Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Four Ways Pioneers Stayed Warm in Cold Weather


I'm sitting in my kitchen with my coat on, hood up, a blanket on my lap and gloves on, trying to stay warm while workmen replace our sliding door and several windows--in January. I'm super thankful there's no snow and that the temps have risen to a tolerable 49 from the low teens we had last week. 

I was contemplating what to write about for my blog post this month and got to wondering how the pioneers kept warm when so many of them had so little. As a historical writer whose mind is often focused on the late 1800's, I'm tend to compare life now to how they lived back then. 

 
Sure glad there aren't mosquitos this time of year.
We live in our comfortable homes with heat and air, and if we get cold, all we have to do is crank up the temperature. Pioneers could always throw another log or buffalo chip on the fire, but first, they had to find the wood and chop it or travel long distances to collect buffalo chips. Being unprepared brought disaster on many families. 




Early pioneer cabins were generally small, which made for less area to heat. Log cabins averaged 16 feet by 18 feet with seven horizontal logs high. In colder climates, the dirt floor would freeze in the winter, and the woman would often stand on a block of wood while she did household chores. It makes you wonder what she did with her crawling babies, doesn't it?

In bitter conditions, some people stayed in bed as much as possible in order simply to stay warm. “Cabin fever” was widespread during long snowstorms. One diary entry states that a man suffered a frozen big toe when it poked out of the covers one winter night. 


The cabin’s fireplace was the center of attention in the home and created warmth when a person was close, but it did little to heat the corners of the home. Larger homes had a fireplace or woodstove in each room. In the evening, people would sit around the fire, talking and working on small tasks and hand-crafted items.

There are four main ways that people stayed warm in earlier times:

1. Heavy bedding and thick curtains.

Down comforters allowed families to sleep in comfort with their body heat held in by the covers. Beds were piled high with quilts and comforters in an attempt to keep warm. Children often sleep several to a bed to help them all stay warm. Heavy night clothing gave them an additional layer of insulation against the cold, and most people slept with stocking caps to keep from losing heat through the top of their heads.

Bed curtains were an added source of warmth in cold weather. The extra layer of fabric used for the curtains would help hold a person’s body heat in the bed area.



2. Bed warmers

A covered copper or brass pan with a long handle served as a bed warmer. Holes would be punched in the lid, creating a design, and the pan was filled with heated rocks. The warmer was slid between bedding layers using the long handle before the family retired, thus warming the bed quite effectively.



3. Foot warmers

The foot warmer was similar to a bed warmer but also different. They usually consisted of a wood-framed tin box with a wire handle on it. Heated rocks were also placed inside the foot warmer. It was then placed beside the feet, under a blanket and often left there until the rocks cooled.

The most common use for foot warmers was as a heater in the family wagon when going places. Some of the more wealthy churches had boxed-in pews, and they allowed families to bring in their foot warmer and lap blankets to keep warm during the service. Many times, the foot warmer was the only heat to be found on a chilly Sunday morning.




4. Soapstones

An alternative to a bed and foot warmer was a soapstone. Soapstones would be placed in the fire to heat and use directly in the bed or wagon. They were usually wrapped in rags to prevent burns from the hot stones. Due to their mass, soapstones were often more effective than a foot warmer. The more massive the stone, the more heat it held.


I'm sure the pioneers had other creative ways to stay warm, but these four methods were most often used. I'm typing this with my coat and hood on, a blanket on my lap and gloves while the men work on our windows. Have you read a book or diary that mentioned another way people stayed warm in cold weather?





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Bestselling author Vickie McDonough grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams penning romance stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie is a best-selling author of more than 45 published books and novellas, with over 1.5 million copies sold. Her novels include End of the Trail, winner of the OWFI 2013 Booksellers Best Fiction Novel Award. Song of the Prairie won the 2015 Inspirational Readers Choice Award. Gabriel’s Atonement, book 1 in the Land Rush Dreams series, placed second in the 2016 Will Rogers Medallion Award. Vickie has recently stepped into independent publishing.







12 comments:

  1. Your post reminds me that we don't tend to think about the negative aspects to the "rustic" life. I don't recall any other heating methods than what you spoke of but I remember the stories of people tying ropes from house to barn to guide them through the bad weather so they could go care for their animals without getting lost.

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    1. I've live in OK most of my life. It's really hard for me to imagine so much snow that you could lose your way to your barn, but I know it happens up north. We do tend to glamorize the 1800s, but in truth, life was much harder then.

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  2. I second Connie above. Great post Vickie. Hope you can stay warm long enough for the men to finish their projects.

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    1. I was able to leave and go work on the house we're getting ready to sell most of the time while the windows were going in. Good news, they are in, and no more leaks!

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  3. Vickie, my mom grew up in a dirt floor cabin in conditions I can't even imagine. Since she lived in the Ozark hills, at least they always had wood to burn, but it had to be cut and split. I remember her talking about putting on all her clothes and burrowing under the covers with her siblings. Brrrr!

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    1. I always figured siblings slept together because there weren't many beds, until I wrote this post. I never realized it was to keep the kiddos warm. My dad told me that he used to sleep on the front porch in warm weather because it was so hot in their little house.

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  4. Vickie, great post.
    I remember visiting my grandparents & sleeping upstairs where the heat barely reached from the old stove in the living room. My grandmother had piles of quilts on the bed that were kinda heavy on my sister & me but they sure we're warm. I
    Blessings,Tina

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    1. I remember something similar too--spending the night at my grandpa's and freezing. My sister and I bundle under a bunch of covers to stay warm. I didn't want to crawl out once morning came.

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  5. Here in Nebraska the pioneers living in sod houses often mentioned a "good thing" about them ... "warm in winter, cool in summer." I think some of that may be altered memory LOL, but I've read fascinating accounts of harrowing times in bitter cold, even in soddies.

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    1. I've heard that too. I can't imagine, though, how folks survived the cold winters in the north in a sod hut. They were so small. What would you do with the kids to keep them busy? It must have been a very difficult way of life.

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  6. Great post, Vickie. I've heard of these and have seen how families huddled together around the fireplace when necessary to stay warm. Being snug and safe was the focus with ropes tied from the cabin to the barn for the severe blizzard weather. Older farm homes had registers in the upper level floor to allow heat to the upstairs, but still plenty of warm blankets and quilts. Visiting Lincoln Log Cabin Historical Park in December and feeling the cold the volunteers were dealing with brought the past alive.

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    1. Thanks! I really don't know how people survived the long winters in the 1800s when they had so little. I've even wondered how they managed to keep enough food on hand for so many months.

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