Of Mice and Men (with apologies to Steinbeck)

As the weather finally turned cold here in Colorado, little creatures started scurrying to find shelter and a few have made their way into our lower level.  We live in a new subdivision and fields surround our house.  I'm sure they assume we have invaded their territory.  Mice are cute outside, not so much as they run across the living room and head down the stairs!

I picked up an old copy of the Palimpsest, a monthly publication of the State Historical Society of Iowa.  This issue ( May 1924) is headlined "Hard Times in Early Iowa" by George F. Robeson.  Early settlers in Iowa dealt with mice as well:

"The pioneer cabins were infested with mice which 'scurried about the floor and cupboards' and, though 'slaughtered by the score', there appeared to be no marked reduction in their numbers."

As we begin our year with a commitment to buy only what we need, and reduce the clutter in our home, I am sure our ancestors must be shaking their heads at how foolish we have become.  Continuing with his story on pioneer life, Mr. Robeson describes the typical cabin:

"The cabin as a rule consisted of a single room with but one door and one window.  One end was used for sleeping quaters while the other near the fireplace was employed for cooking and eating. The furniture was mostly of the rude, hand-made variety designed entirely for its utility, the beds, chairs, and table being all the product of pioneer handicraft.  Kitchen utensils having been for the most part brought from the East were few in number but of the most substantial kind.  It was considered a rather well-stocked kitchen that was equipped with an iron pot or kettle, a frying pan with a long handle, and a coffee pot.  In fact, considering that cook stoves were almost unknown, these articles were about all that could be used to advantage.  The habit of using 'make-shifts' and of 'getting along somehow'  was strong among the pioneers.  The leaky dishpan repaired with a bit of rag was typical of the times."

"Conditions of living in the average home were not such as would have won the enthusiastic approval of a modern sanitary engineer.  'Cooking, eating, sleeping, washing, dressing, nursing the sick, laying out of the dead' - all of these duties were performed in the one-room cabin.  Wet 'socks or jean britches were given preference to the coffee-pot and meat-skillet on the hearth', while the owner was relegated to bed during the drying process.  At time the dress of game was a fireside occupation."

Well, at least my hubbie field dresses the pheasants!  That would make for a very messy living room other wise!


  1. I doubt that all the modern conveniences, square footage of new homes, and central heat are appreciated any more than those simple cabins and fireplaces were in their day. but could we have survived as they did?


Post a Comment