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Our Pioneers' Way of Life
How Our Ancestors Lived

This is Page One

One Room Schools Birthing Babies at Home
Mail Service Cooking and Canning
The Family Farm Canning in Cans and the Tomato Comes of Age

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From the Commode to the Privy to Indoors! Grocery Shopping
The Telephone Medicine & the Healing Arts
The Automobile Toys and Games
The IceBox - and the IceMan .
Religion .
The WCTU Other Pioneer Pages - Related Links
The Circus .

One Room Schools

Our Kansas Pioneers, their children, and many of their grandchildren, went to school in a one room rural school. My mother taught in one of those schools for a couple of years. Here is a web site that tells of one room schools and what life was like for those children: The One Room School Home Page and the Kansas One Room School House Project. Click on the Library link at the Kansas site to get to some interesting histories written by folks who attended these schools and former teachers. I particularly like these: Decatur County, Russell County, and Republic County, but don't miss this one, I chuckled out loud when I read it, a remembrance in finite detail of attending a one-room school: Republic County(2). And this one describe the hardships in trying to get a school established - Nemeha County.

There are ROSTERS for some of these schools at these pages, if you want to try to find your ancestors here.

I found it interesting that one of the contributors suggested that there was a section (640 acres) reserved in each township for a school. (I'm not sure if this was a Kansas law, Federal law, or just plain practice.) Although I noticed at many of the remembrances above that a school was only in a quarter section and sometimes the land was "donated" by someone. Since a township is basically 6 miles x 6 miles, that school would serve roughly 36 square miles. If the school for every township was exactly in the center of the township (which they weren't), a rough approximation for the area covered by the school would be an area 3-4 miles out in any direction. (Of course, that presumes that every township had a school, which wasn't the case all the time.)

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Mail - How Did Our Ancestors Communicate?

Did you know that:

Envelopes weren't used until the mid-1800's. Until then, folks just folded their letters, and wrote the name of the person to pick it up and the name of the post office.

Stamps weren't used until 1847. Until then, if the sender paid, the envelope was marked "paid". If the sender didn't pay, the recipient was asked to pay when he/she picked up their mail at the post office. This changed in 1855, when the government got smart and wanted all mail stamped by the sender. The government had gotten smart and wanted their money up front!

The post office first experimented with the railroad carrying mail in 1831 and let the first rail contract in 1838. The last railroad to carry first class mail was in 1977.

Rural Free Delivery (RFD), the delivery of mail to the farm (instead of having to go to town to pick it up) was started as an experiment, criticized by some, in 1896. And wasn't established permanently until 1902. This act by the Post Office was probably more responsible than any other single influence on the building of good rural roads and bridges in the early 1900's, as the automobile made the delivery of mail to the farm possible.

In the meantime, free delivery of mail in cities had started in the larger cities in 1863 and had spread to only 454 cities by 1890. The rest of the country had to pick up their mail, or the sender pay extra for delivery.

The first time an automobile was used on a mail route was 1901.

The first overland mail to California was in 1858, the Pony Express started in 1860, but was over with by 1862, when the transcontinental telegraph was completed.

Parcels were first allowed to be mailed in 1913 (Parcel Post) leading to an explosion of goods available to rural America and the growth of Montgomery Wards and Sears as sellers by mail into retail giants.

Your tax dollars are paying for this web site, so you may as well use it: The History of the US Post Office. Note before you start clicking on the links there that you can page down and see a time-line history of the Post Office. I found this web site fascinating. Check it out. The first link is to the time line history of events concerning mail.

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The Family Farm

Farms were Kept Up Better in the "Old Days"

Marjorie (McBride) Weaver related to me that farms in early 1900's, when she grew up, were kept up better, generally, than many farms we see today. People back then took a real pride in how their farm looked, she related. They were always painted somewhat fresh, had flowers and orchards, and didn't have the commonly seen "junk yard" that is so often seen around farms these days of old junked tractors and other equipment. She related that each farm always had a garden to supplement the dinner table with their crops and farm animal meat, and orchards with fruit, quite often apple and other forms of fruit, again for supplementing the dinner table.

Milk Cows

I remember the creamer that my grandfolks had and I remember letting the small herd of cattle my granddad still had in his later years from the barn to the pasture in the morning and then back to the barn that night. I helped to milk the cows in the morning when I was a boy (yes, no machines, all by hand) and saw the buckets of milk carried to the creamer to be separated between milk and cream. From there a portion of milk and cream was set aside for personal use and another set aside for the dairy truck when he came by.

A Remembrance of Life on the Farm

For a description of some day to day life on a farm without any modern conveniences, like no indoor bathroom or utilities, see Remembrances of My Grandparents.

A Typical Quarter Section Homestead Farm was 145 Football Fields and a Typical Township had approximately 100 Farms

See the web page: What is a Quarter Section? to describe townships, sections how they are numbered, and other related topics and links

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Birthing Babies at Home

The first recorded birth in a hospital in at least the Taylor side of our family was in 1944 (not sure if that date would hold for the Johnston's or Millirons) Before then, ALL births were at home. Since that date, I'm not aware of one home birth, for over 100 births.

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Cooking and Canning


My grandmother had no electricity or gas in their farm home in the 1950's. She cooked on one of those "prairie ranges" you see in antique stores nowadays. The range used either corncobs or coal. To turn on high, you put a lot of fuel in, to turn on low, you let the fire burn down a bit. Yet, Grandmother Taylor cooked for family reunions on that stove for dozens of people at a time and everything turned out perfect - cooked from scratch - pies, cakes, chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, you name it. After Mom determined how many chickens she needed for dinner, she would tell Dad how many chickens she needed. I'll never forget the experience of seeing Dad grabbing the chickens by the head and throwing it around his head in a big circle - called "wringing it's neck".

See the Heritage Page of the Kraft Foods web site for when various foodstuffs were introduced to us. Comments on the origins of Jell-O, instant coffee, baking powder, Log Cabin syrup, and many other foods are covered here.

(PS: Did you know you can find recipes on the internet? The world wide web is a world wide cookbook! Just type the name of some favorite food into a search engine and start surfin'. Chances are you'll find several pages with recipes for that dish. Try meatloaf, Jell-O, apple pie, chocolate cake, etc. For example, put "meatloaf" into a search engine and see what you get.) Then, again, if you want a site with everything you wanted to know about recipes, visit the Cyber Kitchen Page.

Matches were around in the 1830's, but were dangerous and poisonous. The Diamond Match Company invented the "safety match", where the phosphorus wasn't poisonous, and the striking surface was on the outside of the matchbook, around the turn of the century.

For recollections of various ways of preserving and cooking foods, see the Walton Old-Timers site for more details.


I've already discussed my grandmother's great cooking abilities, but I should talk about one specialty that is fast becoming a lost art - canning and making jellies. I was never around when she canned to see what she did (although my mother canned prairie plums), but she used to send me to the cellar to fetch the creamiest homemade plum butter, most delicious apricot preserves, or jellies, you've ever tasted. I can't remember if the cellar was separate from the house or was under the house, but I do remember it was just a hole dug into the ground - the walls were dirt. It was always cool down there. This was their way of "preserving" the foods available from the fruit trees and plants on the farm.

If you want to get involved in this lost art, Home Canning On-Line is your web site. Recipes, tips, a forum for home-canners, and more!

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Canning in Cans and the Tomato Comes of Age

My previous article talked about canning at home. What I remember about canning at home was mostly derivatives of fruit: jams, jellies, and preserves.. all in the glass Mason jars with the two part lid (and sometimes that paraffin wax on top to make it airtight). I ran across a newspaper article from the Oct 17, 1929 issue of the Ashland Times that I thought you might be interested in. It's about one entrepreneur's first venture into the world of canning in tin cans in 1850.. and the coming of age of the tomato, which up until maybe 1850 had been considered poisonous in some quarters.
First Food Canned in Ohio
Went to Feed Californians in the Days of the Famous '49 Gold Rush
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Copyright 1997-2001 by Norris M. Taylor, Jr.

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