In the evenings of the short winter days down on the farm, when the cider sparkled in the glass and the hickory nuts were at hand, we listened to the stories told us by the older folk, of the real old days, when the country was new and the settlers hustled for a foothold.
Man may moan of his troubles and hardships, but if he has been successful, he loves in later life to retread in memory the old hard road that led to ease and comfort. He is a creative atom and finds his chief joy in constructive achievement.
Economy always has been a prominent factor of successful farm life. Those pioneers certainly practiced it. When a new couple arrived in the settlement, the neighbors gathered and with their axes had a fine home built by nightfall.
Methods of farming were crude and simple. Oxen pulled the plows that broke out the prairie and the cleared timber land. Timber land, when first cultivated is so full of leaf mold as to be very light and mellow. No clods to bother with. The trouble with our land now is that it is deficient in the natural mold what formerly made it so friable and lively. Loose soil favors drainage and other conditions necessary to plant growth.
The early settlers did not let a dearth of equipment dismay them. Having broken the virgin soil with a walking plow, they often harrowed it with brush, planted the corn by hand in a furrow and covered it with a flat rock, which they dragged along the row or with a jumper, a depth which the operator alternately raised and lowered.
Grain was cut with a cradle and bound by hand. The first separators were horse power concerns. But the old timers raised some real wheat crops, something we now seem unable to do. Thirty or forty years ago the shipments of wheat from this section were heavy, bringing a lot of hard cash home to us. Of late years wheat shipments have fallen to a mere trifle.
A study of farm life during the period of its existence in Illinois will reveal the gradual decline in independence of the farmer. He formerly provided for about all of his own needs, even raising the wool and with the aid of the wife, weaving the cloth and making his own clothes. The farm supplied about all the necessities in the way of food, meat, eggs, flour, milk, butter, cream, hominy, and fruit of all kinds.
Here memory wanders into the old orchard which my grandfather planted and a real orchard it was, with such sterling varieties of apples as Rambo Belle Flower and Summer Pearmain. Without exception, the Pearmain was the best eating apple I had ever tasted. Those apple trees seemed to my youthful eyes to reach almost to the sky, and certainly the apples I found underneath the trees in the tall, damp grass, were good enough to be a gift from high heaven. And perhaps they were. Editor
When speaking of farming I might say that the very first plows had a wooden mold board which was soon replaced by an all iron or steel plow. In those days they had no machinery of any kind. Harrows were made of wood in a V-shape with wooden teeth. When a piece of ground was ready for corn planting it had to be marked both ways in order to make square rows and the grain was dropped by hand and covered with the hoe. Later the hand planter was invented, which is still known today and father has made quite a lot of them. Father invented a three-row horse planter, but we used it but one year then he made a two-row planter which was a complete success, and we have never used a factory made planter.
The first grain cutting machine was made by McCormick and it had a platform for the grain to drop on but had to be raked off by hand. The man that raked the grain off in bunches had to ride backwards. It took 6 to 7 men to tie the bundles with straw. Next came the machine that dropped them in bunches. Then came the Harvester that elevated the grain to one side and into a trough. The two men who rode the machine did the binding with straw. Then came the wire binder. In 1876 at the World’s Fair at Philadelphia I saw the first twine binder. I also saw a corn planter that imitated father’s ideas. It stood on a satin covered floor and had lots of silver plated parts. The check rower was next.
I was at the World’s Fair a whole month trying to find a man who could make me a false part of my face. Yes, dear people, I had a hard and sad time of my life but am still on top. Even in my affliction I have seen lots of the world. I have been to three World’s Fairs, have visited the principal cities of the U. S. and several cities in foreign countries. I have visited Panama and the Panama Canal and have visited and inspected that most wonderful work of the world and have crawled through the whole works from one end to the other as it was then under construction while my brother John and I were there in 1912. We had the best chance in the world to see it all. As we returned from Panama, we went by way of Kingston, Jamaica and landed at the east end of Cuba. From Santiago we traveled all the way to Havana, Cuba, and we finally reached the U. S. at Key West, Florida and from there we crossed a large part of southern United States.
Maybe I am a little to hasty as I notice that I have jumped at least 60 to 70 years in space, so I will tell you a little about breaking up this never-before-touched wild prairie sod. The plow was hung to an axle with two wheels and could be controlled by a lever. Then they hitched 3 or 4 or even as high as 6 or 7 yoke of oxen to it. They were all hitched to one long chain reaching from the plow to the front yoke of oxen. The front yoke were trained to obey the driver’s command, and he used a big and long whip which he used unmercifully. When he cracked it over their heads, it made a report like a shot gun. The young and inexperienced animals were compelled to go whether they wanted to or not, or they were drug along by the yoke. Oh, it was inhuman.
The main part of the yoke consisting of a strong piece of wood reaching from the neck of one ox to the other. It laid right back of the horns on the top of the neck and held to the oxen by two wooden hickory bows put around their necks and shoved through holes that block and held by two wooden pins. Now just imagine such a sight. The words of the commander were about like the sound of a steam boiler, so here goes with foot on low, “Git up, git up, Dick and Molly, Tom and Jerry, Jim and Johnny, John and Milkey,” and so on down. “Come on, come you lazy booger, you good-for-nothing, you old fool, come on you, git up” and so on, just the most shameful language and accusing the lowest and meanest acts, and if the poor brutes had any feeling of honor it would have made them shed tears.
H. H. Franzen (I was thrilled when I found another Franzen writeup)
Have a bucket list? Consider including the Homestead National Monument in southeast Nebraska. You’ll learn firsthand about breaking sod and pioneer life.
When time permits, you might like to read an excerpt from El Comancho’s “The Old Timer’s Tale.” Fascinating! The Old Timer’s Tale
As an aside…hog butchering wasn’t mentioned in these Golden New Era write-ups, but nonetheless a part of farming life. If interested, you might like to take a look at this survival technique at www.corinthrose.com, under This N’ That. (and I do mean technique) Even though these images were taken in Tennessee not the Midwest, it really doesn’t matter where one butchers a hog. Hog butchering is hog butchering!
At the suggestion of a friend, we visited the yearly heritage festival at Ames Plantation near Grand Junction, Tennessee in 2012. More than interesting, the whole event was down right fascinating, well organized, and educational. As a little girl of seven or eight, I remember the monstrous hog dangling from the old dilapidated garage door…waiting. Inquisitive…yes. Scared…absolutely. Was I prepared for what happened next…no. I hid and watched.
However, 55 years later, my fascination with hog butchering peaked again soon after arriving at Ames Plantation last October. This time I hid behind my camera as I captured image after image of men “just doing their job.” Don’t know if I would have been so enthralled if the hog hadn’t been bled beforehand, though.