Pioneer Furniture

When the pioneer families first came to Iowa they usually did not have much furniture. Sometimes they brought a small stool or a couple of small chairs, but never very much. They used everything they had for furniture, even trunks and packing cases.


The pioneers used wood to make all their furniture, including stools, tables, beds and cupboards. Puncheon stools were very common and easy to make. The pioneer farmer started by chopping a log in half, and hewing the flat side as smooth as possible. Then he cut the log into several pieces so he could have several stools. The next step was to carve four short legs and attach them to the round part of the log.


Another common piece of furniture was the prairie bunk. It was made by taking a tree limb with a fork in it and using that as the corner piece. In a corner of the room, two pieces of logs or two tree limbs were rested on the forked piece and then each was attached to a different outside wall. That formed the bed frame. Slats were carved and placed on the top of the long limb and then attached to the wall. This formed the spring for the mattress. The mattresses were large sacks filled with goose feathers, hay or sometimes even corn husks. Then quilts were placed on the mattresses.


The early pioneers also used their trunks as makeshift tables. They would place old boards across the top of two trunks and then use clay to hold the boards on top of the trunks.


The first floors in the log cabins were dirt. After a few years the farmer would usually have time to put down a puncheon floor. He would chop the logs in half, and then place the flat side up. Gradually the rounded side would settle down into the dirt and then the floor would be quite flat.

Adapted from original article in The Goldfinch, Spring 1975). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa



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