IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
Although the pioneers - men, women, boys, and girls - all had to work hard, they also had many good times. After a newcomer had cut logs for his cabin and had dragged them to the site of his new home, neighbors for miles around came to the "house raising." While the men laid up the logs for the walls of the cabin, women prepared a dinner for all. Boys and girls were always eager to go to a house raising, for it meant a day of play.
Soon after the cabin was finished the neighbors came again for a "house warming." The loom, spinning wheel, table, and flour barrel were moved outside the cabin, and chunks of wood with slabs on them for seats were placed along the wall. Boys and girls played such games as "Miller Boy," "Weevily Wheat," "Skip-to-my-Lou," "Old Sister Phoebe," and "London Bridge." Have you ever played any of these?
Some one in nearly every neighborhood could "scrape the fiddle," and before the evening was far gone at a housewarming, the fiddler would take his place on a stool or a chunk of wood on top of a table in the corner. Then the fun began. To such tunes as "Money Musk," "Arkansas Traveller," "Old Dan Tucker," "Old Zip Coon," and "Pop Goes the Weasel," the pioneers danced the old square dances of America. Keeping time with his head, body, and feet, the fiddler directed the dancing by calling out the changes.
For those pioneers who selected claims in the timber, "log rollings" also mixed work with play. When the trees had been cut down to make a "clearing," the neighbors came to roll the logs into piles for burning. When the task was finished all enjoyed a supper which the women had prepared while the men worked. Then they spent the evening in dancing and playing games.
Hunting was a sport much enjoyed by men and boys on the Iowa frontier, for game was plentiful. The circular wolf hunt also furnished fun and excitement. On a certain day all the men and boys of a neighborhood would form a big circle around many miles of country. Dogs were held in leash until a signal was given to turn them loose. Then away they would go, barking and yelling. The hunters gradually closed up toward the center of the huge circle, killing not only wolves but other game as well. No guns were used in a circular wolf hunt, but each man and boy carried a sturdy club.
On Saturday afternoons shooting matches frequently brought the people of a pioneer neighborhood together. A beef, divided into five parts, might be offered as prize. The best shot took the best portion of the meat, while the hide and tallow went to the man who won fifth place. At other times a haunch of venison, a wild turkey, a pony, a gun, or a watch might be put up for a prize. Each man brought along his own target, a charred board with a bit of white paper in the center. At a distance of fifty paces, or seventy-five if a rest was used, the pioneer marksman took steady aim and fired his old muzzle loader. Judges called out the results. "Broke center" or "drove center" meant that the bullet had struck the center of the paper.
The early settlers also enjoyed horse racing. In certain places nearly every Saturday afternoon during the summer and fall, and often on Sundays as well, a crowd of men came together to see their favorite horses run races.
Quilting bees and paring bees brought the women and girls of a community together, but a husking bee brought everybody - men, women, boys, and girls - to some neighbor's home for a good time. Husking bees were usually held in a barn. There the host had placed two piles of corn as nearly equal in size as possible. The visitors were divided into two equal groups, and each group tried to finish husking its pile of corn first. When a young man found a red ear, he had the right to kiss any young lady he chose. When the corn was husked, the neighborhood fiddler struck up a tune, and the merrymaking started.
Fourth of July celebrations brought the pioneers together from miles around. The settlers came to some well-known grove on foot, on horseback, or by wagon. A picnic dinner spread on the ground was served at noon. Foot races, wrestling bouts, feats of strength, and horse racing furnished amusement for the men and boys, while the women were content to visit.
Thanksgiving day, with its wild turkey, roasted golden brown over the coals of the fireplace, wild plum preserves, corn pone, mince pie, and bowls of cracked nuts, pleased the boys and girls in pioneer days. On Christmas, gifts of a practical sort such as knitted mittens, stockings, mufflers, caps, and hoods were given to children. Sometimes a little girl found some colored beads in the toe of her stocking and a boy was made happy with a brand new jackknife. Plain as these gifts were, the pioneer boys and girls were quite as happy to get them as are the boys and girls of to-day to receive expensive toys.
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