Interior of Settler Cabins

Time Frame: 1800's

Harsh conditions in the pioneer cabin made life difficult in the 1800s.
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“The Prairie Pioneers,” The Iowa Heritage: Program # 4, Iowa Public Television, 1977.

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(rooster crowing)

Cabins were small, dark and smelly. Everyone lived and slept in one room with a dirt floor, sharing their lives with mice, rats and insects. The settler’s bed, often sleeping the entire family, was merely straw filled ticking lying on a hard wooden frame.

For light, at first we had grease lamps. In a shallow dish we first took a soft rag, twisted it then dipped one end in lard. Laying that one end on the side of the dish, we poured melted lard over it. And it was ready to light.

Windows in the cabin were small, to offer some protection against the bitter winter winds. Though they were covered with an oilpaper to allow just a little light inside. Keeping the wood box filled was a constant duty. The fire was kept going all the time. Flint and steel were used to start the fire. Settlers who chose the open prairie were faced with a shortage of wood and were forced find substitute fuels. In some parts of Iowa, roots and branches of various shrubs, prairie grass, hay and sometimes flax were twisted into knots for fuel. The fireplace was the center of the pioneer home, quite often it occupied an entire wall. Both furnace and stove, it provided warmth during bitter winters and heat for cooking.


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