Sunday, September 25, 2016
Moving West - Setting Up House - 1824-27 in Missouri
Gottfried Duden, Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America: Written during a stay of several years along the Missouri, 1824-1827.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MISSOURI. September 1825. Wagon trip to the frontier; establishment of new home in wilderness; food & supplies for the frontier family.
"A large freight wagon (or several, according to the needs of the family) is loaded with the household goods in such a manner that a covered space remains free for passengers. In addition to the household goods, tents and provisions are included: smoked pork, beans, peas, rice, flour, cheese, and fruit; also for the first week, bread, and maize for the energetic horses. Thus the journey is begun.
"Sometimes the owner rides with his wife and children in a special wagon, sometimes in a coach, or he rides on horseback. If he has male slaves, one of these will be the driver. Otherwise he or some other member of the family does it.
"On the entire trip of perhaps more than 1,200 English miles, there is no thought of stopping at an inn. During the feeding of the horses at noon the kitchen also goes into operation. A stopping place is chosen near a spring or a brook, either in the shade or in the open according to the weather. A fire is quickly lighted and housekeeping proceeds as if they were at home. In the evening, more thought is given to the selection of the next campsite.
"If something is needed; such as cooking utensils or provisions, they stop near a farm and tents are set up, especially if the weather is bad. Some members of the party tend to the domestic animals (if the journey is not too long even the cattle are taken along), and others are busy with the kitchen. Finally, the lodging for the night is prepared.
"Everywhere the wagon train stops for the night, the natives are polite and ready to supply what is desired. Household goods are loaned, provisions are sold at low prices, horses are granted places to graze if it is preferred to let them graze in the open. The latter rarely presents any difficulties. Usually it is necessary only to hang a bell around the neck of the leader of the herd and to make his walking more difficult by fastening hobbles to his legs. They are tired and hungry and will not easily leave a good grazing place. Also, a trained dog would easily find their trail. However, there are cases when they take advantage of a moment of freedom to run back home. No distance and no stream will then hold them back, and they know how to find the way back to their old homes even through great forests. In my neighborhood there are two oxen that recently returned from a distance of one hundred English miles, having swum across the Missouri. A horse came back alone from Franklin (a distance of about one hundred twenty English miles)....
"As soon as a traveling family has arrived at the site of its new home, it stops at the exact spot where the buildings are to stand. Then an enclosure is erected as a temporary protection for household goods and tents, which are now set up for a longer period of time. Fencing is needed to keep out the cows of neighboring settlements. The young calves are also kept in this enclosure to restrict the movement of the freely grazing cows, which return regularly and, without the slightest attention or care, constantly provide the family with milk and cream. The site for the house is chosen near a good spring or brook. A small building is immediately erected over the spring to protect it from pollution and also to provide a cool place for storing milk, butter, and meat.
"The next concern is the building of a dwelling in the manner previously described. The wood for it is not hewn and, in the beginning, only a barnlike structure is planned to provide temporary shelter. A second one is built for the Negroes; then a third to be used as a barn, anti a smaller building to serve as a smokehouse. The tree trunks are felled in the neighborhood and dragged up by horses or oxen. The building itself is erected with the help of neighbors if the family cannot manage it alone. Not more than four or five persons are required to erect such a building. Boards are sawed for doors and floors, or trees are split into planks, for which purpose the ash and hackberry trees (Celtis crassifolia, or lotus tree) are especially suitable. The hearth, together with the chimney, is built very simply of wood, lined below with a stone wall and covered at the top with clay. If the chimney is six inches higher than the top of the roof smoke will not be a bother. The danger of fire depends on the construction of the stone wall and the clay covering.
"Anyone who looks upon such a dwelling with too much contempt is not familiar with the local climate. I have been in some where cleanliness and good furniture made for a very attractive appearance. Many families desire nothing else, since in other matters they live a life of plenty. The only thing that I have to criticize about the houses is that they usually have no cellar (the hut around the spring takes its place). In the summer a moldy odor rises out of the humus under the rough floor. This rarely offends one's nose but obviously endangers one's health. A floor laid by a carpenter affords perfect protection. Whoever does not want to spend that much on it can take care of the matter himself by removing the humus from the building site, or by burning cut wood from the clearing on the home site.
"When the building is completed, which requires scarcely two to three weeks, the family already feels at home and the next step is to make the land arable. They usually begin by fencing in the chosen area in order to use it temporarily as an enclosed pasture for the horses and oxen which they want to keep close for convenience...
"Very rarely is the cold said to interrupt outside work for more than two days. Even in January the weather is not always unfavorable for removing the roots of brush. Where horses, cattle, and hogs, not excluding the tenderest calves, can survive the winter without shelter, the climate cannot be too harsh.
"It is remarkable how quickly all these domestic animals become accustomed to their homestead. Milk cows are kept near their fenced-in calves. Therefore, when a cow is sold its calf is part of the bargain. Calves are never slaughtered, partly because they grow up without any care or expense. During the first months cows return to their young at temporarily and this seems too inconvenient to a new settler...
"At the beginning an acreage of four to five Morgen is sufficient for a small family. A half Morgen may be used for garden vegetables; a second halfMorgen for wheat, although it is usually too late to sow it during the first fall. This leaves three or four Morgen for maize.
"In the western regions of America maize is a main product of agriculture. One could call it the wet nurse of the growing population. It serves all domestic animals as food, as it is used for fattening. The flour from it is simply called meal. On the other hand, the ground product of wheat is called flower [sic]. When boiled with milk, it makes a very nutritious healthful, and palatable food. If it is kneaded with the boiled pulp of the pumpkin, ( Concurbita pepo) however, a bread can be baked that I prefer to wheat bread, especially if the dough is fermented by subjecting it to heat for approximately twelve hours. A dough of cornmeal mixed with water or milk and then baked produces a bread that is too dry, but with fatty foods it is quite palatable. The bread is baked in covered iron pots which are placed on a bed of glowing wood coals on the hearth and also covered with them.
"In most households fresh bread is prepared every day, and in general, the cooking and baking are not very inconvenient because of the constant supply of glowing coals on the spacious hearth. Bread is also made of wheat flour. As well as I remember, the cornmeal is called groats in the Rhine region. There are many varieties of maize here. The most common varieties have white and yellow grains. There are also red, blue, and red-and-blue-speckled ones, and some that are transparent like beautiful pearls. These variations are preserved by propagation. The meal from all of them is the same. The stalks grow very tall, ten to fifteen and even twenty feet.
"The garden provides the best European garden produce. Peas and beans flourish beyond all expectation. Only the finer varieties of beans are found. In order to require neither poles nor a special bed they are usually planted in the maize fields where the tall cornstalks serve as support for the vines. Pumpkins, lettuce, and several other things are planted there also.
"In this fertile soil, without the least fertilization, all these plants grow at the same time just as luxuriously after twenty years as in the first ones. I assure you that there is no exaggeration in this statement and that I have convinced myself many times of its truth. One of my neighbors, by the name of William Hencock [Hancock] , owns a farm on the banks of the Missouri that was started twenty years ago. Every year without interruption these areas have produced the richest harvests which no fertilizer can increase. In fact, the only change is that wheat can now be grown on fields that have been under cultivation for so long, whereas formerly it always fell over.
"However, some garden produce requires natural fertilizer. The farmer provides this in a very simple manner. He quarters his sheep overnight in the area intended for beds. Every year there is an abundance of cucumbers and melons (watermelons, and others), of course without any care. A good vegetable for the garden is the Bataten (called sweet potato here; the common potatoes are called Irish potatoes). They require a long summer and probably would not develop well in Germany. Prepared in steam they taste like the best chestnuts. I like them very much with coffee in the morning, although so early I can rarely eat the fried meat that is usually served in addition. Like the cucumber, the plant has vines that spread over the ground.
"In the second year cotton is raised also; however, north of the Missouri only for family use. On the whole, the American farmer tries to spend no money for food or drink or clothes (with the exception of real finery). Therefore, flax and hemp are cultivated, and a small herd of sheep is kept. The products are all made at home. The spinning wheel is found everywhere, and if there is no loom, the housewife or one of the daughters goes from time to time to a neighbor who owns one. Just as most men are skilled at making shoes, few women find it difficult to make not only their own clothes but also those of the men. The demands of changing fashions are not ignored.
"After housekeeping has been organized and the first purchases have been paid for, the whole family lives a carefree and happy life without any cash. And this is the real reason small sums are less important here than in Europe. [In Europe] when the husband brings home a little ready money, the wife immediately needs something, and usually there is no peace and quiet in the home until it has all been spent in the nearest store, usually for tawdry finery...
"If the farmer owns two slaves, he may devote his time merely to supervision without doing any of the work himself and, in this case, the housewife will have little reason to complain about keeping house. Food is abundant. Also beer can easily be brewed since enough hops grow in the forests. The apple and peach orchards found on every farm furnish cider and brandies. Although a very good whiskey can be made from corn, the apple and peach brandies are preferred. I have tasted old corn whiskey that cost thirty cents a gallon (about two Cologne quarts) and it was as good as the best French brandy. Even without slaves, the farmer lives in a manner that surpasses by far that of a European farmer of the same financial status.
"For most of the harder work of housekeeping there are ways of making the labor easier. If, for instance, laundry is to be done, a fire is lighted next to a nearby brook and a kettle is hung over it. The bleaching ground cannot be far away either, and it is a matter of course that during the summer a shady place is chosen. If butchering is to be done, there are similar advantages. Usually, animals to be slaughtered, oxen as well as hogs, are shot. The animals are lured to a suitable place with a little feed and very rarely does a shot fail to serve its purpose. In this way a single person can do the entire job, although it is the custom that neighbors help each other in this work.
"Finally, I must correct the erroneous opinion that the difficulty of social intercourse is the dark side of the vaunted lot of the American settler. One should dismiss from his mind the idea that the accomplishment of his purpose demands a great degree of isolation from neighbors and consider, at the same time, that a distance of from two to three English miles here is negligible, even for the female sex. No family is so poor that it does not own at least two horses. Everyone strives to make these animals, which are kept at so little expense, his first purchase. Next in line are good saddles, and it is not unusual to spend twenty-four to thirty dollars for a woman's saddle (which would suffice for three saddles on the Atlantic coast, for example, in Baltimore ). Women and girls, old and young, ride (sidesaddle in the English manner) at a rapid or a slow pace without any difficulty, and they last in the saddle as long as the men. Not a week passes in which the housewife does not visit her neighbors on horseback either alone or with a companion.
"On Sundays, only the weather can be a hindrance. Often the whole family leaves the house without the slightest worry about thieves. Some houses are not even provided with locks, although the kitchen utensils alone are worth more than twenty dollars. Horse racing, cock fights, and target shooting are here, as in North America in general, the most frequent occasions for the gathering of men."