(From: History of Allegany County, NY - 1806 to 1879; F.W.Beers & Co. NY, 1879)
A Story We Will Call, “The Pioneer Castle”
“Tediously and lumberingly, through woods, across rivers, along roads that have been corduroyed and roads that sadly need to be corduroyed, over dry places and through swamps, over high hills and through tortuous mountain passes, a heavy wagon has been rolling and slipping and sliding—sometimes floating, where the fording places were not good—for many days. Did you ever see one of those heavy old Dutch wagons, with wheels that have spokes like small saplings and felloes like those in the wheels of a modern stone truck ; that have poles bent across, bow-fashion, from side to side of the stout box, and covered over with a canopy of canvas to keep out the wind, the storm and the sweltering sunshine? Such is the wagon of which we write—a wagon drawn by a span of sorrily jaded horses that have seen nothing resembling the inside of a comfortable stable for weeks, and in which ride a woman and two or three small children, the husband and father, perchance, trudging by the side of the vehicle, sinking at times knee deep into the mud or staggering over a fallen log or large stone, in his desire to guide the team and at the same time lighten their burden by walking.
He is a strong, well built six-footer, with a heart to brave every danger, the kind of man for a pioneer, leaving behind him the comforts and pleasures of civilized life, and going to endure hardships, reverses, struggles, trials, and perhaps to die in a wild country, leaving wife and children to wrest their sustenance from land uncultivated and unpaid for, or to make their way back to civilization as best they may. But he hesitates not. For himself he cares nothing; but his wife and children? Is he doing right in isolating her from home and kindred and all of the associations of her childhood and her girlhood ? Is he doing right in taking their children to the far away new country, to rear them on the outskirts of civilization, where education had not yet one rude temple and Christianity no voice to proclaim its truth ?
These questions he has discussed with his wife over and over again. They have been settled before leaving their former home; but somehow they will not stay settled. They have forced themselves upon his attention many times during the slow and tedious journey; but it is too late now to reason about them, and resolutely he sets his face toward the west—for it has, from the earliest days, been west that the sturdy pioneer has bent his steps, ever west, and further west! There is no complaint from the patient woman in the wagon.
It is nightfall—the sun sunk below the tree-tops an hour ago, and the dim shadows of approaching darkness are creeping over the forest, while afar off can be heard the cries of the owl and the whippowil, and over in the swamp at the left bull-frogs are croaking dismally and "peepers" are singing merrily. It is nightfall, and one of the children is asleep on a pile of stuff in the wagon and the baby is asleep in the mother's arms. Her eight year old boy sits beside her, gazing out over the horses' heads, at the shadows dropping down, one by one, over the wood. He looks tired, but hopeful, she thinks, as she watches him a moment. She knows what kind of a life is before her—she can half realize some of its trials and hardships and disappointments, but not all of them. She knows that she and her husband will never live to have many years' enjoyment of the fruits of their sacrifice and toil, but their children will—it is for these that she has consented to risk the perils of pioneer life.
A few days more, and they have reached their destination. Again it is evening. Dimly they can see that they are in the midst of a little opening in the timber, watered by a small stream that flows through it. Here they will erect their cabin on the morrow; to-night—one night more—they will sleep in the wagon. The tired horses are watered at the babbling stream and tethered where they can get their fill of the grass that grows rankly in the opening. Then a fire is made on the ground, a hasty meal is prepared, a few minutes are passed in conversation and many more in silent thought; after that, weariness and drowsiness overcome them and they know no more till they are awakened at dead of night by the snapping and snarling of wolves prowling about the outskirts of the opening. The fire has died down and its smouldering embers can be scarcely seen. It is the fire that has kept the wolves off till now. The man raises himself on his elbow and, lifting the corner of the canvas cover of the wagon, looks out. Presently one of the animals, more bold than his fellows, emerges from the timber and comes stealthily toward the half startled horses. He is followed in a minute by another and another! The fore-most is now alarmingly near one of the horses. The man reaches for his rifle. In a moment it is at his shoulder. His quick glance runs along the barrel; there is a lurid flash, a sharp report, a howl of agony—and the wolf is stretched dead on the ground, while his blood-thirsty followers are hurrying away in the gloom. This is not the first time wolves have molested them since they came into the wilderness—it is a matter for determined action but scarcely one to keep them long awake. The fire is rekindled and they sleep again, and are only awakened by the singing of the birds in the trees overhead, after the sun is up in the morning.
The preparations for the erection of a log house are begun without delay. First several trees are felled, trimmed, cut up into lengths and laid on the ground in piles on the four sides of the place where the cabin is to stand. Then the work of placing them in their proper position begins. It is no easy task, for the logs are heavy; but the man and the boy both work with a will. They have slept in the wagon so long that the thought of lying down that night in their own house, even if it is unfurnished, affords an incentive to extra exertion. The work goes briskly on through the day. So many logs have been rolled up and notched together at the corners that by nightfall the walls of the house are done. An opening has been left at one side for a door, and a smaller one opposite for a window. It is too late and the builders are too weary to do more than this to-night; so a couple of blankets are stretched across one end of the structure to serve as a temporary roof, another is hung over the doorway, and the house is ready for its first night's occupancy.
In the morning the work is resumed. Poles are laid across the top of the walls to support the chamber floor, a ridge pole and rafters are put up and then the roof is laid on them —a roof of broad bark strips, held in place by poles fastened at the ends with slender strips of green bark. An opening is left in the chamber floor, a rude ladder is constructed and set up, affording communication with the loft; and, with the exception of the window and the door, the carpenter work on the house is done, and the family stand and look at it with a feeling of such relief as they have not felt during all their long journey. It is but a cabin of logs, a rude hut only twelve by fifteen feet square, with a hole in the roof to let out the smoke,—not such a residence as is built in these days of elegance and luxury,—but it is a home! Of course no sash and glass are at hand, but the necessity which is said to be the mother of all invention gives birth to an idea at the right moment, and the pioneer is not left without resource. The window hole is not very large, and he goes to the wagon and gets an old newspaper, one that was printed far away in New England or Pennsylvania, and with some hesitation he tears it in two—for it will be a long time, perhaps, before another newspaper comes to him —saturates it with grease and stretches it across the opening and the window is complete; one that will not permit the inmates of the house to look out, but will let the light in. The canvas which has afforded them shelter during the journey is taken from the wagon, folded to the proper size and suspended over the aperture left for ingress and egress, and this is the door that must serve till a more substantial one can be made of planks split out of logs—a bit of extra work that may be done in any leisure hours before cold weather comes. The openings between the logs are to be "chinked," or filled with pieces of wood split out of the proper size and secured in place by the use of a thick mortar of mud, and a fire-place is to be constructed; but these can be dispensed with until after the house is furnished and some sort of a shelter has been provided for the horses………. thus completed—the pioneer's castle.
There is no trip to a furniture store, attended with the trouble of selection and the usual banter about the price, common to these later days. The house is soon furnished "without money and without price," and as well as any other house within a circuit of twenty miles or more. And this is how it is done: For chairs, three or four blocks of the proper height are sawed from the end of a log; for bedsteads, holes are bored in one of the logs at the side of the building, a foot and a half from the ground, poles about four feet long are hewn off at one end and driven into them, the other extremity being supported on blocks similar to those used for chairs, and on these are laid some small boughs, then blankets and quilts; the table is constructed at one side of the place in the same manner as the frame for the beds, its top being a wide, flat piece split from a large log and hewn as smooth as possible; the fire-place, which is the most primitive of all, is simply a spot on the ground tinder the aperture in the roof. The cooking utensils were brought in the wagon. They are a long-handled frying-pan, a cast-iron bake-kettle and one or two tin pans, one of which serves the purpose of a tea-kettle, in the absence of the black earthen "steeper" which was broken on the way. Some knives, some tinned-iron spoons, some forks, and some cups and saucers and a few plates, all of the "blue-edged" variety, now nearly out of existence, comprise the table furniture.
And thus they begin housekeeping in their new home, miles distant from any other human habitation, and beyond the reach of mails and other conveniences of the densely populated districts. Here, with faith in their God and faith in themselves, they begin to live their new life—a life of progress from the most primitive elements of civilization through all the years that shall be given them to the prosperity of the future—a life given unreservedly for the benefit of those who shall live when they are gone—a career of hardship and of unremitting toil freely devoted to the coming generation. Here, amid such surroundings and with the most primitive appliances and the most meagre facilities, the pioneer begins to exact from Nature the fruits of honest toil. He chops, he logs, he plants and sows and gathers in with each succeeding year; and as the work goes on the little clearing gradually extends its limits, encroaching on the surrounding forest till the patch has grown to be a small farm, with substantial rail fences and improved buildings, a door having superseded the canvas curtain, a chimney having been built of sticks plastered with mortar, and a comfortable stable having been erected for the horses. Inside the house the blocks of wood have given place to three-legged stools, the beds are a trifle easier to lie upon, and a floor of hewn planks has replaced the hard, bare earth which was the first floor.
By and by other settlers begin to come into the vicinity. One by one log cabins are erected until, within a radius of a dozen miles, there are as many habitations, and it is be-ginning to be common for the settlers to talk of their neighbors,—but perhaps not as some people talk of their neighbors at the present time. To the lonely pioneers, the sight of a human face is so grateful that they never pause toquestion whether it belongs to a rich man or a poor one. In such a community all are friends, all are ready to help each other along, to do neighborly kindnesses, to contribute to the general prosperity and the general happiness. One's neighbors, like many other good things, are valued in pro-portion to the smallness of their number, and an acquaintance who lives ten or twenty miles away, and whom one does not often see, is held in higher estimation than one whom it is no luxury to see and whose frequent visits are looked for-ward to as inflictions; and if one has but a few neighbors, and if they all dwell inconveniently distant, one is Iikely to contemplate the not very frequent social meetings which bring them all together with pleasurable anticipations.”