Recalls Ways of Living 75 Years Ago by G. A. Burgin Circa 1955
When I can first remember my father coming back from the effects of the Civil War, he had a good flock of sheep and hogs, several head of cattle, a big yoke of oxen and a mule. People then had to make their living by farming and raising stock.
Father farmed with a mule and did his hauling with his oxen. He had a tar-grinding wagon. A tar-grinding wagon was a wagon you greased with tar. The spindles on the axles had a trap of iron on top and bottom and a hole in both for linchpins to go in to hold the wheel on each side of spindle and had a trip of iron fastened on each side to keep wood from wearing in hub. There was a strap of iron for thimbles to keep the hub from wearing, a small place cut out in end of hub for linchpin to get in to the key wheel. Tar was run from fat pine. Men split up a lot of pine, put it on a flat rock, covered it with pine tops and moss. A small opening was for tar to come out. The fire would roast the resin out and would heat it so it would cook the tar and that was what people greased their wagons with at that time.
Brakes were almost unknown. On wagons there was a lock chain to lock a wheel at the top of a hill, drag it to foot of hill, get out and unlock the wheel up hill. Hill roads then were made straight. They paid no attention to hills. We lived eight miles from Old Fort and it took all day to make the trip with oxen.
There were three stores in Old Fort then: J. R. Craftord's, B. B. Thomason's and J. S. Bradley's. They bought all kinds of country produce: corn, rye, peas, beans, cabbage, potatoes, homemade molasses and dressed hogs. They sold a lot of such product to railroad construction gangs. The merchants got money for it. They gave 50 cents for corn per bushel; potatoes 50 cents per bushel; peas and beans 60 cents per bushel; cabbage 1 1/2 cents per pound, dried fruit, one to two cents per pound.
They bought crossties for the railroad. They paid 25 cents a piece for all that went good. It would take a man who was good with an ax to make eight in a day, and a day to haul them if he lived any distance from town. People now would say there would be no money in that. People then didn't work for money, they worked to live.
Now I will go back to livestock. Folks sheared the sheep in late spring after cold weather was over and early fall before cold weather came. My mother would take the wool and wash it clean, dye it, dry it, and card it on an old fashioned card. She would make roles and spin them on an old-fashioned spinning wheel and weave it on an old-fashioned wooden loom.
The cloth that was all wool was called jeans. Cotton and wool mixed (card it, spin it and weave it) was called linsey. This was used to make ladies clothes. Ladies' suits were made with a skirt to come down over the shoe tops, with a coat to come down over the top of the skirt. They had heavy underskirts of wool, and wore under their top skirt wool stockings knitted by hand with old-fashioned needles.
Topcoats were few in those days. Most wore shawls. These went over the shoulders, down over part of the body. Most all old women wore split bonnets. That was the way ladies dressed in winter. In summer, calico was popular and some higher grade of cloth that was light. The jeans was made for man, they wore wool socks knitted by hand.
Back to livestock. All crops were fenced with old rail fences. All stock ran outside, free range went where they pleased. They ate all kinds of medical herbs, bushes, shrubs and chestnuts and acorns. When cool weather began to come, my father killed a mutton. He would kill two or three in fall when the weather began to get cold and when the hogs got fat on chestnuts, he would kill a hog. When they ate all the meat he would take all that he was going to kill that winter, put them in a lot, feed them for five or six weeks on corn to harden the meat, and then on the coldest day he would kill the hogs, dress them, cut them up and salt the meat down. When it took salt he would hang it up and make a smudge fire out of hickory coals and wood two or three days and let it hang there until it dried out, then pack it down and cover it with something to keep flies off.
That was the purest meat a human ever ate. It came from nature-food, sheep and beef was from nature-food, as well as milk. Cattle ate all kinds of bushes and medical herbs. That meat and milk was good medicine to a human. My father would kill a beef most ever fall. It was the best meat a person ever ate.
Father would take the hide and lime it to clear all hair off it in the spring of year. He had a big tan trough dug out in a big log. When he got it cleaned up right he would put in the tan trough. He would peel chestnut oak bark and fill the trough with it and fill it with water and keep it that way all summer on the hide. In the fall, he would take the hide out and work it and grease it until it was pliant.
He would have an old ex-slave to make us kids shoes out of it. He would make both shoes on the same last, straight as could be. We had to change them every morning, the one we wore on the right for the day before we had to wear on the left next day, and the right on the left foot. There were no right and left shoes then. The changing every morning, they said, was to keep them in shape and from running down.
Now back to farming: the tools were a wooden single foot homemade plow and a hoe made at the blacksmith shop. The plow points were wide shovel turning pint and bevel tongue. They were fastened on the foot of the plow with a bolt. A double shovel plow was not known in that day.
Corn was the main crop. It was raised to make bread for people and feed for the stock through the winter. We raised some wheat. We got it threshed, took to a wheat mill to have it ground. It was pure flower that come from nature. Nothing was put in it to bleach it. My mother would take the old pans and heat them on an open fire, put coals on the hearth, set the pan on them. She would make up dough, put in salt, soda, hog's lard and buttermilk. That was all that went into it. She then put the dough in the pan, put the lid with coals on it on the pan. When the bread was done, that was the best bread anybody ever ate.
We would have a big cane patch to make molasses; grind cane on a roller mill, and cook the juice in a box two and one-half feet wide, and eight feet long, eight inches deep, the bottom covered with sheet iron. We would dig large holes and fill them with turnips, potatoes and cabbage. We raised bushels of dried beans, peas, dried peaches and apples. My father planted peach seeds to get trees and after he grafted them, he had good fruit. Spraying was unknown in those days. All came from nature. It was not raised in beds of fertilizer and sprayed from the time it came up until you ate it.
People lived a simple life. They went to the store to buy salt, soda, coffee and brown sugar. When they wanted water, they went to the spring and drank cold spring water. They would drink their water out of gourds. They raised gourds then. They had one at the spring for the water bucket; one for salt; one for sugar, and one for soup. People made lye soap by running down lye in ash gum. They filled it with wood ashes and pored water on them and ran down lye. They would put grease in it and boil it until it got thick and they would have lye soap. That was all the soap they had.
Then they did all cooking in an open fireplace in pots and pans. They had to keep a fire all the time. They would cover up a bed of coals and keep it for 12 hours with ashes on them. When they got up in the morning and the fire was out they would get down the shot pouch with powder horn, pour some powder on the hearth, put some cotton on it, get the old Indian flint and take a pocketknife and strike some sparks to the powder until it caught the cotton afire. They would set some pine splinters with the fire from the cotton.
All the lights they had were tallow candles and fat pine. Candles were made in moulds from mutton and beef tallow.
People then were not in such a big hurry as they are now. They would go and help a neighbor. They would roll logs all day and help a man to build a house. And if some man got sick, they would work out his crop if he needed it.
In the fall they would have corn shuckings, and the ladies would have quiltings. In their meetings they were all Christians together. People then would walk three or four miles to church. Most everybody lived in log houses chinked and daubed with red clay mud, with stone chimneys and open fireplace four or five feet wide.
When people went to church in that day they would meet about one hour before services. The ladies would gather in church to talk about their household affairs and the men gathered on the outside and told all they had heard since last meeting. While the men folks were talking, they would gather at the horse-block.
The horse-block was a big log; about one half of it was hewn off. One was for the ladies to get on and off a horse at church. It was 25 or 30 feet long. One end was on the ground the other end was hoisted up four or five feet. All the ladies rode sidesaddle then. None rode astride. They would lead a horse up the block, and the ladies would walk up the log to the right height and would sit down in the saddle, putting the right leg over the horn of saddle, left foot in stirrup. A lady wore a ridding skirt that reached down over here skirt and shoes to keep water and mud from splashing on them.
Seventy-five years ago, people lived different from what they live now. They raised a lot of stuff in summer and stored it up in fall to live on in the winter. They could not go to the grocery store and buy it at that time. They had no modern things. Everything was done by hand. People did not have so much, but they appreciated what they did have. Heart failures and cancer were hardly heard of in that day. But the good old days are gone, the tallow candle, candle-stand, candle moulds, the pan and lead that baked the corndodger.
Gone, too, is the old oven that baked corn pone and loaf bread, the old skillet for frying, the pothooks and boiling pot. There was an iron bar in top of the fire-place and a strap fastened to the end of the hook to hang a pot on to boil anything that was to be boiled to eat; the fire shovel, the dog irons, the old coffee mill, the old wooden churn and dasher and lid, the old wash kettle and beating bench and beating paddle, the old soup gourd, lye soap at the creek where they washed their clothes, the old spring-house, the old spring gourd, the smoke-house, the rail fence, the log house with puncheon floor, the old log schoolhouse, the old grist mill and sawmill run by water, the old blacksmith shop, the old log churches, the old ox wagon, all of these things that I mention are gone. They belonged to people 75 years ago. Now we live in modern time, with modern things.
So my story ends . . .