Picture one end of the room filled with the stone and wood fireplace, perhaps two small windows covered with oiled paper on the side walls, with one door, often on the south wall. Crude boards laid over the pole ceiling rafters served as the loft, and floors were of either hard-packed earth or made of split logs.
Among the few pieces of furniture were a homemade table, straight chair or a three-legged stool, perhaps a low rocking chair, a chest or trunk and a pole bed in a corner. Some pioneers had wooden furniture that could be taken apart to pack on the bottom of their covered wagon, and could be reassembled when they arrived at their new home on the prairie or in the groves. Often the family living in the log cabin was a large one, with the father and mother, several children of all ages, and perhaps some in-laws staying with them until their cabin was finished. They often found room for a grandparent or perhaps the circuit preacher would stay overnight.
The temperature in the log dwelling stayed fairly comfortable, but when nobody wanted to get out of their warm bed to put another log on the fire there was a long walk to the friendly neighbor's home to borrow some "seed fire." They soon learned to light their fire from the spark of their trusty flintlock rifle that hung over the door.
The parents usually slept on the pole bed, made with an upright post in the center of the cabin, poles on the sides with taut rope holding a mattress filled with corn shucks, feathers, or straw. Often the parents would share their sleeping area with grandma or an ailing guest. Guests were asked to kindly remove their spurs before retiring! The younger ones climbed a ladder made of poles up to the loft to sleep. The teenage daughter had quite a time trying to climb the ladder wearing a hoop skirt. Imagine a week or more in the crowded log cabin during a very wet spell or a blizzard when everyone took refuge from the elements. Everything was wet, at least damp, including clothing, boots, firewood, bedding and the babies too. The men were kept busy mending harnesses, fixing tools and furniture; they talked and argued or slept and snored. The women busied themselves with the usual household tasks, dressed game, and prepared food while keeping an eye out for the babies, so that they would not go too close to the fire. And there was sewing and mending to be done.
The older children played with the babies, played games they invented or cleaned guns and made lead bullets. They cracked nuts to eat, and the boys teased the girls or curled in a corner with their favorite dog as they listened to the men discuss politics or tell tall tales.
Or perhaps it was a good time for school, and the mother would get out the well-worn Bible, an old almanac, or a doctoring book. Sometimes a blacked shovel served as a slate for arithmetic problems.
Often the early church services, including weddings and funerals, were held in the crowded cabin or outdoors in pleasant weather.
No matter how crowded it was or how many children were under foot, the cooking had to be done. The preparation depended on what was available at the time. Game was usually plentiful but not during severe weather or when the temperature was very low. Fruits and vegetables were seasonal and often stored in root cellars, or dried or preserved. Corn bread and mush were staples on the menu. Buckwheat was a fast-growing crop, and the meal was used for the "genuine buckwheat pancakes."
Some enjoyed apples with honey and sorghum (or maple syrup) thinned with vinegar and spiced. Another favorite was fried apple pies, fried on one side on a heavy iron skillet, then turned and fried on the other. A type of 'crackerjack' was also enjoyed, made with parched corn and nuts ground and then mixed with a boiled syrup and butter. Pork was salted down and smoked or fried down. Fresh meat was often shared with the neighbors, or it was sliced and ground, packed into jars and covered with melted lard or "fryings."
In some areas beef was less common, the tallow highly valued for candle making, or it was hung by the fire or stove after being smoked and cured, where it became hard, sometimes called 'chipped' or 'dried' beef.
Or perhaps the mother and her daughters would use the big cast iron "Dutch oven" to bake some beef. With the Dutch oven over hot coals on the hearth, the lid was placed upside down and also full of hot coals. This method of baking was also fine for pies.
The pioneer homemaker had little time to worry about housekeeping as we know it today. She would not believe how we waste water. The springs were down hill and coming back with two wooden buckets of water was quite a chore. The laundry was done near the source of water when weather permitted, the clothes spread on the grass or nearby bushes to dry. The bedding was hung outdoors to 'air' during the winter.
It was a constant struggle to keep things clean, with the hard packed dirt floors where some pioneers poured the dishwater in a different spot each day to keep the dust down, making a wax-like surface (or perhaps a muddy mess). Brooms were sometimes made from available brush lashed together and trimmed evenly, or from broom-corn if available.
Hospitality was always present in the pioneer communities, and even with the threat of raiders, horse thieves and wolves, the latch string was always out.
Good health was the pioneer's greatest asset, and with malaria carried by mosquitoes that swarmed over the area, and typhoid fever, it is a wonder how anyone survived.
However crowded the log house may have been, it was better than the wagon life of the trail, or a makeshift lean-to or cave. Life in log houses produced generations of hardy Indiana pioneers; we do well to remember them.
Return to Lowell History
Return to the "Pioneer History" A to Z Index Page