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Hardships of Frontier Developed ...
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Hardships of Frontier Developed ...
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Pike county’s earliest settlers doubtless would have agreed with the first settler in Will Carleton’s poem “that it ain’t the easiest thing a man can do, existing in a country when it’s new.” We of this age hardly know what poverty is, as those men and women of the 1820s and 1830s knew it. We may know discomfort and squalor, but we rarely front the danger of famine, for example, face to face. The pioneers were forced to travel life with a light pack. Like the hunter far from his base, they were compelled by force of circumstances to take every advantage the country offered.

Childhood today knows no such cruel circumstances as were forced upon the children of the pioneers. Childhood in those days very soon became self reliant and resourceful from the very nature of its surroundings. The lives of children were rigorous to an extent unknown in modern times. Thus there came into being a vigorous and hardy race that has been succeeded by one less gifted in the art of self sustenance.

Children, lacking the schools that are available on every hand today, went to school to the Wilderness, and there they learned the art of living. The girls learned how to clothe themselves and their brothers, and the boys learned how to roast a piece of meat on the end of a ramrod, in true Daniel Boone fashion. Early, too, was learned the art of marksmanship and the skilled handling of a rifle, for upon the rifle the family larder was largely dependent. The children also knew the seasons of the various fruits and berries and they were schooled, too, in the matter of edible roots and the efficacies of the inner barks of certain trees. The children it was, who, sometimes assisted by their pioneer mothers, laid in the fruits and the berries and the barks and the medicinal herbs, when the seasons were ripe.

The comforts of modern life were then unknown. Children and grown-ups slept in cold, comfortless rooms, in which, in bitter weather, a pail or basin of water froze solid to the bottom. Then out of bed into the icy air of morning, to wash in water on which the ice had to be broken.

On the pioneer trails, when the season was raw, men were often drenched to the skin as they forded tumultuous streams. Nor, in those days, did any member of the family have a rain coat or rubbers or other protection from the rain and slush. Wet feet, complained of bitterly today, was then the common lot. Shoes and stockings were precious articles of apparel to be worn to “meet-in’, ”or on state occasions". Often in those days, young women, going a visiting or on Sundays to meeting, carried shoes and stockings in their hands until they reached some convenient stump or rock near their destination where they would sit down and don these precious items of dress. Deerskin moccasins were the common apparel for the feet, and these were so susceptible to moisture, that it was said they would “become wet through two days before it rained.”

Such was life in the early communities of Pike county as related by the historians of the period. An early writer records that in the early days of Quincy both men and women were wont to carry their shoes in their hands as they trod the miry streets of the town. The same was true of Atlas. Collins and Perry’s history of Adams county presents a picture of the .belle of the 1820s that would be truly representative of both Atlas and Quincy. “Her outfit, as she dashed up to the meetin’ house door on horseback, included dark grey woolen stockings, cow hide brogans, with leather shoestrings, a very short sky blue silk skirt, somewhat faded, a black silk shirt waist or sleeveless jacket, also much worn and furnishing its own fringe in the fray of its edges; enormous white puffed leg o’ mutton sleeves; a square muslin cape with a broad unstarched ruffle; a huge white leghorn, sugar scoop bonnet, with a long black feather and parti-colored ribbons promiscuously bestowed thereon.” What a scintillating apparition was the belle of the 1820s! Yet underneath her frayed fineries beat an undaunted heart and from her leg o’ mutton sleeve protruded a hand that rocked the cradle of a civilization.

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Submitted: 01/26/08

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