Many stories have been written about the lives of the area pioneers, but none quite as descriptive as a paper written by John E. Alter (1853-1934), who was a historian, teacher and lecturer and lived near Paar. He told the following story at a Farmer's Institute at the Rensselaer courthouse in about 1905:
"Our pioneer farmer was a raw-boned husky fellow, and his wife favored him very much. They were co-partners in all the work, ready to assist each other at all times. The man dug up the little patch of ground with a grubbing hoe or tore up the sod and roots with a wooden plow. He planted corn, beans, tomatoes and tobacco and cultivated them throughout the hot sun of summer, toiling and sweating to comply with the admonition given in the Garden of Eden."
Alter told how the farmer went about his work in the autumn, when the leaves took on all the hues of the rainbow, dug the potatoes and buried them in the ground for winter use. Some of the men also raised tobacco, and hung it up in the shed to cure for chewing and smoking during the long winter evenings.
The corn was gathered, then stored in the pole crib which the farmer had built the spring before, while the small patch of wheat and buckwheat was taken into the log stable. The yellow pumpkins were hauled up for the hogs to eat after the grass and acorns were gone.
He described a fall hunting trip: "When the chores were rounded up, the settler shouldered his old rifle and took a couple of days to hunt. If he killed two or three deer, he hung them in the bushes, dressed them & hauled them home with his oxen pulling that old wagon with log chain and yoke -- not a single tree or double tree. He might bag a sandhill crane or two on the prairie, and get a goose and a half dozen mallard ducks in the river beyond. He found a few bee trees while the haze of the Indian summer mantled the world with its purple haze."
He described how the man would pound the old wooden flail on the wooden floor in the barn most of the winter through, winnowing the grain from the chaff, and also found time to cut trees for a new barn or an addition to the log house. Some of the wood was used to keep the fire roaring in the large fireplace that "warmed all outdoors and a part of the room. . . .In these cabins the sitting room, parlor, kitchen and the bedroom were all in one, and in this [home] the seed corn, axhandles, feedbaskets, firewood and sometimes a box full of pet pigs and a couple of orphan lambs were kept."
He listed some of the many tasks that took the time of the busy housewife -- how she helped dig potatoes, husk the corn, rake and bind the wheat, build the crib, gather the beans, milk the cow, feed the chickens, turkeys and lambs, and threw food out to the other livestock. She cleaned fish, cut and dried pumpkins, and picked and stored nuts to crack by the fireside when the snows were deep and the cold winds whistled through the chinks where the mud had fallen off and the snow drifted in.
That pioneer lady did all these things in addition to preparing three meals a day. Alter wrote: "Such meals: Cornbread, cornpone, johnny cake, hoe cake, flap jacks, griddle cakes, sorghum molasses and wild honey, pound cake, ginger cake, pies of wild grape, elderberry, blackberry, and pumpkin. Oh, the wild duck, prairie chicken, potpies, roast duck, jerked and fried venison! Boiled cabbage, baked sweet potatoes, rabbit and gravy -- it makes me hungry to think of the eats on that old backwoods table."
He told how, as the country developed, some of the farmers raised flax and how the men cut, broke and hackled it, while the women woved it into cloth. Wool from the sheep was washed, carded and corded, combed, twisted and spun, and made into clothes for everyone.
The dress of the early Hoosier was chiefly homespun, he said, out of wool, flannel or linsey woolsey, a combination of linen and wool. The men sometimes wore buckskins.
Game was plentiful for that pioneer. Alter described the big-horned bucks that came crashing through the brush, and the meek-eyed does and fawns that slaked their thirst at the brookside like sheep in a pasture. But wolves bounded over the prairie like shepherd dogs, howling dismally through the long winter nights.
Alter continued: "Prairie chickens cackled, pheasants drummed, owls hooted, bitterns boomed, cranes screeched, ducks, swans and the loons dived in the rivers and lakes. Herons crooned, frogs croaked, woodpeckers pecked, and mocking birds sang from the young maple trees. Blackbirds chanted, doves cooed, and the butterflies silently flitted from flower to flower. These surroundings had a tendency to lighten the toil and soften the heart of the pioneer." He told about their entertainment: "Both the young and the old attended the country dance, usually square dances like cotillions and French four, with a climax of jigs and shuffles and highland flings." Their social life also included visits among the neighbors, log rolling, house and barn raising, wood chipping contests, quilting parties, and church gatherings. The younger set engaged in athletic events, competing for honors in wrestling, tug of war, boating on the river, swimming, trap setting and other interesting games.
Alter told about some of the problems faced by the pioneers. "Life was hard, troubled. True, there were many things to dampen the ardor of their zeal and change smiles to frowns. Wolves caught the lambs and the deer devoured the wheat and turnip tops; crickets ate shoes, frogs croaked at night; mosquitoes tormented man and beast; wood ticks stuck to them, and leaches from the water sucked their blood. Yellow jackets and bees attacked them, and rattlesnakes were always a threat. Flies tormented the stock and the mink, skunk and weasels robbed the roosts.
"Besides all that, everyone was expected to have at least one attack of mumps, scarlet fever, typhoid, malaria, measles, chicken pox, and the seven year itch. The agur (ague, the fever) came every third day, for which quinine was supposed to be the antidote. Fire broke out on the prairie and swept everything before it as the lurid flames burned the long grass and sometimes cabins were destroyed."
His next lines were more joyful: "But amid all these drawbacks, they were a jolly, hearty, healthy, happy contented people without ever having experienced the advantages of our wonderful modern  telegraphy, telephones, electric cars, bicycles, automobiles, self binders, wheat binder, wheat headers, corn binders, the silo, and pickle and kraut factories."
Those early pioneers -- and Alter -- would undoubtedly be completely amazed to see the wonder of the modern world of 1990!
The interesting story by John Alter was among the collection of news clippings saved by Louisa (Charles) Rudolph (1870-1945) and given to 'the Old Timer' by her daughter, Sylvia Miller, of the West Creek area.
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