A Day in the Life of a Pioneer Woman 

     I'm going to weave a tale of one woman's workday. She could have lived in the area from about 1845 till as late as the 1920s; things didn't change much. The threads of this fabrication are made of: experiences in a similar cabin in southwest Georgia; stories from my granny and other family members; research on my family history in the area; a week spent watching an archaeological "dig" of a homestead; as well as a vivid imagination. In honor of my great grandmother, I will call the woman Dora and her husband Jim. 
cabin      This was a very lucky woman; an industrious husband and strapping sons built her a nice cabin in which to raise her family. It was made of hand hewn longleaf pine, felled on the plot they claimed in the Choctawhatchee forest. Porch boards were sawn at the sawmill down the road. Jim and the boys bartered time installing fencing in exchange for milling of the boards. Shingles for the roof were made by Mr. Willingham and it took many days to catch and butcher the wild hogs they traded for them. They also bartered for other building items. 
     It was a typical log cabin with 4 rooms and a sleeping loft. Dora and Jim slept in the front room. A crib was already set up for the new little one growing in her belly; it would sleep in their room till it was weaned. The girls slept in the room behind and the boys slept in the room across the hall from the girls. If there was company, the boys slept in the loft when it was cold, or in warmer weather in the open hallway between the halves of the house or on the open front porch. The other front room was the kitchen and family room. Dora cooked on the hearth in cold or rainy weather and outside when it was hot. She enjoyed the cooling breeze and cooking in the yard made house fires less likely. Water from a spring about 200 yards away was plentiful, cool and fresh. The forest yielded plenty of firewood for cooking and heat.  chamberpot
     Dora woke before daylight and reached for the chamber pot. She needed no alarm clock; her internal alarm worked very well and the rooster outside served as backup on a dreary day. Her husband would not likely bother with the chamber pot when he got up, so she put it on the far edge of the porch to empty later, and washed her hands before grabbing a few sticks of wood for the fire. The enameled pan and water pitcher sat in holes in the wide railing and on a nail was a scrap of last year's petticoat used as a towel, so she needed no light to locate them. She made a mental note to have Albert stack more wood near the kitchen window so she could reach it from inside while cooking.
      She stirred the coals banked the night before and fanned them with a bit of palmetto frond till flames licked her lighter knot shards. When the fresh wood caught, she reached for her skirt and apron. She'd just use her shift today since tomorrow was wash day; no need in getting another blouse dirty. Her socks and moccasin-like shoes felt good on this cool morning. She set her Dutch oven over the coals to pre-heat and loaded coals onto the lid till the lip would hold no more. 
bread or dough bowl       She reached up on the mantel for her mother's bread board. Momma had given it to her when she got married. It had been used for biscuits by two generations since Poppa had carved it for his young bride. It was smooth and just the right size for making the large batch she would need for her hungry family and for the second batch she would make for lunches the boys and Jim would take into the woods as they hunted. She shook the flour and made a hole in it where she dropped leavening, melted lard and the buttermilk she kept on the mantel. The milk would have to be given to the chickens if she didn't use all of it, but she would have more after milking. She used a circular motion as she rolled just the right amount of flour into the liquids. She had been doing this since she was about 10 years old, so she could plan her day's meals while she pinched off perfect-sized nuggets of dough, rolled them in her hands and patted them a bit to flatten them as she put them into her kettle.  Her fire was ready about the time her biscuits were, so she put the lid on her pot and slid it over the coals. The biscuits would take about 20 minutes and might need some fresh coals beneath or on top of the pot, but she could concentrate on the rest of her meal for a while. dutch oven
      A hearty breakfast was needed as the males would be out all day looking for game. The cooler weather would reduce the insect population and the meat would be cleaner and healthier. Summer meant fly larvae just below the skin of the animals as well as some fevers caused by a large infestation of pests. They had used all the bacon canned last winter, but there was smoked ham and sausage hanging in the smokehouse. She decided on sausage, but would grab a deer ham while she was out there. It could be soaked in the buttermilk and used for supper. She didn't know when her hungry family would be home, so fried steaks with potatoes and some of her fresh corn would be good and quick. Putting a spider on the coals with a bit of water in it and dropping in as many sausage links as the pan would allow, she covered it, finishing her meat course. Grits had been simmering for some time and were almost ready as was the coffee. When she took the sausage from the pan, she would let the juices cook down a bit for gravy. She'd better call her family before scrambling eggs. First she called Della to get dressed and fetch some water and milk from the creek. They kept milk and butter in a "spring house" that was sturdy, but little more than a few boards knocked together to keep out animals and to make sure a rise in water didn't wash their supplies downstream.
     Stella dressed and got plates, cups and utensils for everyone, then got her father and the boys up. By the time everyone was dressed, breakfast was ready. There wasn't enough room for everyone around the table, so the boys would take their plates to the porch and sit on half-log benches while they ate. Besides, there would be less noise with 3 less people in the small room. Dora remembered to ask Albert to get the wood when he finished eating. The other boys took his plate and their dad's and put them in the washbasin, wrapped up the leftover biscuits and sausage for their lunch, then went to get their guns and jackets. Soon the males were gone. The 2 girls cleared the table and washed the dishes.
     Dora brushed and braided Della's hair while Della fixed her sister's. The two girls ran outside to let the chickens out of their pen so they could feed in the yard. After gathering this morning's eggs the girls would sweep the cabin and straighten the beds, then go back outside to sweep the yard. Each had a brush broom that was just the right size. Sweeping the yard would keep grass and weeds from growing -- it hid snakes and was a fire hazard as well as giving fleas and ticks a place to gather. They used the brooms to discourage a hen from setting on a nest she had made under the house. "Shoo, Shoo," said Stella, swinging her little broom at the old red hen. Mama didn't want chicks hatching this late in the year, they might freeze. They ran down to see if mama needed help with the milking. They grabbed a handful of dried corn they kept for the few range cows they were allowed to pen up from those papa looked after for the Richbourgs. There was an old pied cow that would sometimes let them climb up for a ride if they offered her corn.
     Mama had almost finished milking when the girls got there, so they got their ride. Papa had built a pen and hollowed out a little water trough so mama could pen up 3 or 4 cows at night and milk them in the morning. She had to leave enough milk for their calves and was always glad when she found enough cows with older calves to separate overnight. She couldn't leave the little calves defenseless with predators in the woods; best to leave them with their mothers. Sometimes she would pen up a well-behaved cow and her small calf. She'd milk on one side while the calf fed on the other, but that wasn't much fun, so she'd rather not. She put the fresh milk in a clean crock, pouring it through a couple layers of clean cloth to strain out bugs or dust. She took the milk and her pail to the spring, put in the new crock and took yesterday's milk from the water. She put the lid and stone weight back on the springhouse, rinsed and filled her bucket and went back to the house.
     After setting the milk and water on the porch to warm in the sun, she grabbed the chamber pot and walked towards her garden. She stopped at the outhouse to empty the pot and called to the girls to come help her weed the garden and to pick some peas that were ready for shelling. If they hurried, they might have time to get some blueberries from the bushes Papa had dug up in the forest and transplanted near the chicken pen. They had to share with the chickens, but the chickens produced eggs and manure to fertilize the berries, fruits and vegetables, so it was a pretty good tradeoff. After they put the peas in the kitchen , mama showed the girls which corn to pull for supper and they filled their aprons with it. There weren't too many weeds at the end of summer, so off they went to the blueberry patch. They soon picked enough for a good "slump" and went back to the house to put their feet up for a bit. (Slump is a pie/cake -- pie filling, with a loose cake topping that "slumps" into the filling.) Dora fried up some of the leftover grits and poured 3 glasses of buttermilk and told the girls to get their books to read while they ate lunch.
     Dora needed to make up her mind what she wanted to do with the meat left in the smokehouse, so she took her lunch into the smokehouse to count the hams and sausage. There was enough to run them through the winter, so after the hunt was over, she and Jim would decide how much of it would go on the next mail packet to Pensacola. A couple of purveyors would take Jim's hams and sausage and Dora's produce to sell to their customers. The Edge family would add the money to what they had already saved for the new house they were building on the homestead. Some of the money would be used to purchase materials for shirts for the boys and dresses for the girls. Dora would sew them as Christmas gifts. She would have to do them by firelight after the children had gone to bed. Perhaps she could manage to walk to Boggy Bayou one day soon with butter, milk and eggs; trading some of them at her brother-in-law's store for books for the children and a piece of material to sew a placket shirt for Jim's Christmas.  Around the area, he was called "3-button" as all his shirts had 3 buttons.
     The girls were allowed a little more reading time before they got out the "number 2" washtub and poured the pail of warm water into it for their bath. Dora scraped the deer ham, removing a bit of mold and as much of the salt as she could before putting it in a kettle with the buttermilk. She would soak and hydrate the smoked, cured meat, then feed the buttermilk to the chickens. She hoped there would be wild hog, deer and turkey when her family came home. If so, the deer and pig meat would be ground together for sausage, so she gathered the spices, mortar and pestle and other items she would need. cookingShe ground her spices and made sure all the knives were sharp. She and the girls made several trips to the creek for water to fill the large pots that would be used for rinsing carcasses and perhaps scalding pigs before scraping off their hair, or for dipping turkeys to loosen the feathers. When she was sure all was ready for a very busy couple of days, she went through the house collecting dirty clothes. She sorted them and hoped tomorrow she would be able to wash them and the others they would dirty during butchering.
     She sent the girls to the garden to dig some potatoes. She knew they would be gone longer than she wished, but let them be kids! After she had shucked the corn and cut it off the cob, scraping the milk out with the back of her knife, she put it into a kettle, with butter and a pinch of their precious salt. She set it on the coals in a warm section of the hearth. She and the girls had kept the fire banked all day so when she was ready a few splinters of lighter and some fresh fuel would get it going again. She went to the porch to watch the girls swinging on a grapevine hanging from a big pine and was reluctant to remind them of their chore, but supper needed fixing. They would peel and cut the taters and their mother would boil them to serve with a bit of her homemade butter. Dora normally would take advantage of the lack of feet in the house to do a good scrubbing of her floors, but she knew that even with the bulk of the butchering taking place outside, the floors would need attention afterwards -- no need to do things twice. The girls said the Foxgrapes were getting ripe, but there had been no frost so they wouldn't quite be sweet enough for jelly. That reminded her she needed more sugar. Perhaps there would be a fresh ham to barter at BP's store. "Girls, run go see if there are enough turnip greens to take to town," she called. She would find something to barter for the sugar. "Yes, ma'am, you've got four good rows."
     Finding a spider (cast iron frying pan with legs and a lid) and setting in on the hearth to warm a bit, she mixed the berries and some cane syrup into it. She had saved a little of the buttermilk, thinking she would have it for supper, but decided it would taste good mixed into sweetened biscuit dough to go over the berries instead of cake dough. As she was getting the fire ready, she heard one of the boys, "Mama, mama, we got a real big buck and two turkeys! Papa set a trap for a couple of hogs, too! Betcha we catch 'em tonight." He ran out to a pen, grabbed a harness and a sled; attached the rig to an old mule Papa used for hauling logs, jumped on his back and road into the woods to bring back the catch. It wasn't long before the beaming boys appeared with their dad, the mule and the bounty. The deer had been gutted, but must be skinned and butchered. Wood had been laid under the two big black pots the girls had filled with water, so it didn't take long to get a fire going under one of them. It would take a long time to heat all that water, so Dora went in to get supper ready while they were waiting. Jim and the boys strung the deer up and skinned it, rinsing it with water from the other pot. The girls helped their mother. Everybody washed up and hurriedly finished the tasty supper; it would soon be dark.
     They cut the deer into hams, ribs and other pieces. As it wasn't quite cold enough to hold the meat and there were supplies they needed, Jim and Dora had decided to take the meat and turnip greens to Boggy. The girls washed dishes and Dora dipped the turkeys in the boiling water and plucked their feathers off, gutted them and saved all the castoffs to be buried near some of the fruit trees Jim had been planting. Albert could coil a little barbed wire over it to keep critters from digging it up. She would keep one turkey, but the other would be bartered, probably for more salt. It was just getting dark as they cleaned everything up. The boys spread sand over the blood that had dripped onto the ground, salted the inside of the deer hide and tacked it to the side of a shed. Mama would tan it to use as a rug in the new house.
     Dora decided she had enough milk, so she would not pen up any cows tonight; besides, she had much left to do. She called to the boys to get water from the spring to heat for bathing. While it was heating, she had them sit near the hearth and do their numbers. She sat in her rocker, churning butter from the cream she had skimmed off the sun-warmed milk she had left on the porch earlier. The boys were getting too old to feel comfortable bathing in front of their mother, so they each took a basin, a bar of homemade soap, a cloth for washing and one for drying into their rooms and would bring out their dirty clothes when done. They also took their father his -- they would collect his dirty water along with theirs to be poured on the vegetable garden in the morning.
     It was quiet in the house and Dora could daydream a little about what her life would be like after the new house was finished and the baby arrived. She also made note of the mending she had to do in the next few days. She wouldn't get her clothes washed tomorrow since they were going to Boggy; the wagon trip would take all day. She hoped the boys had left her some water. Not enough, oh well, she would wash up in the morning before anyone else was up. There were potatoes left from supper, so, she'd fry them up, scramble some eggs and make some hoecakes for breakfast. They would leave early and she would have to think of something for their dinner (lunch) on the road. She had a little Hoghead cheese and could boil some eggs while breakfast was cooking. It wouldn't take too long to make extra hoecakes, either. Having settled those things in her mind she finished her butter, washing and salting it. She would have Della take it to the spring in the morning along with the milk left over from the butter-making process. She would keep the buttermilk, but she would have a little butter to sell tomorrow. She was tired and grateful to be able to crawl into bed beside her sleeping husband. He roused slightly and snuggled close, putting his arm around her. A smile crept over her face; she felt secure and happy with her busy life. Tomorrow would be a welcome break the whole family would enjoy.