Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
FUN ON THE FRONTIER
Much has been written about the work ethic of the pioneer, the harshness of life on the frontier particularly during the first couple of years, and the difficulties faced by early settlers who must learn to cope with a variety of challenges including adverse weather, isolation, and no money for doctors and medicine.
Frontier settlers devised simple ways to entertain themselves and enjoy the new life they chose. Although social life was meager, it was important and often looked upon with great anticipation.
Settlers would cut logs for their cabin and drag them to the area where they planned to build. From miles in each direction, neighbors gathered for a “raising,” by which method they built cabins and barns from the days of early settlement up into the early 20th century.
While the men were engaged in laying up the walls of the cabin or lifting the rafters for the barn, the women prepared a bounteous meal using every resource available. After the meal, the men and children became involved in bouts of strength such as wrestling and weight lifting, and games of endurance including foot races.
Soon after a cabin was raised, neighbors again gathered for a “house warming.” Fiddlers were found somewhere within the vicinity who could “scrape the fiddle,” and people danced to the music of the day unless the pioneer family had scruples against dancing in which case they engaged in frolic games such as “Skip to My Lou,” “London Bridge,” and “Old Sister Phoebe,” which required graceful, vigorous movements and strength.
In some vicinities, “log rollings” were held. After timber was felled, logs were rolled into piles for burning. After the task was completed, supper and celebration followed. Hunting was popular. Men and boys from all over the area gathered with their dogs and prizes were often given to the best marksmen. Shooting matches were held to test their skills.
Early settlers also enjoyed horse racing usually on Saturday afternoons and this included much betting. Quilting bees were social recreation for the women, but husking bees brought both sexes together. Each gentleman would select a lady partner for the contest. Again, fiddlers were sometimes added to the merriment and dancing would continue until the wee hours of the morning.
Dancing was the most popular form of recreation. Keeping time with his feet, head, and body, the fiddler called out the instructions of the dance, and the more complicated it became, the better.
“First four forward, and side four divide; change partners in center, and swing to the side; and keep on around.” “Ladies to the center and gents walk around; pass by your partners and swing them around....then all promenade!” “On to the next one, salute and sashay; then double-shuffle, the old fashioned way! Grand right and left!”
First the dancers had to learn what each term meant, and then they had to be ready for each prompt. From the frontier days, this lively form of entertainment has continued at least to some degree up to the present time. During World War II my grandparents attended square dances such as these held in the west lodge of Lacey-Keosauqua State Park on Saturday nights sometimes lasting until 3 in the morning!
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project
by Andy Reddick