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Life in a Log Home

Part I: Introduction

Log cabin

What was it like to live in a log cabin?

Picture a space no larger than your living room. Fill most of one end with a stone fireplace. Add two small windows and a door to the south. Lay rough boards across the beams to make a loft and put down split logs for the floor. Arrange a few pieces of furniture around the room-a table in the center, a chest, some straight chairs or stools, a trunk, a low rocking chair, and a pole bed in one corner. Shelves will hold the dishes.

Now, we can let our family move into their furnished home.

The "family" probably will be a large one. First, we see "Ma" and "Pa" and their three children. (It's their house, according to the land grant locked in the tin chest under the bed.) There are, also, Ma's sister and her husband and their two (a third on the way). Pa's brother and his wife and their two are going to stay while the men are building cabins for the other families. For good measure, we should include a grandparent or a maiden aunt. We won't count the itinerant preacher because he will move on in a week or two.

What time is it?

Nearly noon, according to the sun shining in at the door. (It opens to the south for good reason.) Everybody is hungry-but there is no fire as yet and no back-log for the fireplace although there are chips and other kindling, and of course the trees are not too far away. But Pa, or somebody, will have to walk four miles to the settlement and borrow some "seed fire" in the black kettle. He will walk because he can walk faster than the oxen could-and besides, the oxen need to rest.

Or perhaps the sun is not shining. It has been drizzling and raining off and on for nearly a week. (You know how Iowa weather is, sometimes.) Everything is wet, or at least damp, including clothing and boots and bedding and firewood-and the babies.

The picture is beginning to emerge. It is too late to ask Ma or Pa what it was really like to live with a dozen others in one middle-sized room, but there still are old people who remember things their parents told. This is a record of those observations.

Rankin Young, now of Cleveland, Oklahoma, relates this information from the history of the Young family in Washington County, Iowa:

Grandfather John A. Young's home was the stopping place for the preachers. Sometimes more than one preacher would stop over night on their way to and from Conference. Yes, it was my father, Charles Wesley Young, who was delegated the task of caring for the minister's horse and sleeping with him during the night. Not particularly an occasion to be looked forward to by a teenage boy. The older boys refused the compliment. My father, being a little more amenable to parental suggestion, submitted to the ordeal.

When one stops to consider that there were eight or nine children and sometimes hired-help in the home, it is not sur-prising that it might be necessary for someone to sleep with the preacher.

Since hospitality was the order of the day, we would ex-pect the "crowded" conditions to be the rule rather than the exception.

Originally published in the Annals of Iowa, Vol. 37, No. 8 (Spring 1965)
Copyright 1965, State Historical Society of Iowa
Excerpt reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Photos used by permission from the State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City.

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