Wednesday, March 26, 2014

THE PIONEER CABIN



Because I write western historical romances set in the latter 19th century, I am interested in everything about the period in history. Yes, I am a history geek. Whenever we travel, I visit recreated historic villages and pioneer museums. Fortunately, there are quite a few of these well preserved homes withing easy driving distance from my own home.

Imagine raising a large family in a 10 x 12 log cabin. I complain because I don't have enough storage in our home. I can't imagine how difficult just finding a place for everyone to sleep must have been. Most of the cabins had a loft for the kids. With large families, the kids must have been laid out like sardines.

Cabin and well
Palo Pinto County, Texas

One of the places my family and I have visited is Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth, Texas. Homes from several counties have been moved there. Docents stationed at each home relate the history of that cabin. Hordes of school children visit, and there are occasional festivals to draw more visitors. One of the homes there is that of Isaac Parker, related to Cynthia Ann Parker, whose life was so tragic. But she's for another post.

Isaac Parker cabin
One of my favorite places to visit is the Belding-Gibson Ranch in Palo Pinto County. This family has faithfully preserved the original cedar log cabin, smokehouse, and cold room and incorporated it into the more modern portions of their home. I'm fortunate enough to have visited this ranch on two occasions when the Gibson family opened their home to visitors.

Settlers used the resources at hand. In Palo Pinto County, cedar is abundant. The Belding Ranch house is built of those cedar logs. The abandoned cabin was discovered by Mr. Belding in 1859, and he estimated it as three or four years old then. Other residents used stone or hardwood logs. On the prairie where no trees were available, sod homes housed families until they prospered enough to haul in lumber.

Belding-Gibson Ranch, Palo Pinto County, Texas
Smokehouse is on the left, original cabin on right.
Steps lead to the kitchen in the newer part of the house.
As you can guess, in addition to the cabin, most families also had a smokehouse for meat preservation and storage. If they were fortunate enough to live near a creek, they diverted a bit of the creek to go through a cold room. There also was an outhouse. Chamber pots were used in inclement weather or at night. 

A commode chair was a luxury. Usually they were more
enclosed with a lid so it could be used as a chair and
doors and sides to conceal the chamber pot.
Inside, the walls would be chinked to prevent weather and critters from entering the cabin. In cold weather, the homemaker might hang quilts on the walls to add insulation. No space was wasted. From the rafters, there might be small utensils and drying herbs and onion hanging. A "hob" (sometimes two) were built into the fireplace to hold heavy utensils for cooking. You can see below that this fireplace is deluxe and has two hobs. The hob allowed the cook to move the utensils varying distances from the fire. 

Cabin interior at the Palo Pinto County
historic village

In times of Comanche and Kiowa troubles, families left their homes and sought a fort. I don't mean one as seen in movies and TV. Sometimes a community might come together to build a refuge from the Indians.  I have a photo of Black Springs Fort, but it always shows up on the blog sideways, so I will simply describe it. In Palo Pinto County, a stone fort with a basement and two stories housed families. The exterior dimensions were about twenty by thirty feet. Often the husband and older sons would send the women and children to the fort while they banded together with other men to fight the Indians. Although this was a tense time, I imagine it also allowed the women to visit with neighbors, children to play with friends, and took on a social atmosphere for a time.

In Lubbock, where my husband and I grew up, there is a wonderful exhibit called the Ranching Heritage Museum. This is associated with Texas Tech University, but is behind the museum. I love going there, as the university still adds to the collection. Everything from a sod house to a Victorian home. Wherever you live, there is probably a historic preservation collection of cabins and homes from the 19th century. 

Masterson Ranch Line Shack
Ranching Heritage Museum
Lubbock, Texas


Photos are my own.

4 comments:

  1. What terrific pictures and information, Caroline! I'd love to see these cabins in person. i am a history junkie too and love exploring old places! I too can't imagine a family crammed into a space the size of my writing room. And I admit to being an indoor plumbing sort of girl LOL.

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  2. Caroline--I love old cabins. Even though I was born in Palo Pinto County--Salesville--I've never seen the old cabins. I don't go to MW very often any more since Mother died, but I really need to go visit and drive over to Palo Pinto.

    I was laughing a little while reading your description. Remember my husband was one of 12 children, each two years apart. I don't think all 12 lived there at any one time, because the oldest brother left home before Jim was born. But they lived in a small three room house on the South Plains in the country--in the middle of a cotton field. How his mother coped and survived is beyond me. But they also had a "wash house", with wash tubs and scrub boards for a long time, until they did buy a washing machine. The boys--Jim and three of his closest brothers--slept in that wash house--no heat, very small--they had two bunks--no insulation--He said they rolled up in the quilts each had, head and all, almost, and were fine. You know how kids are--he doesn't recall being cold. And in the in the winters on the South Plains? Whoa. It was cold, believe me.
    The people who lived in the cabins you photographed were probably pretty well off. Still, to us--it looks like torture!
    Thanks for sharing all your own photos. I loved them.

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  3. There are a few preserved in Oregon too. Champoeg where the first government was formed has one. I also love any chance to visit one. We are not that far from it in my generation. My mother had some of her childhood in a cabin with a dirt floor-- Eastern Oregon.

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  4. Sure would like to visit all these places. And I want that potty chair!

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