Our subject this month is the pioneer — that stouthearted fellow who left civilization behind to make a new life on the frontier.
He didn’t make the long trek by himself. An equally resolute wife and a passel of obedient children trod the path with him.
When he found the plot of land for his future home, he set about building his log cabin. As we wrote in last week’s article, with a few simple tools, a man could cut trees into logs, shape them, notch and then stack them and have a home!
The rustic, one-room log cabin was rarely larger than 18 or 20 feet on any side. Not that trees didn’t provide longer logs, but the larger the log the more men needed to hoist it into place!
Every pioneer traveled to the frontier with an axe. He also had a froe for splitting a log into planks or shingles.
Rutherford County pioneer John C. Spence wrote that “…a saw and auger was a neighborhood article going the rounds in use to all, fitting up cabins.” People on the edges of civilization shared their tools, manpower and time!
Furniture didn’t make the long haul to the new country, nor did most of the dishes and pots found in the kitchen. A few pewter plates and an iron cooking kettle would have been the only kitchen articles to be packed and carried on the five- to six-week journey from back east.
On the frontier, calloused hands made everything the family needed.
Certain trees were cut down and an axe used to cut them to length. Then a wooden maul was used to drive a wooden wedge into them, making the split rails needed for a rail fence.
A section of log could be split into two pieces, holes drilled and branches stuck into those to make legs and a simple bench was ready for the family to sit down to supper.
Tree branches were whittled into spoons. Logs were chiseled into dough bowls. Cedar trees were split into logs, then split into boards and then fashioned into short pieces and bound together to make buckets.
A hollow section of log was like finding gold!
A hollow log could be laid on the ground and the open end became a chicken coop.
Or a section of hollow log would have a bottom of wood attached and then a lid made for the top and used to store cornmeal.
And ingenuity at its best — a half-section of a hollow log could be made into a baby cradle!
The pioneer used anything and everything.
Early longhunter Pearson Miller of Fentress County spoke of baking his bread on the metal blade of his hoe and of drinking his milk from a terrapin shell. A terrapin was a type of turtle.
As much a craftsman as a farmer, the early settler could take raw materials and turn them into something practical.
A bull’s horn could be made into a drinking cup or a powder horn. Or, the horn could be soaked and heated until pliable, cut and flattened and then whittled into spoons and forks or even into a comb.
Gourds were grown and then made into containers for salt, meal, dried beans, lard or soap before it was cut into squares. A “dipper gourd” is called that because it was once used to make long-handled drinking dippers. Every well or spring had a gourd water dipper! Gourds could also be made into birdhouses, attracting purple martins that were known to eat their share of bugs and mosquitoes.
Beds and tables were more complicated but simple.
An auger was used to drill holes into the log wall of a cabin and then pegs would be driven into the holes to hold a wood shelf or a hanging cabinet, or even the end of a table or the headboard of a simple bed.
Our photo this week is of an ancient log cabin in Cottontown, Tennessee. Known as the “Bridal House,” the home is distinguished by its very large logs made from trees of immense size.
By the door are two large holes, made using an auger. Long pegs would have been driven into the holes, with the pegs themselves whittled from wood scraps.
A section of log, split into a wide board with the froe, would then become a shelf to set upon the protruding long wooden pegs.
There the pioneer would set his red cedar bucket of water, ready for him to use to wash up before entering the house!