A clearing in the woods, with a rail or picket fence
surrounding it. A well beaten path that led to the
spring and wash place near by. One large log room,
with sometimes a side room, with a square opening
cut for a window. This window had no glass panes,
but a wooden shutter, held in place by leather straps,
served as a closing. Two doors, one in front, the
other at the back; a puncheon or dirt floor and a
stick and clay chimney.
A large fireplace opened
inside the house. Across this fireplace was a goodly
sized iron bar on which the pot hooks hung. Unlike
her daughters and granddaughters, who cook
on a modern range heated by wood, coal or gas, the
pioneer mother prepared her meals and cooked them
on the fireplace. Many an appetizing meal was
served to the family in this way.
Another essential was the large iron oven. It stood on tall iron legs,
and was covered with a heavy iron lid. When baking,
this oven was set over a bed of red hot coals,
and coals were heaped on top of the lid. This was
the favorite way of baking bread.
A well worn stone step at the front door, some rude boxes nailed
on the outside on either side of the door, in which
bloomed the old-fashioned moss. There were beds
of zenias, marigolds, bachelor buttons and princess
feather, grown from seed brought from the old
states; a rude bench under a shade tree, the grind
stone near by, the ash hopper in the back yard and
almost invariably a horse hitched at the front gate.
Get this description in your mind and you will
have a picture of the pioneer home of Montague
County. The home life in any pioneer country is
much the same. There is very little difference in
Their environment. The people, in many instances,
being taxed to the uttermost to provide the necessaries
of life. Luxuries were unthought of.
The markets were far away and the price of sugar and
coffee was so high that no doubt many of our good
pioneer mothers could instruct us in the art of using
cane syrup for sugar and parched grain for coffee.
Too much cannot be said in praise of the resourcefulness
of the housewife of early Montague County
days. She had none of the modern appliances for
lightening labor, such as we now have in daily use.
Most of the labor was performed with her own willing
Corn meal constituted the principal
bread making. Flour being scarce biscuits were only
served on rare occasions, many families being without
any flour whatever.
An old price list was consulted
and it was found that during this period white
sugar was 35 cents per pound ; rice, 25 cents per
pound; hams, 35 cents per pound; brown sugar, 20
cents per pound; corn, $1.37 per bushel; barley, $2
per bushel; oats, $1.50 per bushel, and flour, $15 per
barrel of 196 pounds. Salt, 5 cents per pound, and
beef cattle, $35 per head. Almanacs could be had
for 25 cents each, by going to Gainesville for them.
It was not uncommon for people to get without
bread stuff and remain without for days. Mr. Bud
Morris of Montague said he went to mill twice a
year, in the spring and in the fall. He had to take
his wheat to Dallas to have it ground into flour.
Corn was ground into meal by hand, in an old steel mill made for that purpose.
The early settlers of
Montague County shared the same experience.
The story is told of a family by the name of Penton,
who, in 1866, lived near where Burlington now
stands. They had to go forty-five miles to mill. Once
when the father had been absent for a long time,
looking after cattle, the family was without bread
for three weeks. They had been living on sweet
potatoes, dried beef and coffee made from wheat. As
this supply was running low, the mother finally decided
to send her two sons, Price, aged 9 years, and
John, aged 13 years, to mill. The little fellows bade
their mother good bye and, with scant rations on
which to make the trip, they started for the mill,
forty-five miles away.
They were driving a yoke of young steers and had
eight bushels of corn with them which they expected
to have ground into meal. The country was
infested with Indians, and it was with many fears
for their safety that the mother watched them start
on their journey. She did not allow them to
carry arms. She reasoned with them in this way :
"If the Indians overtake you, and you make
an attempt to fight them, they will kill and scalp
you. Otherwise they may only take you captives,
and you may have an opportunity to escape.
On their way they had to pass directly by the
place where the Box family was attacked by the
Indians and Mr. Box was slain. If their hearts beat
more quickly and they urged the steers to travel
faster at this point, who can blame them? They were
five days making the trip. At night they would hobble
the steers, put bells on them and turn them
loose to graze on the grass. After eating a meal of
dried beef and sweet potatoes the two boys would
make their bed under the wagon and sleep there
They made the journey there and
back in safety. The mother spent many anxious
hours watching for their return. Her joy was great
when late one afternoon she saw the wagon slowly
approaching, with both boys waving to her. Together
with the smaller children she went down the
road to welcome them back home. The family enjoyed
the first bread they had tasted in weeks that
night for supper.
Some one may ask, how could a mother send two
young boys on such a perilous trip? Necessity knows
no law, and it was necessary for them to go in order
that the family might not suffer want. This is only
an example of the many sacrifices and hardships the
pioneer mothers were called upon to endure. In
those troublous Indian times no wife or mother, when
she said farewell to husband or children for only a
brief period, had the assurance that she would ever
see them again.
Those were days of economy, too.
They even had to economize in matches. Nowadays
we think nothing of using a box of matches every
few days, especially if we burn gas. Matches were
not so common as they are today. The careful
housewife kept the coals in the fireplace covered with
ashes, that she might not be without the means of
lighting a fire. Sometimes the fire would go out in
spite of all precaution, and then they had to resort to
the flint from the gunlock, using cotton to catch the
Nothing was farther from our gas and
electric lights of today than the tallow candles in
early use. They were manufactured at home, and
poured into moulds made especially for that purpose.
Many people used a yarn strip dipped in grease and
hung in some kind of a tin can for a light. Later
these were supplanted by the small brass lamp without
any chimney. It was surprising how soon a lamp
of this kind could smoke the walls of a room.
The task of providing clothing for the family also devolved
upon the pioneer housewife. A great deal
of her time was spent in spinning and weaving cloth
from which the wearing apparel for the entire family
was made. The wool garments were woven from
wool clipped from the sheep. Cotton garments were
woven from cotton which had previously been picked
from the seed by hand. This was a most tedious
They had certain ways of dyeing the cloth,
and some very pretty homespun dresses were made.
In those days clothes were made with a view to long
wearing. You would think the costumes worn by
many of the pioneer men quite odd looking. Borrowing
some ideas from the Indians they quite often
dressed in trousers made of buckskin, and a coonskin
cap, with the tail left dangling from the back of the
cap. The men also wore shawls and blankets.
Immediately following reconstruction days it suddenly
became necessary for two well reared, well educated
and (before the war) wealthy gentlemen from the
old states to make a quick journey to Texas. A
friend of theirs, who had perhaps been a little too
active in the Klu Klux Klan, had preceded them some
months before. These men went to where their
friend lived, and were directed to a spot where he
was found trying to smoke a rabbit out of a log for
supper. Upon seeing their friend, whom they had
always seen attired in the prevailing fashion, dressed
in the frontiersman garb of buckskin trousers, fawn
skin vest and coon skin cap, they laughed until the
tears ran down their cheeks. But a few weeks found
them wearing the same kind of a costume, and taking
upon themselves the habits of the new country
meeting its hardships and privations without a murmur.
There were few, if any, orchards in the early
Montague County days, but here the thrifty housewife
again met the emergency by drawing upon the
wild fruit native to this county. They made palatable
preserves from the wild plum and wild grape,
not to mention the beer made from the persimmon.
It was the pride of the ambitious housewife to
have a large supply of feather beds and feather
pillows. "With all of the modern sanitary mattresses
nothing makes a more comfortable bed upon which
to rest the tired body than a well sunned, well aired
The women also helped in the making
of ammunition, which was scarce in those days. The
bullets were made from bars of lead bought at the
hardware store. This was melted and poured into
bullet moulds made for that purpose. They opened
and closed like a pair of scissors.
Their starch was made at home from potatoes.
Every household made their own soap, and no back
yard was complete without an ash hopper.
A great deal of the furniture
was made by the father out of timber brought from
the woods. Some people only had a footboard and
one side to their bed. This was nailed up in one
corner of the room, the headboard and one side consisting
of the sides of the house. Tables and benches
were also made at home from the timbers of the
forest, while chairs were fashioned from the same
material, the bottoms being made of rope or rawhide.
It was a long time before sewing machines came
into general use, the women doing their sewing by
They had few clocks, the time of day being
reckoned by the sun.
The pioneer woman seldom
spent an idle moment, so much depended upon her.
Not only was she expected to care for the house,
prepare meals, wash, iron, sew and look after the
children, but she had to manufacture so much that
was used for home consumption.
Some of the old leather covered, weather-beaten
trunks in the far corner of some of these log cabins
on the frontier, when opened would tell of a far different
life to this that was led in the old states. Lift
the lid, and in the bottom, carefully wrapped, you
will find one or two silk dresses, some dainty linen
and lace, kid gloves and a pair of satin slippers. A
tinge of sadness comes into the mother's face as she
allows her thoughts to wander for a moment to the
days of long ago, but she bravely puts such thoughts
away and takes up her daily task again without complaint.
The settlements were not without some social
recreation. Open-hearted hospitality prevailed.
The young people frequently gave dances, play parties
and candy breakings. A house raising was
looked forward to with much eagerness, this being
the time for great exhibitions of strength.
pleasure of all pleasure, that outshone them all, that
was talked about for weeks before and for days afterward,
was the good old-fashioned quilting, where
the friends were invited, the quilt quilted and a
sumptuous dinner was served. Those days had much
of pleasure in them, for all they were mingled with
anxieties, discomforts and inconveniences. This has
given way to the path of progress, except the imprint
of the character of the men and women of
those times. These are stamped indelibly upon their
children today to overcome obstacles, to do things
worth while, was their motto. Let that motto be