Furnishing the Home

The pioneer hurried to provide a house on the homestead and the loghouse, sod home, or dugout at last became a reality.  All their household possessions were packed in several trunks, barrels and shipping crates.

The house was generally furnished with only the necessities: a four lid iron cookstove, the much needed coffee pot and coffee grinder, a large iron kettle, cast iron skillet or spider, wooden bowls and kitchen utensils, their personal eating dishes made of either tin, granite or heavy china, and possibly a wooden dasher churn and a large tin dish pan.

Laundry equipment included the wooden or tin tubs, sad (flat) irons, the washboard, and cast iron or copper boiler to heat the water for clothes washing or Saturday night baths.  The same boilers were sometimes used for canning or making cheese.  A large iron soap kettle was also used to heat water for butchering, and for melting the tallow for making candles.

Their first homes were furnished simply.  Homemade furniture was the decor of the era.  They made their own tables, chairs, benches, cupboards and beds from the trees in the area or from the packing crates.  They also made some of the wooden kitchen tools such as the butter ladle, spoons, potato masher and a turu (a tool used for stirring rommegrot).  A large chest, brought from the old country, stored their more valuable possessions: linens, bedding, feather blankets, pictures,' Bible, and other books, possibly some silver or pewter pieces, or some fine china, fabric and clothing.

The housewife had to make and mend most of the clothing for the family.  A highly important article brought from the old country was the spinning wheel.  Besides the knitted garments, she made most of the other clothing by hand.  The treadle sewing machine was a fairly expensive but essential item and one greatly appreciated by the housewife when she could afford to purchase one.  Store bought clothes were available but were too expensive for the homesteader.

Woman's work was never done.  Cooking, cleaning and gardening were only part of the tasks that occupied the woman's day.  The housewife had to produce many of the materials needed in the homes.  She didn't have shortening for cooking unless she saved the fat from the hog and rendered it into lard or skimmed the cream from the milk to churn the butter.  There was no sausage if she didn't take time at hog butchering time to save and clean intestines to use for casings.  No candlelight unless she saved the mutton fat to render into tallow for the making of candles.  No warm wool garments unless she saved the sheep wool to card, and spin into to knit the sweaters, mittens, stockings, baby clothes and scarves.  To wash clothes and clean house, she had to make soap, to make soap she had to save grease and leach out lye, to leach lye she had to save ashes, to save ashes ...  it seemed to be a vicious circle to save byproducts to produce a much needed household product.

Heating and cooking fuel on the treeless plain was a problem.  The pioneers had to haul wood long distances from the rivers, it was a time-consuming job collecting and preparing the firewood for fuel.  Often times cow chips and twisted prairie hay were used for fuel.

Besides candles, another form of lighting in the homes was the kerosene lamps and lanterns that used wicks and were just as smelly and smoky as the candles.  Cleaning and polishing the chimneys and refilling the lamps was another household duty each day.  A much later form of lighting was the type commonly known as the Aladdin lamp.  It gave la brighter light through the use of a mantle, and used refined kerosene.

The common mattress at the time was the straw filled ticks.  Each fall the ticks would be taken outdoors and turned inside out, washed and refilled with fresh oat or wheat straw.  The ticks varied in thickness from 12 to 24 inches, but eventually flattened down to the bed slats. Sometimes horse, cowhide or buffalo robes would be laid over the flattened ticks to add comfort.

Every fall the settler laid in a winter's supply of groceries-, flour, sugar, coffee, beans, salt, and salt pork (if they didn't butcher their own pork), fuel for the lamps and other supplies.  The first settlers in the Cooperstown area had to travel to Valley City or Mayville; a trip sometimes requiring several days.  By the early months of 1883, Cooperstown was an up and coming town and had several general stores, eliminating the long hard trip for supplies.

Milk cows and chickens were of vital importance to the settler, as they provided them with milk, cream, butter, and eggs.  Butter and eggs were often brought into the stores by the housewife to trade for groceries.

Fish and wild game supplemented the settlers' meager diet of mush, beans, bread, and salt pork.  After the first year on the homestead they would also have the garden produce to add variety to their diets.

Since there was no refrigeration, various methods of pre serving foods were used.  It was either smoked, salted or canned.  Fall with its cool days was hog-butchering time. The fresh hams, picnic shoulders, and bacon were cured rubbed with salt or put in a brine for several weeks before smoking.  They were then hung in the smokehouse and allowed to smoke for several weeks, with corncobs providing the desirable fuel.  Salting was done by layering the meat with salt in barrels or large stoneware crocks.  Crocks were also used to store sauerkraut and pickles.  There is no known record when the first canning of vegetables, fruits and meats were done in this area.  The first canning jars avail able were the Mason jar with the rubber ring and Zinc screw-on lid, and later the blue Mason jar with the rubber ring, glass top and wire clamp were used.  A root cellar located under the house or a dugout in a hill provided a place to keep carrots, potatoes, onions and other garden produce firm and dry for months.  Wild plums, strawberries, chockecherries and berries native to the area were made into jams and jellies.

As time passed and people prospered they were able to build frame double-walled homes.  These homes varied in shape and size, and were generally constructed with the out side walls of shiplap covered with heavy building paper and finished with lap siding.  On the inside of the studs there was lath and plaster and finished with paint or wallpaper.  The floors had soft or hardwood floors.  The home contained two or three bedrooms, kitchen and pantry, and a room just for sitting and sometimes a dining room, with a window or two in each room.  The wood constructed homes were perhaps colder in winter and hotter in summer than the sod or cabin home but the light, spacious, cheery rooms were a welcome change for the families.

The new home required a heating stove for the sitting room.  If they could afford it, new furniture was purchased and only a few pieces were homemade.

The housewife's tasks remained much the same but were made easier with the improvement of many household items.

One improvement in some of the new homes was the building of an underground cistern to store a supply of soft water for washing clothes or bathing.  A hand pump was installed to bring the water up from the cistern.  Earlier laundry water came from the regular well and was hard water, or a barrel set at the corner of the house to collect rainwater as it ran from a shingled roof.  In the winter snow was melted to provide soft water.  It is no wonder the earlier wash days were an unpleasant task, with hard water, homemade lye soap and the scrub board.  Laundry equipment improved also.  The wooden hand-powered washing machine and hand-cranked wringer helped ease washday, although the scrub board wasn't abandoned completely.  It was usually the children's chore to provide the power for the washing machine.  A later advancement in the washing machine was the gas-powered washer, with attached wringer.  The housewife no longer had to stand over the washing and was free to do other chores as each load washed.

The big, black coal and wood burning cookstove, popular around the 1900's, was the center of the kitchen.  Near by was the kitchen rocking chair, used for resting a spell or rocking the baby.  One of the stove's features was the warming oven running the full length of the stove across the top.  It was a handy place for storing potholders, flat irons, and keeping food warm.  (The warming oven was also known to have saved many a premature baby, as the warming oven acted as an incubator).  The cooking surface had four to six lids, requiring a special tool for lifting the lids, enabling the cook to add fuel to the stove.  The wood box and coal bucket were right beside the stove.  A good cook at the controls of the dampers and fire together with the stove could produce a very delicious meal.  Flat bread and lefse were baked on the surface; the coffee pot was always on and quite often a kettle of mush or rommegrot.  Another feature was the baking oven from which delicious aromas of bread, cakes and the goodies emanated.  Many loaves of bread were baked weekly for the family and a good cook generally knew just how many pieces of wood the stove required to bake bread or cakes, and when the temperature was just right.  To test the oven temperature a little flour was thrown on the floor of the oven.  If the flour turned slightly brown and looked slightly scorched the oven was the proper temperature.  Some cooks had a knack of sensing the correct oven temperature by placing their hand in the oven.

There was a reservoir on the side of the stove for heating water, and that was another chore for the youngsters to keep the reservoir filled, along with keeping the ashpan empty and the wood box and coal bucket filled.

The cookstove was a quick place to dry wet mittens and shoes, or warm cold hands and feet.  A tub placed in front of the stove was an ideal place to bathe the children on a cold winter night.  Three or more flat irons were heated on the back of the stove for ironing, or to wrap in a towel and take on a sleigh ride to keep your feet warm.

Th pioneers were always willing to help one another.  They enjoyed each other's company, shared in each other's work and cared for one another during illness.  There always seemed to be one lady in the community who acted as a midwife to deliver the babies, and who knew about treating some illnesses.

Life for the pioneer woman was often filled with hardship.  There was always endless work and worry over children, sickness, and finances.  The homestead land was free but she paid for it with her health as she became old before her time.

She was proud of her home and family and dreamed of better things for them.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial Page 137

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