brown sugar. No white sugar for the pioneers. Coffee was green. Each family "parched" (roasted) their own coffee. Enough for each meal was ground in a hand mill. If they did not have a handmill, the coffee was "beaten" with a hammer and beiled. No percolators or drip-pots. There were no fresh meats or milk. No butcher shops.

The country store, blacksmith shop and water wheel mill were important items in the early days. Churches and schools came later. There were few horses. The slow but dependable ox did most of the heavy work-was of great service to the early settlers. Oxen were trained to go right or left by yelling the words "gee" or "haw... (People thought they had to yell.) An ox driver could be heard quite a distance! Kept the country from being lonely.

And the faithful dog who Kipling says was the "first friend of man" was of great assistance in a wild, raw, hostile world.

There were a few highly prized books and a Bible in every home. Early America was intensly religious. Many settlers were religious refugees. A high standard of justice, honesty, thruthfulness and respectability prevailed, and the outlaws and rough life of the "eald west" never existed in early pioneer life.


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