Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fun and Games, Prairie Pioneers & a FREE ebook today

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Mention the word "pioneer," and most of use envision hardy men and sun-bonneted women braving hostile environments and facing untold challenges with near-mythic grit and gumption. I love reading (and writing) about pioneer times, but I'm also thankful I don't live in the 1800s. I like my microwave and indoor plumbing, and central heating.

But I can also learn from the pioneers, because while their lives were difficult, they also made time for fun. Here's proof, gleaned from gleaned from pioneer memoirs and letters:

Nebraska State Historical Society nbhips 11164
"In the winter time, no matter how cold the weather, we would bundle up and climb into the straw-filled lumber wagon, with plenty of quilts and blankets and drive to Uncle Will's. . . He lived in a sod house and his two sisters, Laura and Lydia kept house for him. Lydia played the violin and could dance and jig with the best of them. Will and Steve and Lydia played for dances and I used to 'chord' for them on the organ some times."

"There were only ten women and forty men and we danced all night, and the men nearly danced us women to death."

" ... at a Calico Ball, the lady made a calico dress and a necktie to match it. The men were given a bunch of neckties and asked to choose one without seeing the lady whose dress it matched. In this way, original partners were selected."

Sod house pioneers lucky enough to have a wood floor would sometimes put all the furniture outside to make room for dances. Apparently it wasn't unusual for someone to play the prank wherein babies asleep on a bed were re-bundled and, in the wee hours of the morning when the dance broke up, mothers simply took up the familiar blanket (who would have thought to check to see if the baby was the right one?!) ... and at some point on the way home or the next morning discovered they had the wrong baby! The anecdote I read about this incident closed with the line, "it was two weeks before the neighbors got all the babies traded back." I could almost hear the storyteller laughing.

Friendships were forged during those days that lasted a lifetime. I love the mental image drawn by this account of how a friendship began:

"George and I precipitated an acquaintance with Dr. and Mrs. Purdum ... they lived in a dugout with a sod roof on which grew tall sunflowers and through which they thrust their stovepipe and in driving one Sunday afternoon we drove upon the roof and our pony stepped through before we knew we were on their dugout. A profound apology cemented our friendship."

Remembering her childhood in Fillmore County, Nebraska, Maggie Oblinger Sandon wrote, "Winter evening we would play Authors or Dominoes or Checkers. Dominoes were home-made out of an empty soda box, cut them out and do our own marking of the dots. . . Authors were our delight and it taught us so many of the old-time authors and what books they had written. . . "

Sunday drives and calico balls ... dances no matter the weather ... Authors and Dominoes and Checkers ... and a mention that "twenty miles isn't so far to drive" all remind me that while twenty-first century life may be stressful, there's value in taking time to have a little fun, too.

What pastime would you have enjoyed as a pioneer?


Award-winning novelist Stephanie Grace Whitson began playing with imaginary friends (i.e., writing fiction) in the 1990s when an abandoned pioneer cemetery near the Whitson’s country home provided not only a hands-on history lesson for her four home schooled children, but also a topic of personal study. When not writing or researching, she enjoys reading, quilting, spoiling her dozen grandchildren and/or Kona Kai (the golden retriever), and riding her motorcycle named Kitty. Learn more at

The ebook format of Stephanie's novel set during the Dakota War of 1862 is FREE today (October 12). Here's the link:


  1. This was SO fun to read! I love the idea of emptying the room of furniture to dance the night away, and the dresses and ties to choose partners. How clever!!! I also need to investigate that game, "Authors". Bet I'd lose that one, I'm terrible with the classics.

    1. Thanks Connie. Like you, I’d be in trouble with the game... especially the 1897 version!

  2. A great post with fun added into the era of the pioneer days. I've always admired this time period and have enjoyed reading stories set during this era. Thank you for sharing and for the free ebook today. Another great one to read.

  3. Glad you enjoyed the post Marilyn. Hope you enjoy Valley of the shadow.

  4. Thank you for sharing your great post. It is a pleasure to visit here and learn.