Pioneer? I don't think so

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hi neighbors. It seems our little bit of winter got us all panicky this week. I just wanted to stay home and go nowhere.

Knowing how I dread going out into cold weather and walking on icy sidewalks and streets, I cannot comprehend how people overcame their trepidation to journey into the wilderness as pioneers.

I can imagine how I would react if my family said they were going to move to the middle of an isolated tropical jungle, the Arctic, or a moon base. I would be terrified for them! I can NOT imagine myself doing any of the above. I would not have been a "hardy pioneer" at all. No, I would have remained back East in the security of small-town 18th or 19th century USA.

Sometimes I wonder how men ever talked their wives and children into heading out west. I suppose the whole wagon train experience would have appeared safe enough starting out.

There were people they knew heading west with them; safety in numbers after all.

It could have been hyped to be not much different than a Sunday afternoon buggy ride -- except the number of Sundays involved of course.

And the fact that those high stepping city horses would become slow moving oxen.

That nice surrey with the fringe on top would become a small, overloaded and overcrowded wagon with a leaky canvas roof.

The thieves and even murderers in the big eastern cities would become Boy Scouts compared to the hostile Native Americans over whose land you had to cross.

The familiar town wells would become small barrels of hot or frozen water. Unfortunately those same barrels could become empty wells halfway across the prairie.

Then there were deserts -- and mountains for some travelers. After all that travel and hardship, there was the possibility land couldn't be bought, or kept.

Even with deed in hand, your 20 acres of timbered land would look much like the rest of the wilderness you had traveled through. Way too much so to immediately feel like "home." Modern log cabins, complete with cement caulking, cedar shingled roofs and indoor plumbing don't give a clear picture of a pioneer log cabin.

Hopefully you thought about choosing a location with available water. If you were the lucky type, the water would remain available all year round.

That old covered wagon would be scavenged for parts. Trees would be cut and split for logs; or smaller trees used and their trunks left whole. Local rocks would be gathered to make a fireplace and chimney for heat and cooking.

Now I don't know how many of you have ever depended upon a fireplace for heat. Let's stop and consider that for a moment while winter is upon us.

Basically a chimney is a tall hole built around a fire. Let's not think about modern chimneys with electric or heat activated fans that blow the heated air out of the chimney and into the room.

Without those blowers the heat goes where? Right up the chimney! If the non-pioneer me wanted cold feet, I would get them back East before deciding to journey west and build an inadequate heating system.

The cabin itself might not be much bigger than the wagon that carried you all that way across country. If you were skilled it might have a window or two. If you were really lucky, you might have enough lumber left from the wagon bed to build a door.

That's "door" not floor. The floor would probably be dirt for a season or two at least, depending on the distance to a saw mill.

And let's not even talk about the "necessary house" out back.

Next time you're taking a nice hot shower and complain when someone turns on water somewhere else in the house, think about walking a few hundred feet through the snow several times a day to visit a little house on the prairie.

Oh, make that an unheated little house on the prairie.

It all sounds like it would have been overwhelming for me.

Yeah, I would have stayed back East, feet propped up on my nice warm stove, waiting for someone to invent fast-food cafes and finish the railroad.

Until the next time friends remember there's no place like home, there's no place like home...