John Stearns Minard.

Recollections of the log school house period, and sketches of life and customs in pioneer days online

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handed as it were, the initial cabin would be made of poles in-
stead of logs, for the very good reason that he could cut, haul
and place them without assistance. While this new settler is
making his beginning, others, and some quite likely not far
from him, are engaged in the same arduous undertaking and
soon the sound of the axe can be heard from one settler's
clearing to that of another.

A community of interest is quickly aroused, and when a
new comer is ready to put up his cabin, the neighbors, for
miles in all directions, turn out and help him. The material
was always close at hand. The site for the first cabin was
generally chosen near to some spring. Only the straightest
trees were used, and they were as near as possible of uniform
size. An ox team was required to haul the logs in place. Two
of the most expert axemen of the company would each take his
corner to cut the saddles and notches, to lock the logs to-
gether, and the work would begin. It required no further

pr e p ar a tion,
than settling
the size by care
'fully measur-
ing the length
of the bottom
r logs. Then in
the course of
an afternoon

the four walls of the cabin would be complete.

They were usually carried to a story and a half, or about
twelve feet in height. With many of these structures, when
the walls were up about eight feet, or to the chamber floor,
extra long logs at the ends and one or two between them,
would be introduced extending some six feet or more on the
"front side" to serve as supports for the roof which, on that


Side Would cover a stoop which was a very convenient feature
of the house. Openings for the doors and windows were
sawed out, as also tor the fire place. The chimmey stack
Was built entirely outside the structure, in some instances, as
in the cut.

Usually the entire lower part would be in one room while the
Upper room, which was reached by a ladder, or long pins stuck
in holes bored for the purpose to effect the same object, was
Used for a sleeping room. A bed, under which could be run
the regulation trundle bed of the period, was most always
found in the room below. The fire place was of the most ample
dimensions, and in some cases was only a thick wall of stone
laid up with mud mortar with no jams. If so constructed, a
lug pole would be suspended from the chamber floor, from
which would be hung a chain with several loose hooks, upon
which to hang pots and kettles. The upper parts of such
chimneys were generally built of sticks, plastered over with
mud, and carried to a height sufficient to insure good draft.
The interstices between the logs were "chinked up" with
triangular split sticks, fastened with pegs or nails, and plas-
tered with mud.

In putting in their first crops the pioneers had of course and
of necessity, to resort to the most primitive methods. The
virgin soil was composed of wonderful elements, and the
blackened earth possessed the virtues of the vegetable mould
of ages, but the roots and stumps and logs made the first
seeding a task hard and slow to acomplish. Corn was planted
in among the roots by striking the bit of an axe in the ground,
dropping in the seed and pressing the earth about it with the
foot, and wheat and oats and rye were sometimes hoed in,
among' the logs, so anxious were they to get their first crops.

In all the earlier years, the baking was done in the iron
bake kettle, which was made of the proper size for a good




sized loaf of bread,
'^ always l\ad. the cover so construc-

Ib bake bi^ loaves of breadi: ted as to make it im-

Th^setihemonlive coals of fire, possible for any coals

or ashes to come in
contact with the bread.

With coals upon iKe Keadl!*


The bake kettle would
be set in a bed of live
coals and ashes, and
completely cov e r e d
with the same, and
tradition says that a
loaf of Indian corn bread baked in that way, was a full match
for anything which modern methods have introduced.

The tin bake oven called by some the Dutch oven was the
next in chronological succession of contrivances for baking. It
was placed on the hearth before the blazing fire, with the bread
or biscuits of Johnny cake in the dripping pan on the slats:
and performed the office of baking to the great delight of our
grand mothers.

The wood for those pion-
eer fire places was cut from
four to six feet long. To
build the regulation pioneer
settler's fire, a back log,
sometimes two feet in diame-
ter, was hauled in on rollers,
and rolled up against the
chimney back. On top of this
would be laid a back stick, while in front would be placed a
forestick. Then, with some dry stub-wood, or fat pine
split fine, chinked in and around and under, only one thing
more was needed to start a fire.



' Lucifer matches had not made then- appearance, and many
of the settlers used the tinder box for startmg a hre. The

box contained tmder
or punk. With the
flint and steel a spark
would be struck, which
falling on the punk,
fire was at once started.
The tinder box shown
was provided with
a steel wheel which,
set in motion by pull-
ing a string, struck
the flint which was
fastened on the cover,

and sparks were generated. The cut is copied '^-'h^f™*;
sonian Reports. It was a kind much used by pioneers, trap

'^^Bura^ut or;ou;se of the old flint lock variety, was found
in every house. And so, with just a little powder and tow, or
purk and wood, and sometimes the use of the bellows, a fire

was easily
started. And
such a fire!
Why, with all
the improve-

TTyel To'thing has been produced which .uite e.uals the
old fashioned back log fire of our e - dfather s days! t was
bright, cheerful, warm and healthful, the was per

feet and the air good.

Even now, in the most up to date, modern residences of our
millionaires, it is sought to imitate with gas logs and expen-




sive fittings, those grand old fires of the pioneer period. But
at best, however costly they may be, they are still but base
imitations. Of an evening the fire place was supplemented by
tallow candles, and pitch pine knots. Oiled paper and bleached
cotton cloth, if obtaina

stituted for glass. They
kept out much cold, but
ties were not of the first
Once in a house light
dea; a woman and child
husband was at work
e V e n i ng meal was in
A noise at one of the
the woman's attention,
by the bright
nose and paws
Quickly seizing
en poker she
using, and

ble, were sometimes sub-
admitted some light, and
their transparent quali-

ed in that way, in Canea-
were left alone. The
some distance away. The
course of preparation,
window openings attract-
Looking around she saw
fire light the
of a bear,
the long wood-
had just been
which, fortun-
ablaze, she

ately, was still
thrust it into the bear's face. Bruin at once made good his
retreat. She was very glad however when her husband soon
after returned.

When lights were needed in doing chores or going on er-
rands in the night, torches were first used, but the tin lantern
soon appeared, and the first settlers were proud of them, as
people of these days are, of the best "Dietz" or "Ham" lantern
now on the market!

mfOGGijvo Bee.

Logging bees were of quite fre-
quent occurence with the early-
settlers. Chopping and logging
largely engaged their attention.
The axe, the yoke of oxen and
handspikes were the agencies
which, in the hands of the hardy
pioneers, transformed the forests
"into fields and cities". The log-
ging bee made a handy way of
"changing works" in the first
stages of the settlement, for log-
ging was something which a man
could do but little at alone. As
the clearings widened and the set-
tlers prospered, help became more
abundant and they got along with-
out so many bees. So their ener-
gies in that direction were brought
in play only in case where some
one had fallen behind on account
of accident, sickness or other sufficient causes, and where delay
in logging and burning would occasion considerable loss: for


getting a "good burn" greatly facilitated the preparation of
the ground for seeding.

James Pike, over on Panther Run, had been sick the previous
winter, and his recovery was slow. He had been helped out
by a brother-in-law from somewhere "down east" who had
made a nice chopping of about six acres, which was done
in tine style while Jim was convalescing. The brush was pro-
perly piled, a good burn secured, and the whole job, so far,
was done with special reference to handy logging. The "good
burn" left the logs and ground and stumps all of one color.
Just then, as Jim was getting so he could do something and
logging was the next thing in order, as he was hauling a stick
up to the house, it caught in some way on a stump: the oxen
started quickly, and it flew around and laid him prostrate with
a badly fractured leg, besides other injuries of a less serious

A messenger was sent for a doctor, and the news of Jim's
bad luck was soon known even to the adjoining settlements,
and much sympathy was felt for the unfortunate man. Learn-
ing of the condition of his work, aware that his circumstances
were not the best, with the prospect of long continued inability
to work, and a big doctor's bill to be paid, the settlers, with
one accord, agreed that Jim should have a boost. A day was
set and the word went out to all the people that the logging
bee would come off at a time appointed, in Jim's chopping,
and they must turn out and help him.

The day came: it was a good one, and with it came a sturdy
lot of men with a number of good ox teams, stout logging
chains, and axes. The teams were all good: but some excel-
led in the particular work of logging, being especially broken
to the business. Among the brag yokes was one from the
White Settlement on Butternut Flats, known far and wide as
handy, quick and strong. They were Jed. Strong's, and Jed
was on hand himself, ox gad in hand, to handle them.


The Whitman Hill fellows were out in full force and with
them came Jonah Johnson with his crack team. By many,
Johnson's team was considered the quickest in the whole
country, and for strength, a good match for Strong's. It was
claimed for Johnson's team that they had been known on
several occasions, to jerk a log right out from the bark! Of
course no one was expected to believe this statement, except
upon the condition that the marvellous feat was performed only
in the peeling season. But as no one questioned their strength
or dexterity, so no one cared much whether it was a fact or not.

It was arranged that the business in hand should begin right
away after dinner, which the good women of the more im-
mediate neighborhood had brought along with them, and, in
picnic style, had spread on an improvised table of rough
boards. Hardly, perhaps up to some of our modern picnics,
but the meal was appetizing, hearty and substantial: just the
thing to give them strength for the arduous work of the after-

Arrived at the chopping, allotments were made to the several
gangs; each team having its particular driver, the team and
driver understanding each other perfectly. To some would be
assigned the business of wrapping the chains about the logs,
while others were expected to unhook the chains: and others
still, armed with hand spikes, w^ere to roll the logs into place
on the heaps. It is quite safe to say it was just a little noisy.
It was "Haw Buck", "Gee Bright", "Whoa Stub", and "Git
up Broad", besides the commands of the bosses of the' several
gangs, given out with stentorian voices: and the surrounding
walls of the green woods gave back the echoes in grand re-
frain. It was "confusion worse confounded," but the work
went on, and well and swiftly it was done. In some way, but
purposely of course, it was so arranged that the two rival
teams had as near as possible the same amount of work laid
out for them. Without a spoken word to that effect, it seemed


as though the g'angs, drivers, teams, all sniffed it in the air
some way, that there was to be a strife. And there was.

It fell to the Johnson team to tackle a little the biggest log-
It was indeed a heavy one, and they went through the yoke
instanter: but another and a stronger one was in reserve.
When that was adjusted, Jonah gave the word with an
emphasis which those oxen understood perfectly, and accord-
ingly they got right down to business, and the huge log
moved. Not only that, but it didn't stop till it was in place
for the heap, and all amid the shouts of the men, many of
whom had wagered they could not draw it.

Jed. vStrong's team broke two stout log chains, one by
snubbing the log against a stump, the other by starting too
quickly. Other teams did well, but the rivalry was confined to
the teams of Strong and Johnson, and they finished their work
so evenly that all were willing to call it a tie. It certainly was
a draw! Still, each wanted, in some way, to have it out. So,
selecting the clearest place they could find, they turned the
rival teams tails to, and dropping the hooks together, they
were started with the word "Go". Strong was not well pleased
with this way of settling it, for he was afraid Johnson's team
was the quicker, which was soon proven, and they won out.
Seriously, it is no fair test for strength, for the quick team has
a great advantage.

The whiskey jug was passed around at stated intervals that
afternoon, and also at some other times, and they all felt pretty
well: they were ambitious to distinguish themselves with feats
of strength. Neither could they brook any delay, and logs
would some times be caught and rolled on top the heap before
the chains could be unhooked. Lots of other antics were in-
dulged in, but generally the best of good friendly feelings

Joe Gibson had the misfortune to get his fingers badly
pinched, the oxen starting before he could get them away; and



Tom Luther sprained his ankle, but not badly. These were
all the casualties. The help was so plenty the picking up was
all done, and it being unusually dry, it was determined to fire
the heaps at once.

It was six o'clock, and returning to the cabin, the good
women had the boards spread with an ample and substantial
supper. They took their time for it, and when the meal was
finished, the heaps had become suiTficiently burned for the first
"chinking up." All hands resolved to stay and do that also,
and as the moon was at its full, they voted to do it thoroughly.
When they finally started for their several homes, the heaps
were so far burned as to give but little more trouble. Jim
Pike could hardly express his thanks, and they all felt happy
over giving him a good boost.

T^iZ< t^'-A^-r;—

l) I In the order of improvement, the framed barn

was more than likely to precede the framed house. It was in-
deed the rule, and there were few exceptions. Col. Russell's
clearings had grown to cover more than half of his farm, and
his crops of hay, wheat and oats, had so largely outgrown the
little old log barn which he first put up, that he was compelled
to stack, which, as now, was always attended with much waste.
So, closely considering the matter, he concluded that it was in
the line of economy to put up a fiame barn.

It seldom occurred to our pioneers to build their barns on
other than level ground, and such was the site which Col.
Russell selected for his new barn. It was just near enough to
the road which had been recently laid out on the lot line, which


was the south Hne of his farm, to make room for a good sized
vard. Having determined to build, the colonel thought he
would put up a larger one than was then common, and hxed
the size on the ground at 32x44 feet with 16 feet posts I his
was considered large for the time. In this instance, the s.lls
and plates were gotten out 16x16 inches, the beams 12x14 and
the posts and ridge pole of cherry. This would be considered
a great waste now. They were all scored, and hewed with
broad axes. With wise forethought Col. Russell had selected
his timber, felled, hewed and drawn it out, and piled it up ma
place convenient for building operations the next spring, i his
rendered the weight very much less and made the raising con-
siderably easier.

It was very hard, at the best, lifting those huge timbers into
Place for it was all to be done by main strength. But to the
prais; of our pioneers be it said, their willingness to turn out
to raisings was proverbial. Community of interest made it a
sacred dutv to turn out on such occasions, and they would come
from long distances: some, when the relation, or acquaintance
was intimate, would come with their ox teams and sleds, and
bring their wives, that they might enjoy the sight ai.d assist
in preparing refreshments. Ox sleds, did you say? ^^ hy bless
vou yes. That mode of travel or conveyance, even though
the ground was bare, was the safest and easiest way of ndmg
over the roots, poles and logs, and through the long, deep mud

holes. ^

Whenever it could be, the raising was planned to come ott
at or near the full of the moon. Col. Russell's ^^^^^-^J^
well attended. It had gotten winded around that it was to be
a "whopper", as they used to say, something more than oi-
dinary, and they knew the timbers would be heavy, and so the>
turned out to a man to help him up with the frame.

Bill Strobell, down on the Beaver Dam Flats, had great tame
as a barn builder. His frames always came together good, and


he had a way of managino^ the men so as to keep them all
good natured and willing, and so they went up well. Col.
Russell secured him to build his barn, indeed he had him en-
gaged a year in advance. Bill came on about the middle of
April. The colonel had two good hired men, and two of his
boys had so far grown up as, if occasion demanded, to do the
work of an average man. When the framing was completed,
which Bill did alone, all the help on the place turned in and
leveled the sills and got the bents together, so there should be
no delay nor bother when the men came. Some were lax in
this matter, expecting the invited helpers to assist in all
that preliminary work.

It was two o'clock before all the men, or sufficient of them to
undertake to raise, were on the ground, A few more pins
were needed, so Deacon Jones who came early, was set to
work at them. The deacon was known as the best pin-maker
in the settlement. His pins were always well made, and of the
right and uniform size, and would cause no profanity on the
part of those who drove them. When everything \yas ready,
two or three, as the case might demand, good, strong, re-
liable, steady nerved men were given places, each at the foot
of a post, with iron bars to hold them firmly in place. It was
regarded as a position of great responsibility. Then all the
men who could get to the beam took their places, while behind
them stood, say half as many more, with good, strong and
long pike poles. Carpenter Strobell then took a position
where he could see every move of every man, and in a loud,
strong voice gave the command "Pick her right up, boys", at
which every man grasped the beam and lifted in concert with
the others, to the words "He-o-he" strongly accented, and
mingled with an occasional "Up she goes". When far enough
up, the men behind jabbed the pikes into the beams and soon
the hardest of the lift was over. As the bent neared a per-
pendicular some of the men with pike poles were sent around


to the Other side, and the words "Steady boys, C-a-r-e-f-u-l"
and the post tenons would enter their mortises.

The bent was then "stay-lathed" in a correct position, and
another bent tackled, and the same process gone through with,
with the additional work of placing the girts: and so repeated
till the last one was up. Then came the raising of the big
plates, which brought into exercise the skill of the builder, and
the strength of the men. The ridge pole, purlin plates and
rafters, in the order named, were then raised to their places
and pinned, and the barn was raised. An adjournment was
had about 5:30 o'clock for refreshments: and fried cakes, bread
and butter, chunks of good boiled corned beef, punkin pies,
ginger cake, Dutch and other home made cheese, were served,
while root beer, and, if the truth must be told, whiskey, were
also passed around, the latter beverage dispensed by the
Colonel himself, with a keen eye and good judgment.

It v/as a full hour after sunset when the last pin was driven,
and to conclude the whole performance, all the men who cared to,
and were so disposed, climbed up and ranged themselves on
the plates, when Joe Stubbs, chosen for the purpose, took a
bottle of whiskey tightly corked, "named the building", as
they called it, by repeating some rude, rhyming lines: in this


"The pride of the builder, and owner's delight:
Franked in ten days and raised Saturday night".

Then calling for three cheers, the bottle was swung over his

head, and, amid the huzzas of the whole company, thrown as

far as his strong arm could hurl it. Then came the scramble

to see who should reach the bottle first. If not broken, it was

considered a good omen. In this case it was not. Wrestling,

jumping and running, were often engaged in after raisings,

but the hour was so late and the work had been so arduous,

the sports were omitted. vSo with the well deserved thanks of



Col. Russell, they departed for their several homes "By the
silver light of the moon".

When Capt, Van Nostrand raised his mill in Granger, Alle-
gany Co., he had to send seven miles to procure help, and some
of the Indians on the Caneadea Reservation assisted. The
captain did his own framing. He was a man of nerve and
great coolness in emergencies. The timbers were heavy, and
in raising one at the bents some faint hearted ones were about
to release their hold. Such action would have imperilled their
lives. Captain Van Nostrand took in the situation at once,
grasped a handspike and threatened dire vengeance on any
who failed to do their best: and again giving the word "He-o-
he" they all lifted as never before, and up it went. It was
wise in the captain to talk thus to the men who had come to
help him, but it was not very polite.

John Shanks, an Indian on the Caneadea Reservation, was
good help at a raising, because very expert in going aloft and
venturing where many feared to go. He would stand on his
head on the plate of a building. In performing this feat at the
raising of the first grist mill in Wiscoy, he lost his balance and
came tumbling down among the timbers to the rocks below,
sustaining serious injuries, the effect of which he felt as long
as he lived.

At the beginning of the last century the wolf population of
our country must have been large, if not indeed immense.
When the first settlers made their appearance and reared theif
rude cabins, this country seemed indeed to be the paradise or
the wolf, but it made a veritable pandemonium for the pioneer.
Wolves greeted him upon his advent into the wilderness,
welcomed him to its dark forest recesses, and persist-
ently followed his pathway to his destination. They stood
as sentinels about the lonely cabins, and when night "mantled
the wilderness in solemn gloom", the chorus of howls which


they set up was enough to dismay strong hearts and make the
blood run cold in those not much given to fear.

Many thrilling experiences of the early settlers have been
related, in which the wolves played a conspicuous part: and
many adventures with wolves have been recited in later days
to the grand children of those who participated in them. The
wolf was distinguished for his keen appetite which was never
satisfied. He was always gaunt and always hungry. When he
could get it, mutton was his favorite meat, and choice spring
lamb would tempt him long distances, and to take great

In 1805, Phillip Church purchased, and drove to Belvidere,
twenty-four sheep. Arriving there late in the evening, they
were folded close by the house. In the morning, a brother-in-
law from New York, who was his guest, was invited out early
to see them. Nineteen of them had been killed by the wolves!

Next to his sheep killing propensities the wolf was noted as
a howler. He was a howler indeed. He persistently practiced

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Online LibraryJohn Stearns MinardRecollections of the log school house period, and sketches of life and customs in pioneer days → online text (page 5 of 9)