Construction Techniques in the 1830’s
This description of life in the 1830’s appeared in the February 5th 1899 issue of “The Gate City” of Keokuk Iowa.
Note: How happy they were with a simple life, limited food selection and few possessions.
In the construction of our log houses no nail or sound of the hammer was heard. The wooden pin was our sole reliance. So used to the pin had we become, wagon-makers pinned the spokes into the hub. So honest and faithful was this done that we have worked three or four hours to free a hub of its spokes. Little capital was tied up in wagons – a sled would do us in the mud or for what little snow fell in our region; in dry weather a truck would do, made entirely of wood; not an ounce of iron was invested or used on it. For motive power we used oxen largely – their yokes of the present pattern, with a ring and staple of hickory. We often used the oxen to plow, both single and double. We have seen an ox hitched to a plow and all the harness, from the clevis to the collar, made of hickory withes except the back band; that was rawhide.
Our schools were taught in deserted houses temporarily repaired for the purpose. The seats were benches without backs and all of the same height for young and old. If a child’s legs were not long enough for his feet to reach the floor they could dangle in midair.
If we raised wheat we threshed it sometimes with the flail , but usually by tramping it out with horses or oxen. We chose an elevated spot of ground where the water could run off if it rained, set a post down, pinned a light piece of wood five or six feet long loosely so it would revolve, hitched a pair of horses or oxen to the outer end, covered the floor with bundles and went to threshing. When we were through threshing we cleaned out most of the straw, waited for a good wind, took it little at a time, mounted a box and poured it down before the wind. Thus we cleaned our grain.
Our traveling was done either on horseback or with horse and oxen team. The wagon was a clumsy affair, with the tread six inches wider than is used at the present time. The tongue was twelve feet long. Instead of the neck yoke, chains reached from the end of the tongue back to the harness. The tongue and harness were fastened together – no joint as at present. When the wagon was idle, careful men propped up the tongue with forked sticks to keep it from sagging. If the near forward wheel struck an obstruction the near horse got a sock-dolger , sometimes nearly knocking him off his feet; ditto for the left wheel. Of roads we had none worthy of the name. We had wagon tracks upon which people traveled. The coach carried what little mail there was used then. When any part of the road became gullied out or a tree fell across it, we made a new track.
We were a patient and satisfied people with our “hog and hominy,” Lindsay Pantaloons , warmers for winter and a tow change for summer. We were as happy and contented as a half-starved colt on the sunny side of a hay stack on a warm day in April.
We can’t prove that a republican policy was the cause of waking us up from this stupid loafing slavery lethargy. We can prove they both came together and that the democrats fought every inch of progress from the time of the revival until now, are at it today as zealous as they were forty years ago.
The awakening began in 1854; the Democrats took the do-nothing side except in the case of slavery. When it was in danger they were alert with all their weapons in good order. When pension, homestead, river and harbor and tariff laws were discussed, then they seized the constitution and O my! but they did larrup the Republicans for breaking it. They have been the custodians of the constitution since Calhoun, father of the party, taught them how to use it