When the pioneers first arrived at their new land, one of the first things they needed to do was build a house where the family could live. In areas where there were plenty of trees, they would build log cabins.
Log cabins required few building resources, just trees
and an axe or saw. They didn't need metal nails or spikes to hold them together and they could be built fairly quickly, too. Most log cabins were simple one room buildings where the entire family would live. Once the farm was up and running, settlers often built bigger homes or added on to the existing log cabin.
Clearing the Land
Lockhart Ranch Homestead Cabin
from the National Park Service
One of the first things that the pioneers had to do was clear a plot of land where the house could be built. They would also want some space around the home where they could plant a garden, build a barn, and keep some animals like chickens. Sometimes they had to cut down trees and remove stumps to clear the land. Of course, then the trees could be used to build their log cabin.
Cutting the Logs
After clearing the land, the pioneers would need to cut down trees to get all the logs they needed. They had to find trees with straight trunks that would make good logs for building. Once they cut the logs to the right length, they would cut notches at each end where the logs would fit together at the corners of the building. They would also strip the bark off of the logs as the bark would rot over time.
Building the Walls
All four walls were built up a log at a time. Notches were cut into the logs at each end to allow the logs to fit snuggly together. If only one man was building the cabin, then it was usually only 6 or 7 feet tall. This is because he could only lift a log so high. If he had help, then the walls could be a bit taller. Each side of the log cabin was typically between 12 and 16 feet long.
Once the walls and the roof were finished, the pioneers would seal the cracks between the logs with mud or clay. This was called "daubing" or "chinking" the walls.
Bryce Cabin circa 1881
by Grant, George A.
A stone fireplace was built at one end of the log cabin. This would keep the family warm during the winter and give them fire for cooking. There were usually one or two windows to let in light, but the pioneers seldom had glass. A lot of the time greased paper was used to cover the window. The floors were generally packed earth, but sometimes they used split logs for the floors.
The settlers didn't have a lot of furniture, especially when they first moved in. They might have a small table, a bed, and a chair or two. A lot of times they would have a chest that they brought with them from their homeland. This might have some decorations like a rug or candlesticks that the pioneers would use to make the log cabin feel like home.
Interesting Facts about the Log Cabin
- The first log cabins in the Americas were built by emigrants from Sweden and Finland. Log cabins had been built in these countries for thousands of years.
- One man working alone could build a small log cabin in a few weeks. It went much faster if he had help.
- If the roof was high enough, the pioneers often built a loft where someone could sleep.
- A flat stone was often placed at each corner of the log cabin to give the cabin a firm foundation.
- The doors to log cabins were usually built facing the south. This allowed the sun to shine into the cabin during the day.