Daily Life on the Frontier
The daily life of people living on the frontier was filled with hard work and difficulties. Once a farmer cleared the land, built a cabin and a barn, and planted his crops, he still had a lot of chores that needed to be done each day. In order to survive, the entire family needed to work. Each day, the settlers would wake up with the sunlight and work until sundown.
Homesteader NE 1866 by Unknown
One of the first things a farmer needed to do was to build a barn and a cabin. The barn was important to keep the animals safe from wolves and other predators and also to store farming tools and grain. Typically the barn and the cabin were made from logs in a fashion that didn't need any nails.
Planting the seed on a big farm took a lot of work. First the farmer would need to plow up the field with a large plow pulled by a horse or oxen. Next, he would scatter the seed throughout the field, and finally he would use the oxen to drag dirt over the tops of the seeds.
Women had their jobs and worked hard too. In many cases they helped the farmer in the fields during planting and harvesting times. Other tasks often included:
- Making soap from lye, water, and ashes from the fireplace
- Spinning wool into yarn or flax into thread
- Tending a garden so the family had a variety of vegetables
- Sewing and repairing the family's clothes
As soon as the children could help, they were put to work, even children as young as four or five years old. They helped by getting water from the nearby stream, watching the fire to make sure it didn't go out, keeping the chickens and the cows from eating the crops, milking the dairy cow in the morning, and churning cream into butter.
When children grew older they took on more difficult tasks. Older boys often worked the farm or chopped wood. Older daughters often helped to care for their younger siblings.
Some settler children went to a local one-room schoolhouse. Usually they had only one teacher that taught all of the grades. They learned the basics such as reading, writing, math, spelling, and history. When writing, they used slates instead of paper. Slates were like small chalkboards they could hold in their hands.
The children usually went to school in the winter and summer, but stayed home to help on the farm during the planting and harvesting seasons of spring and autumn.
Although the pioneers worked most of the time, they would occasionally get together for a dance or a picnic. Sometimes people would gather together to help with a big job such as building a neighbor's barn. Once the barn was finished they would have a dance. They played fiddles and accordions for music.
Children had fun playing games outdoors and swimming. They didn't get a lot of store bought toys so they had to make their own. Girls would learn to practice their sewing by making their own dolls to play with.
The life of a pioneer was heavily dependent upon the weather. A drought could kill the crops and wipe out an entire year's worth of work. Wildfires could be even worse as they could destroy everything including the settler's crops, barn, and home. As if that wasn't enough, settlers had to worry about insects eating their crops and tornados destroying their homes. It wasn't an easy life.
Interesting Facts about Daily Life on the Frontier
- In 1837, John Deere invented the steel plow. This plow could cut right through thick soil without the dirt sticking to it. It made life much easier on pioneer farmers.
- Native Americans often helped the settlers, teaching them how to plant crops and about the local herbs they could use for medicine.
- Settlers didn't have running water or bathrooms. They had outhouses where they used leaves or dried cornhusks for toilet paper.
- In the southwest, many settlers made homes from adobe bricks like the Native Americans. In areas of the Great Plains where trees were scarce, they made sod homes from blocks of dirt and grass.
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History >> Westward Expansion