Extracted from West Virginia and Its People,
by Thomas Miller and Hu Maxwell
The period covered by this chapter extends from the time of the first settlements by white men in Western Virginia down to about the close of the Mexican war. The old period and its customs passed away with the invention of the grain reaper. That epoch-making machine appeared in the grain fields about 1840, although its actual invention was a little earlier than that. The employment of gunpowder in warfare did not so quickly change the tactics of battle, as the reaper changed the methods of agriculture. The customs of the people changed also, and the end of the most characteristic of the pioneer ways and methods properly is placed about the time of the war with Mexico, though that event had nothing in particular to do with it.
Failure to study the tools used by the pioneers of this region would leave an interesting and important phase of their history a blank. We cannot properly understand them unless we know how they lived and the means by which they lived. Much has been written of their courage in war, of the deeds done in defense of their country, of their endurance on the march, of the arms with which they won their victories, and too little has been said of their industrial life. The latter is as important as the former, though not as romantic and spectacular. If properly studied and understood, it constitutes material full of human interest. The most fascinating pages of the "short and simple annals of the poor" do not necessarily deal with battlefields.
It is well known that most of the early inhabitants of Western Virginia were tillers of the soil, though they farmed on a small scale and tilled in a way that would be strangely out of place now. In the earliest period practically every man was a farmer; later, nine out of ten followed that occupation; and still later, that is, toward the close of the period under consideration, about four out of five supported themselves by cultivating the soil. Though farmers most of the year, many of them were jacks of all trades part of the time. They could turn their hands to pretty much anything that might come up in the course of their daily affairs. Trades were not so many or the requisites for their mastery so numerous as in this day; but many things needed doing even in the simple lives of our ancestors who lived among the hills and valleys of Western Virginia. The average man was competent to do several kinds of work and he thought nothing strange of it. He tilled his few acres. He tanned leather for the winter shoes and made the shoes, after having manufactured the thread and the wax for sewing. He prepared the flax and the wool for the loom, and frequently wove the cloth. He did simple blacksmithing and rude carpentering; carved dishes and bowls from blocks of cucumber wood and yellow poplar; laid out roads, such as they were, and built them; served as juryman, constable, or justice of the peace. In short, he shirked no duty that presented itself, and he generally acquitted himself in a worthy manner. He was versatile as far as demands were made upon him. His culture was limited, but in all-round citizenship he would not suffer in comparison with the average man of today. It would be a perversion of historic truth to say that he was more moral, more temperate, more honorable, or more religious than men are now. The truth is, most of the frontier men fell a little short of modern standards in some of these matters, but they seldom failed to acquit themselves like men in daily affairs and in extraordinary emergencies.
At the close of the eighteenth century the farmers of Western Virginia were using tools differing little from those with which the Egyptians tilled the soil four thousand years ago. It is amazing that the world should have stood still so long in the matter of agriculture. From century to century men continued to use the same clumsy implements. Scarcely an invention that had any effect upon the mode of cultivating and harvesting crops was made during ages. Men did not even learn to put horses and cattle to work, except in a few ways. Practically all that was done on the farm was accomplished by hand labor, and much of that docs not seem to have been done in an intelligent manner, If any one thought of cutting hay or grain by horsepower, nothing came of the thought. During the early decades of the nineteenth century four-fifths of the people of the United States lived on farms, and at an earlier period the proportion was still higher. They had to live on farms in order to live at all. The work of four-fifths was necessary to raise enough grain to feed the other fifth who followed other occupations. At the present time in this country about one-third of the people live on farms, and they not only raise enough to support themselves and feed the other two-thirds, but they produce enormous quantities for export. The land was as fertile a hundred years ago as it is now, but with the old-fashioned hand tools it was simply impossible to produce a surplus of food. Under such conditions there could be no factories such as the country now has, because the laborers could not be fed, the farmers could not produce a surplus for that purpose, and other industries stood still because agriculture could not take a forward step. It was not. as some suppose, a question of transportation. Railroads were built before the reaper was invented, but the railroads did not much increase the food supply, for the limit of hand production had been reached. In 1839 the production of wheat in the United States was only five bushels per capita. It has been shown that in 1830 three hours of a man's labor was required to produce one bushel of wheat. Ten minutes of labor does it now. The difference is due to improvement in machines, not improvements in men. In early times the output of wheat could be increased only by increasing the number of laborers. Now a better machine is sought when a greater output of grain is wanted. The man's brain now does with lightninglike quickness what his hands slowly worked out a century ago. A man with a sickle could harvest only from three to five acres of grain in a season. Most grains had to be cut quickly or they would waste in the field. A comparison of present methods of growing rice in this country and in India will illustrate the difference between wheat production in this country now and a century ago. One man with up-to-date machinery grows as much rice in Louisiana as four hundred can produce in India and China with their crude methods.
A review of some of the tools used on and about the Western Virginia farms from the first settlements down to the Mexican war will well repay the pains. Nothing can make clearer the difference between old times and new, and the industrial supremacy of the present over the past.
THE CORN CROP
Corn was the first crop raised in this region. It was surer than wheat, and was produced with less labor. The rank weeds of newly cleared ground could better be kept in subjection in a growing crop of corn than in almost anything else. More was grown to the acre, it was easier to prepare for food, and it went farther.
The Plow - This tool made wholly of wood was seldom if ever used in any part of this country, but prior to the first cast iron plow which made its appearance about 1825, the majority of plows had wooden mold boards, and some were equipped with wooden shares. All had iron points and most had other metal trimmings on parts where the wear was greatest. It seems to have been an entirely satisfactory implement in its day. A few specimens still are to be seen in museums, and they force the conclusion that the pioneer plowman in Western Virginia must have been easy to satisfy. The plow did poor work, stirring rather than turning the ground, and leaving it in a condition that would not be tolerated at the present time, A man and a boy could plow about an acre a day. The boy's part of the operation consisted in walking beside the plow, and once every few rods using a wooden paddle to scrape the dirt from the wooden mold board and share.
Harrows - The pioneers used three or more types of harrows to smooth their ground after they plowed it. The "A harrow" was the most advanced in point of workmanship. It was so named because it was the shape of the letter "A," was made of three pieces of wood formed in a triangle, and was dragged point forward by horses or oxen. The teeth were locustwood pins a foot or more in length. Where the ground was mellow and fairly free from rocks the teeth wore well, and sufficed to harrow fifteen or twenty acres, which was more than the annual crop land of most farmers a hundred years ago in Western Virginia, particularly in the mountain parts of it. In stony ground the harrow's wooden teeth wore down in a day or two, but it was only the work of an hour or so to make and insert a new set. Another kind of harrow consisted of a log, called a drag, which was drawn broadside across the plowed ground to crush the clods. A similar implement is sometimes used at this day in rural communities to smooth the roads after the spring rains. A third harrow, more rustic than the others, was a bush, preferably a crabapple, dragged by horses over the plowed land. A second operation was sometimes performed to cover small grain after the sowing. On very rocky and stumpy land the crabapple harrow had some advantages over the others. It would work closer up to the bases of obstacles. A small harrow of that kind was occasionally used in cornfields which were overrun with weeds. If the stalks of corn were up to a man's shoulders or higher, they were strong enough to stand while the bush with pliant branches was dragged between the rows, flattening the weeds as it went. That process was generally regarded as the last resort of a lazy man. The bush harrow may yet sometimes be seen at work in small, steep fields and truck patches among the mountains.
The Hoe - Some farmers used shovel plows to tear out the worst of the weeds and stir the soil between the corn rows, and some did not, but all had hoes, and a general notion prevailed that corn would fail unless large amounts of soil were heaped around the hills. It is well known now that this is not necessary, but as the pioneer farmers seldom found out anything new, they went on hilling their corn as the Indians taught them long before. The introduction of cultivators generations later showed that the pioneers had done much more hilling than there was any need of. The hoe was of comparatively more importance then than it is now, and it was on a par with the other field tools of the time. It was heavy, usually of iron so soft that it battered badly when whacked on rocks, and the handle was almost large enough for a handspike. Why anybody thought such handles were necessary is past finding out. They were largest where they fitted in the hoe eye, and tapered to a moderate size at the other end. A western Virginia blacksmith of a century ago has been credited with the invention of a hoe made of a thin sheet of steel with a sheet of iron on each side, the three sheets firmly welded together. The soft iron wore faster than the steel, and kept the hoe always sharp.
The Corn Cutter - No great improvement has been made in the manner of cutting corn in West Virginia. The knife that severs the fodder is about the same now that it was before the war of 1812. Some improvement may be noted in the tool itself, for it was then generally made of a wornout scythe blade, and now it is a specially manufactured article; but the cutting is done by the main strength swipe as formerly. Power corn cutters, drawn by horses, are not yet much in evidence in West Virginia. The fields are too small or too steep to make power cutters profitable.
The Husking Peg - The smallest and simplest of the farmer's tools, when he was accustomed to do nearly all of his work by hand, was the husking peg with which he shucked his corn. It is still in use, with a few improvements and modifications. The farmer whittled the tool from a piece of hickory or dogwood, or from buckhorn or bone, or hammered it in shape from a scrap of iron. A leather strap fastened it to the fingers of the right hand. An expert sometimes husked a hundred bushels of ears in a day.
The Cornsheller - The simplest tool for shelling corn was a cob, singed in a flame to remove its outer softness, and it was held in the hand as a protection while rubbing the grains from ears of corn. More speed was made with the gum sheller, which was a piece of a hollow tree trunk, the size of a barrel; which was partly filled with ears of corn. An ax was used as a pestle to pound the grains from the cob. A man could shell and clean about twenty bushels a day. The crushed and broken cobs were separated from the shelled corn by means of a sieve.
Hand Corn Mills - When the backwoodsman had raised, husked, and shelled his corn, the process of making it into bread, mush, or hominy was not yet complete. The slow and laborious part was the grinding, if performed by hand, as much of it was in primitive neighborhoods. The smallest apparatus for making meal was called a grater. The corn was reduced to small fragments by rubbing the ear to and fro across a piece of tin made rough by punching it full of holes the size of a small nail. The corn grated best about the time it was passing from the roasting ear stage into maturity. It was soft then, and the rough tin scratched it into a mass of fine ribbons which, when baked in the pone oven, were considered of so exquisite a flavor that old people have insisted to their last days that they never tasted anything better, and perhaps they have been right.
When the corn matured and grew flinty, the tin grater was replaced by the wooden hominy block, which was another hand-operated invention which the Indians handed down to those who relieved them of their cornfields. The hominy block was a log of wood two or three feet long, stood on end. A mortar-shaped cavity was hollowed by fire in the top. Into this the shelled corn was poured, and the operator, armed with a wooden pestle, commenced the two-hours task of manufacturing about as much meal as he could eat in fifteen minutes. If he made hominy, the work was shorter, but fully as hard while it lasted. For labor-saving reasons, hominy was usually the family diet. Joseph Doddridge, a Western Virginia pioneer to whose book we are indebted for many interesting pictures of frontier life, prided himself on being the inventor of an improved hominy block. The block itself was the same as the old, but a long spring-pole, mounted on a forked post like a well sweep, with the large end fastened under the wall of the cabin, was made to lift a long heavy pestle that was worked up and down as it powdered the corn.
Well-to-do families in those days possessed a hand mill in which meal was ground with circular stones of about the circumference of a bicycle wheel, and four inches thick, A hand grip was attached to the upper stone, and the operator turned it slowly round, while the under stone was stationary. The work was hard, and the mill was not much improvement over the hominy block. Such mills were used in Palestine in the time of Isaiah, and are still doing much of the poor people's grinding in India.
The Hay Crop - The first meadows in Western Virginia were small and rough, and coarse wild grasses prevailed in many of them. Timothy made its appearance about 1750, and was a native of America. It became the leading forage plant next to corn fodder; but it does not appear to have ever taken possession of fields without man's help. It was not so with white clover, which grew wild wherever conditions permitted; but it had few opportunities before farms began to be cleared, and it is seldom mentioned in the earliest years of the settlements. The Indians who once occupied the region and had cleared a few fields here and there, had been gone from seventy-five to a hundred years when white men came, and most of their old fields were woods again. A few remained, and in 1752, when Christopher Gist traveled through the Kanawha valley, and northward as far as Ohio county, he saw "a great, many cleared fields, covered with white clover," and again wrote of "some meadows." No people lived in the region at that time, neither Indians nor white men, and the clover spoken of was holding its own unaided in the small openings still remaining in the otherwise unbroken forests. The white clover which Gist spoke of was flourishing as early as March 4, which is evident that it began to grow very early in the spring, and was of much value in supplying pasture soon after the winter snow departed. It could not have been of great value for hay, because it does not grow tall. Doubtless it was cut for provender in the absence of something better. The fertility of the newly cleared land assured a crop of something, whether grasses or other plants, and a crop of hay could be depended upon. In later years, that is, during the period, roughly speaking, between the Revolution and the Mexican war, timothy and other meadow grasses, including red clover, were abundant in all parts of the state.
The Scythe - In one form or another the scythe is a very old tool. It was originally a large sickle with a long handle, and the name as we have it now is a modification of the word sickle. The scythe was for cutting grass, the sickle for grain, though grain could very well be mowed with the scythe, and it was often done. Few improvements were made in this farm tool until a couple of generations ago. The old implement was crude of blade and clumsy of handle. The snath for a scythe is now made straight, and is bent to proper form, but the former makers did not learn that art. They used a straight stick, or they cut in the woods snaths that grew in fantastic shapes, and accommodated themselves to handles as nature produced them. For thousands of years in the old countries farmers cut hay with straight-snathed scythes, regular back-breakers, and apparently made no effort to devise anything better. They brought the tool with them to America and went on using it here until recent times. In some of the old French districts of Louisiana the scythes now in use are little different from those of Gaul in the time of Vercengetorix. In ancient times the sickle was the symbol of harvest, the scythe that of destruction. A man with a scythe can mow an acre of ordinary meadow a day. Up to fifty years ago nearly all meadow was cut with scythes, and in parts of West Virginia some scythes are still at work, but chiefly on steep and rough ground. Scythes that mow meadow are taken to the grindstone every day or two; but a hundred years ago that was not the custom. A whetstone renewed the edge until it became too dull to be longer sharpened in that way, and the blade was then taken to a blacksmith shop, and the edge was beaten thin so that a whetstone would again take hold of it.
The Pitchfork - A few two-tined iron pitchforks were made in blacksmith shops long ago. The tines were short and strong, and the tool was equipped with a long, thick handle and was popularly known as a "stackfork," because its chief use was in topping haystacks in the meadows. The stacks were fifteen feet high or more, and only a long handled fork would reach the apex. Most pitchforks were of wood. A forked stick, whittled into something of shape, was the rudest form. A pole of suitable size was the material of one a little better. The piece was split down from the end about fifteen or twenty inches, a nail was driven through and clinched at the base of the split, the two pieces which were to become the tines were forced apart with a wedge. The tines were worked into shape, the handle was pared down, and the fork was done. It was good for two or three years of service. A better and heavier wooden pitchfork was made with considerable care. It was much the size and shape of the fork now used in handling coke at the ovens. It had four tines a foot in length, two crosspieces to hold the tines rigid and to strengthen them, and a handle not more than three feet long. Such a fork, if manufactured now, would sell for about fifty cents.
The Wooden Horserake - The handrake among the West Virginia hills in early days was like those in use elsewhere since time immemorial. The tool was made in as many ways as the fancy or prejudice of the maker might suggest, but it was wholly of wood. Prior to the War of 1812 it does not appear that horses were ever employed to rake hay in Western Virginia. Handrakes and pitchforks met the demand. They were considered sufficient, for everything then moved slowly. A man with a scythe could mow an acre a day and another man with rake and fork could gather it into heaps called shocks or doodles. The work moved along in the same old way that it had always moved, and no one seemed to think that a horse might drag a large rake and do the work ten times as fast. But soon after the opening of the eighteenth century somebody thought of it, and made a wooden horserake which did not differ greatly from the handrake except in size, and instead of a handle it had two ropes or chains, one at each end, by which the horse pulled it. It was one of the most important horsepower farming implements that had been invented up to that time. It may not have been invented all at once, and it is certain that different styles were soon in use; nor does there seem to be agreement on the date of the earliest horserakes in Western Virginia. Some say it was about 1818. The teeth of the horserakes were two or three feet long, made of stout hickory or locust pickets. Some rakes had two sets of teeth, and when one set were full of hay they were ingeniously dumped by turning the rake half over, thereby putting the other set of teeth in front. The idea of mounting the rake on wheels did not occur to anyone until a good many years later. The implement did good work on smooth ground, but if the surface was bumpy, the teeth were prone to dig into the ground and dump the hay at the wrong time. The spring tooth rake on wheels sent the wooden implement to its eternal rest. An occasional specimen may still be found in old barns and granary lofts in remote districts; but it would be difficult now to find one in actual use in West Virginia.
The Grape Vine - A tool of no small importance for handling hay was a wild grapevine cut in the woods. It was an inch or more in diameter and twenty or thirty feet long. With it the hay shocks were hauled together at the designated place for building the stacks. A horse was hitched to both ends of the vine after it had been drawn round the base of the shock, and the load was drawn safely along the ground to the place for stacking. The shock weighed 200 or 300 pounds and was a small horseload. The hay for a stack was thus brought together by the work of a horse and a boy in half the time required to haul it by wagon. The grapevine hay rope is properly classed with the important labor-saving devices used by pioneer West Virginia farmers. It has not yet been entirely superseded by improved machinery. In place of the vine, a hemp rope was occasionally employed, and sometimes a rope was made of hay, twisted tightly in a strand.
THE SMALL GRAINS
Wheat, oats, barley, rye and buckwheat were called small grain to distinguish them from corn. which was the main crop. Barley never was extensively cultivated in West Virginia. Oats and wheat were most abundant. Rye was harvested a little earlier in the season than wheat, and that led to its use oftener than would have been the case otherwise. When bread was scarce in midsummer, a grist of rye two or three weeks earlier than wheat could be threshed, was worth consideration. Buckwheat was never a general crop in West Virginia. It thrives in some localities, but meets poor success in others.
The Grain Cradle - The cradle was the first noted improvement in grain harvesting machinery in four thousand years. With it a man could cut from three to six acres a day, and it was so superior to the sickle that with its coming the sickle was hung up forever, except in divers countries and sundry places where ignorance or necessity kept it going. Sickles are still sold in this country in considerable numbers, but they are generally used otherwise than in harvesting grain in a serious way.
The cradle appeared in Western Virginia about 1800. That date is not exact. There might have been a few before; and a good while after that date, some localities had few or none. It was made wholly of wood, except the scythe blade which did the cutting. Fifty times as much wood was needed to make a cradle as a sickle. The handle might be anyone of many woods, but the fingers were usually of hickory. They were five long, slender, springy, curved pieces whose function was to collect the stalks of grain as they were cut and lay them in a swath to be raked and bound. Some of the earliest attempts at making a reaping machine proceeded on the theory that it must be modeled after the cradle, and be swung like it. No reaper was invented until that notion was abandoned. The cradle is much heavier than a scythe, and more physical exertion is necessary in operating it.
Considering how great an improvement the cradle was upon what went before, its period of usefulness was remarkably short. Scarcely had it taken possession of the grain fields when the reaper drove it out. The cradle held its place about fifty years. Of course, it did not come in everywhere at once, nor did it go out at one time everywhere. In fact, it has by no means gone out of use yet; but it lost its supreme place when the reaper was invented. It held longer in West Virginia than in less mountainous regions, because the reaper came in slowly. On steep and rough ground, and there is a great deal of that kind in West Virginia, cradles cut the grain now as formerly.
The Flail - A club was probably the first weapon used by representatives of the human race far back in the unrecorded cycles of savagery, and a club was a very early implement of husbandry when husbandry meant little more than pounding nuts and wild fruits from trees, or threshing seeds from wild grasses. The flail had its beginning in operations of that kind. When some extraordinarily bright intellect among the savage users conceived the idea of tying two clubs together and making one serve as a handle by which to manipulate the other, the flail was complete in its present form. There are people in the world today who have not yet learned to tie the two clubs together, but go on pounding with a single stick. Little improvement was made in the flail during the thousands of years of its history. It was, indeed, a machine which, like the bow and arrow, was perfected very early, and no further improvement was possible. The flails which did service a century and a half ago on the threshing floors along the South Branch and the Greenbrier rivers, were in all essential points similar to those used in Mesopotamia by the ancestors of Abraham, Up to the period of the Mexican war, or about that time, the flail was on every farm in Western Virginia where grain was grown. It did not thresh all the grain, for some was tramped out by cattle and horses, as was done three thousand years ago in other countries. As late as fifty years ago in all parts of this country the grain which horses and cattle did not tramp out, was beaten from the straw with flails. The first power thresher, called the "ground hog," had made its appearance, but it was not doing much. Wheat, oats, barley, and rye were threshed during stormy weather when the farmer and his hired man could not work out of doors; but where buckwheat was grown it had to be threshed immediately after cutting or the grain would rattle out of the husks and be wasted. It was customary to make a temporary threshing floor in the field for buckwheat, as the grain would not stand long hauls to a barn. The flail is now in more general use in regions where buckwheat is grown than anywhere else.
Every well-arranged barn, under the old system of farming, had its threshing floor with overhead room for swinging flails. Sometimes a man followed threshing as a business in winter, hiring himself about the neighborhood as his services were needed; but it was not customary for one man to work alone. They worked in "pairs," "doubles," and "double-doubles." These terms seem to have gone entirely out of use, with the passing of the flail. A "pair" meant two flail men working together; a "double" meant two "pairs," or four men; and a "double-double" was two "doubles," or eight men working at once and in unison. An old rural doggerel ran:
"'Double-double', toil and trouble, Pound the heads as clean as stubble."
Unless the flail men understood their business there was apt to be trouble as well as toil when a "double-double worked." The heads to be pounded were as likely to be the heads of men as of the wheat. No matter how many men worked at the floor, if the men understood their art the strokes were so timed that no two came down together. The blows fell in regular, even, monotonous sequence. It was little less than art to do it that way, and certainly skill was necessary. When eight men, or even when four, worked, the swipes of their flails filling the air over their heads like a tangle of fireflies, and yet so exquisitely manipulated that not a false motion occurred, or so much as the tapping of one flail by another, it was a sight by no means wanting in interest.
The Western Virginians of a century ago, and prior to that period, made little attempt to manufacture commodities for sale. In the first place, they were farmers by necessity, and had no time for side lines; and there was no market where they could sell factory products. But though they cannot be called manufacturers, they made many articles, and did it well. They produced what they needed for themselves, but all was homemade. The cabin and shop were all the factories they had, and at odd times they worked at other callings than farming. There were a few persons who lived by selling what they manufactured. They were, in the larger villages, the tanners, shoemakers, blacksmiths, weavers, tailors; but they were few and their trade was generally limited to their immediate neighbors. In a country where most of the people are jacks of all trades there is not much call for workers at single trades. So it was in pioneer Western Virginia.
Brooms - After the cabins were built, the problem of keeping them clean presented itself. Brooms were needed. No claim is made that early Western Virginians worked out any discoveries in broom making. They followed those who went before. Material for brooms was abundant, such as it was. Like the sickle and the scythe, the broom in one form or another has accompanied mankind in the long ascent from ages of semi-barbarity to the enlightened era of the present. Changes in customs, migrations from country to country, inventions and improvements in domestic apparatus, have never degraded the broom to a low level, but have rather raised it higher. The "broom kings," (Plantagenets) ruled England three hundred years and were never ashamed of their name. Few of the primitive styles of brooms - those used in ancient times - have gone completely out of use. Most of them were once common in Western Virginia. When the early German colonists of the upper South Branch valley collected the soft and slender branches of arborvitae or white cedar from the cliffs overhanging the river, and tied the branches in bundles for brooms, they were the earliest users of that article in the region, as far as records go. The twig broom was called a besom. Thousands of years before, a broom of similar kind was in use to sweep the hovels of Syria. It was that domestic, harmless bundle of twigs which the Hebrew Seer rendered a figure of devastation and annihilation by his use of the word twenty-seven centuries ago when he launched his anathema against Babylon: "I will sweep it with the besom of destruction." The twig broom was peculiarly adapted for use in cabins with puncheon floors, or none at all, as most were in this state one hundred and seventy-five years ago. A modern broom would be torn to pieces by a few sweepings of such a cabin. The thrifty German housewives who employed the arborvitae twigs on their cabin floors in Grant and Pendleton counties were pleased with the delicate and characteristic odor from the bruised branches as they swept their cabins; and to this day summer camps and rustic houses are sometimes brushed with arborvitae brooms for the sake of the pleasing odor.
The corn husk broom came and went, and early records scarcely mention it in Western Virginia. It could not have been much used. It was made by tying a bundle of corn husks tightly to a handle. It was a sensible apparatus for scrubbing puncheons, and for most purposes it was a little improvement over the besom made of boughs.
Then came the split broom. It was probably as early in Western Virginia as any of the others, for no one knows when the first ones were made. It is certain that it is not an American invention, but it reached its greatest development here, and the mountaineers of West Virginia made the best from hickory sapplings. Its period of usefulness is not yet over, but it does not hold the place it once held in the homes of the common people. A hickory sappling three inches or less in diameter is selected for the split broom. It must be free from knots and blemishes for a distance of five feet. The split broom maker's technical education was acquired in the school of experience, and he knew good hickory when he saw it. He cut his sappling and peeled it ill the woods witli his ax, carried the billet home to complete the work by his fireside that evening, or when the first stormy day kept him indoors. Except for a string tied round the billet when the operation was commenced, the entire broom, including the handle, was of one piece of wood. Persons unacquainted with the process of making the article would suppose, even after a careful examination, that a split broom is composed of hundreds of fine splints bound to the handle, but such is not the case. The splints are all held together by natural wood. The skilled maker knows how to make the broom without detaching a single splint from its fastening.
About one half of the billet cut in the woods was wasted in the. process of making the broom. The name indicates the process of manufacture. The butt of the stick is separated into a thousand or more splints, about ten inches long. They remain fast to the stick. The same process is repeated, beginning ten inches up on the part which is to be the handle. These splints are stripped downward, leaving enough of the heart of tlie piece for a handle. The bunch of splints thus attached to the end of tlie handle constitutes the brush of the broom. A man who is handy with a knife can make such a broom in three or four hours, and if it does not give a year's service in scrubbing and sweeping, it falls short of expectations. Brooms of this kind are still used in considerable numbers among the mountains of West Virginia. It is believed that they are entirely homemade, and that no factory turns them out. Village stores occasionally keep them for sale as scrub brooms, and the usual price is twenty-five cents. The early split broom makers never found a substitute for hickory. White oak could be worked as easily as hickory, but the splints, in the process of drying, rolled up in tight wads and never straightened again. Broom corn as a material for brooms was in use in 1832. and probably earlier. The chief place so long held by the split broom gradually went to the new comer, but long after that period the wooden article was in common use for scrubbing. For a time the corn broom was called a "carpet" broom to distinguish it from the more plebian split broom.
The corn broom was homemade for a long time in West Virginia. The custom was for each family that wished to indulge in the luxury, to plant a few rows of broom corn in the truck patch, "break" it when nearly ripe, and harvest it before frost. Breaking consisted in bending the stalk near the top to make the brush hang down. That made the head grow straight; but if left erect, its weight would cause the straws to buckle and twist, and a nice broom could not be made from them. At the time of the Civil war, homemade corn brooms were common in West Virginia. Each user made what he needed, or bought from some neighbor who made them. Little machinery was required in this primitive mode of manufacture. The principal appliances were, a kettle of boiling water to soften the cornstraws, already tied in bundles; a rope attached to an overhead beam, with a loop at the lower end for the operator's foot; a knife, twine, and short nails. The rope was passed round the bundle of wet corn, and the operator's weight sufficed to give the necessary squeeze, while six or eight strands of stout twine were wrapped round, close up to the squeezing rope coil, and was tied. The handle was driven through the center of the bundle, a couple of short nails were driven to hold it in place, and the uneven ends of the corn were trimmed. The brush was next pressed and flattened in the desired form, and was sewed through and through to keep it in shape.
That was, of course, a very primitive method of making the corn broom. Early in its history better ways were substituted. When each family or each neighborhood made its own brooms, the handles were worked out with drawing knives. A man could finish forty a day. He cut his yellow poplar or basswood tree, sawed in in bolts of the proper length, split them as nearly the right size as he could, and completed them with the drawing knife. If he made more than he needed for himself, he sold the surplus to his neighbors at four or five cents each. An octagonal broom handle was considered by some as the acme of the manufacturer's skill, and many persons insisted on leaving that kind, and looked with contempt on round, lathe-turned broom handles when they began to appear. The angular handle was not so smooth for the hand, but that was urged as its chief advantage, because it gave the hand a better grip.
Spinning Wheels - Two kinds of spinning wheels prepared the yarn and thread for cloth on the frontiers, the large and the small. Flax and wool were the chief materials, and cotton came later. A few efforts were made to produce silk but if any silk was woven in the territory now embraced in West Virginia during any period of its early history, record of it has not been found. Flax was abundant and was the basis of most products of the loom; that is, some part of nearly all cloth was linen. In very early years, sheep could not be kept because of wolves; but when these animals had been killed or driven away, sheep raising was more profitable and woolen cloth came into use. Linen clothes were coarse, yellowish white, and not warm in winter. Flax went through several operations before it reached the wheel that spun it. After being "pulled," as the gathering of the stalks in the field was called, it was placed in heaps where the coarse, woody fiber of the stalk rotted. That softened it and prepared it for removal from the tough bark which later was the part spun into thread. A machine known as a break was manipulated by hand. and with this machine, under repeated strokes, the stalks of flax were broken into short pieces which were held together by the strong bark. Then the swingle came into play. That was a dull, wooden knife, shaped like a broad sword, with blade eighteen inches long. The operator held a bundle of broken stalks in one hand, and with the other basted them with the swingle until most of the broken stems were beaten free from the bark and fell to the ground in pieces from a quarter of an inch to two inches long. The remaining mass was tow. but other processes awaited it before it was ready to spin. The hackle was a tool consisting of many sharp metal spikes like long, slender nails, set in a board. The rows of such spikes resembled the teeth of combs. Two or three grades of hackles were used, the terms coarse and fine referring to the distance apart of the teeth. The tow was combed with this tool. Remaining fragments of stalk were removed, and the fiber was drawn out in smooth bundles. The tow was then ready to spin. It was of light yellow color, and soft to the touch. "Towhead," when the word refers to a person's hair, means that the color and appearance resemble unspun flax. The word "flaxen-hair" is a little more poetical, but means the same thing. The small spinning wheel found in most pioneer homes reduced tow to linen thread. The operator sat, gave motion to the wheel by means of a treadle, and drew the tow from a distaff attached to the wheel frame. The distaff was usually of dogwood or of sourwood, because these grew with a central stem, and several branches coming out of the stem at one place in a whorl. The branches were the size of a lead pencil, the central stem twice as large. The branches and stem were cut to a length of eighteen inches, and were brought together and tied at the top, and on this the tow was placed for spinning.
Wool was sometimes spun on the small wheel, but the large wheel was preferred. The operator paced to and fro across the room, turning the wheel by means of a wooden peg, called a finger, which was carried in one hand, while the yarn in process of spinning was worked with the other. Wool was carded by hand before machinery was brought in for doing it. The cards were flat pieces of wood, about four by eight inches, fitted with handles and equipped with many rows of small metal teeth, half inch long, made of pieces of wire. By rubbing wool between their toothed surfaces, it was reduced to rolls for spinning.
The Reel - The reel wound the thread from the spindle and converted it into skeins. A skein consisted of a number of "cuts," and the reel was geared to count the cuts as they were wound. A contrivance raised a wooden spring slowly as the reel went round. At the proper time the spring was released, and a sounding whack against a thin board announced that a cut was done. The contrivance was remarkable only because it was one of the few instances where machinery was made to do the thinking for an operator - it counted and recorded the number of threads that went on the reel.
The Loom - Looms were more common in the homes of the pioneers than pianos and organs in those of their descendants. Factories for weaving cloth were few anywhere at that time. The family that did not weave its own cloth bought from some one who had a surplus. It was all homemade. The best wool fabrics of the period of the Revolution were strong and serviceable, but specimens exhibited in museums show that they were far less handsome than machine-made cloth of the present time. A dress suit worn by President Washington, and preserved in the National Museum in the city of Washington, is of cloth that would now be unsaleable because of coarseness. If that was the best of that day, it may be imagined what the common people wore in the distant mountains. The most that can be said for it is that it lasted well. The loom which wove it was crude, and was the handiwork of some versatile mechanic of the time who could do a little of everything. A good many of those old looms, some dating a century back, have come down to the present time. Great difference is observable in their workmanship. Some are of cherry or black walnut, well made, and in pleasing proportions. Others are clumsily constructed of wood selected neither for beauty nor strength, and showing workmanship much inferior to that of some savages whose only tool is a flint hatchet. The loom from Kentucky which was exhibited at the Columbian World's Fair, and is now preserved in the Field Museum, Chicago, is one of that kind, and that in the State Museum at Madison, Wisconsin, is another. Such do not do justice to the pioneer loom makers in general, though they represent certain part of them. Many of the old time looms in the mountains of West Virginia were of better design and workmanship. The weaving was usually done by the women of the household, though men frequently took a hand in it. The thread and yarn for the cloth was sometimes dyed before it was converted into cloth, and sometimes the finished cloth was dyed. It was deemed a little better to dye the wool before pinning it, for it held its color better. The phrase "dyed in the wool" is traced back to that custom. The dyes were manufactured at home from bark and roots of trees. Sometimes logwood from Central America, and sulphates of iron, copper or zinc were purchased and used in dyeing wool or cloth. The bark dyes in West Virginia early days were many, but the most common were butternut and yellow oak. The bark of almost every tree affords more or less dyeing matter. The colors produced with barks were not as brilliant or as many as the chemical dyes of today afford. They were subdued, soft, and pleasing, rather than striking, and in that respect resembled the colors now so much admired in Persian rugs. Coal tar dyes have practically rendered the bark dyes obsolete in West Virginia at the present time.
Clothes were made at home in most cases. A few tailors plied their trade, but in the earliest years of the state they could not have been numerous, and their earnings must have been moderate. A paper recorded in the court of Randolph county in 1786 bears witness that one dollar paid a tailor for making an overcoat, after the cloth was furnished.
Tanyards - The first tanneries in West Virginia consisted of one or more wooden troughs, a little hemlock or chestnut oak bark, ashes in place of lime, and one or two tools, and other materials as they could be had. It was not unusual for each family to do its own tanning, and a trough hewed from a log was the vat. Bark was whittled and pounded by hand, and this was one of the evening and rainy day jobs in the cabin. In early times buckskin and bearskin clothes were worn, but they went out of general use as soon as other materials were procurable. The moccasin was worn very early, but shoes took its place later. The shoes were made at home or in the neighborhood. The shoemaker often went from house to house working a week or so at each, the length of time depending upon the size of the family.
Churns - Within the region embraced in West Virginia the churn was in more nearly universal use in early times than it is now. Few towns were then so large that most of the people could not keeps cows which were driven to pasture in the morning and brought home at sunset. In the country, cows were everywhere; all the people had them, whether they owned pasture land or not. There was plenty of unfenced land, and cows were at liberty to roam at will. Fence laws, such as now declare an imaginary line to be a fence, did not then exist to prescribe and describe the ranges where family cows might roam. Consequently, cows, milk, and churns were abundant everywhere. The churn was the old kind with the dash. Its operation fell to the lot of children and old, decrepit men. Churning as a piece of work was despised by most children, for it seemed to them toil without recompense. Until a few years ago the churn, like all other cooperage, was handmade. It was
"Big at the bottom and little at the top; Set it by the fire and the hoops won't drop."
The frontier song expressed a mechanical fact. The churn decreased in size from bottom to the lid, and the hoops never fell off when the staves shrank in the heat of the cabin. Barrels, kegs, and tubs when left empty near the fire, lost their hoops and fell to pieces. The advantage which the churn's shape gave it was well understood. The article was of ash, basswood, yellow poplar, or red cedar. The days of the old dash churns are not yet over, but they are gradually giving way before the cream separator.
The Cider Press - Apple trees followed cabins from the counties of the Eastern Panhandle across the state to the Ohio river. Records of orchards were not often made, and there is no certain information on the number or quality of the trees. Accidental or casual mention of an orchard here and there is all the knowledge now obtainable of apples in the first decades of the state. Doubtless a patient search through the early wills, deeds, and other court records in Hardy, Grant, Harnpshire Mineral, Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties would reveal many orchards prior to the Revolutionary war, and possibly some as early as the French and Indian war. The country west of the mountains was colonized later and orchards were planted in the years following. One is known to have been in bearing in Monongalia county prior to 1784 and another was growing on the site of Beverly, Randolph county, ten years earlier. The first fruit was of rather poor varieties, but grafting with better stocks brought improvement. From all accounts, the first orchards were prolific, in that respect resembling the wild crabapple, which never misses a full crop. A. hardy and fairly good variety, called "cunny-kajig," and said to have been named from Conococheague creek near Hagerstown, Maryland, was planted in many early orchards. There was no market for apples, and after using all they could, and burying plenty under the ground for winter use, the farmers made cider of the rest, and most families had it till late in winter.
Mills for grinding and pressing apples were not in existence. Homemade appliances answered. A trough with a capacity of four or five barrels was hewed from a log. In this the apples were pounded with wooden pestles until reduced to pomace, and the mass was transferred to an enormous cider press, the like of which would be hard to find in West Virginia now. It consisted of a log foundation, over which a floor ten feet square of heavy planks was laid, the planks fitted tightly together to prevent cider from running through the cracks. A deep groove forming a circle eight or nine feet in diameter was cut in the floor. An opening at one point in the groove allowed the cider to flow into a barrel set to catch it. The log platform and the floor were always built at the base of a large tree. A hole a foot wide and two feet long was cut entirely through the tree five or six feet from the ground. One end of a log, twenty-five or thirty feet long, was inserted in the hole. The log was the lever which was destined to exert enormous pressure in squeezing the cider from the pomace. A rope about three inches in diameter was twisted of clean straw, and was coiled on the floor, just inside the groove. Other coils to the number of four or five were placed one on another, forming a receptacle for the pomace. This straw receptacle with its four or five barrels of mashed apples, was called a "cheese." When the cheese was complete, boards were laid on top of it, and the heavy lever was slowly lowered on the mass. Care was necessary, for if the lever fell on it heavily, the impact was liable to burst the cheese and scatter the pomace to the four winds.
The pressure of the lever forced a torrent of cider through the coils of straw rope, into the groove, and down its course to the barrel. Half of the cider in the cheese when the lever descended was in the barrel fifteen minutes later, but the other half came away slowly. At the end of twenty-four hours a little was still oozing through the straw. One barrel would not hold the cider from four or five barrels of pomace, and a man with a bucket dipped out and poured in other vessels until danger of overflow was passed. The last few gallons of cider from such a press was considered best. It possessed a rich flavor, and had a touch of mild fermentation which pleased the taste. The experienced farmers who knew good cider when they drank it, generally corked the last run in jugs which they stored in the cellar for individual use; but the general supply was barreled for market or was used for making apple butter.
Laundry Appliances - Some of the farms of West Virginia were a hundred and fifty years old before a steam laundry came within reach of them; and less than half a century ago practically all the washing of clothes was done with appliances only a little more advanced than those employed by Nausicaa, the washerwoman whose praises Homer sang nine hundred years before the death of Caesar. The wash tub, the wash board, and the battle, were the tools which, aided by soap and assisted by naked hands, washed the clothing. The battle was a paddle for beating the clothes, and it has gone out of use in this country, but the tub and the board remain in spite of all inventions of labor-saving appliances.
The washtub has been a domestic necessity, and also a symbol of poorly paid labor, and something of humiliation, since very early times. No poet has ever thrown a halo of romance round it. as has been done with the hoe, plow, sickle, and flail. The washtub has never appealed to any bard's fancy, has never inspired the orator, never furnished texts for the statesman. Even when Homer praised the washerwoman, he was careful to leave the washtub out. Yet this despised racker of bone and muscle, and crusher of human spirits, has been ever present in the humble hut and the pretentious mansion in West Virginia, and until recent years the washtub which whited the rich man's linen was not a whit better than that which scoured the workman's wamus. The early tubs were brandy barrels sawed in two.
Washboards have not been always present, for in a good many instances instead of rubbing the fabric on a corrugated board, it was rubbed between the two fists. The corrugated boards were once slowly gouged out by hand, for they were not carried in the market. The want of such a tool was made good by the vigorous use of the battle. Well soaped clothes were laid on a rock or plank and were persistently belabored until they not only gave up most of their impurities but parted with such buttons as graced them at the commencement of the lambasting.
Dishes - Families in moderate circumstances moving from the east into the western wilderness brought some dishes with them, most of which were pewter. After they reached their new homes they made others of wood, gourds, and squash shells. Ash was a choice material for deep. narrow bowls only, and knots were preferred because less liable to crack in seasoning or to break in accidental falls. When wide, shallow vessels were made, other woods were better, and the choice generally fell on cucumber, yellow poplar, or basswood. They were soft to cut, and not liable to check. It may be inferred from the account which Joseph Doddridge gives of this work in his book, that the lathe was in use in the Northern Panhandle soon after the Revolution, although the writer said that he did not know the process of hollowing certain bowls which he had seen. The lathe was not common in the region until long after that period, and bowls, trays, and dishes were carved by hand. and the workmanship was sometimes rather crude. It should be said in justice to the people who made the ware that it was meant for use and not for show, and it served its purpose.
The pewter plates gradually disappeared, and china or ironstone ware took their place. Prejudice and custom retained the pewter a good while after it should have gone. Complaint was made that the china plates were too hard and smooth. The points of fork tines would not sink into china as in pewter, and meat in process of cutting was harder to hold on china than on a plate of the soft metal. The art of eating on china plate was finally acquired, and pewter departed forever from the dining tables of West Virginia.
Splitting Tools - Enormous quantities of timber were split during the first hundred years of Western Virginia development, some of it for shingles, some for clapboards, for puncheons, posts, house and barn timbers, and fuel, but for the largest part was mauled into fence rails The West Virginia Conservation Commission in 1008 estimated that more than four and a quarter billion feet of timber had gone into fence rails. That was enough to build an eight-rail fence twice around the world. Double that quantity, according to the commission's report, was cut for fuel during the same time (120 years). What tools were used in splitting that almost unthinkable number of rails, and the large logs that were cut for fuel?
Two simple wooden tools did practically all of it, the maul and the glut. The former was of black gum if it could be had, because it will stand more beating than any other West Virginia wood. If gum was not at hand, a chestnut oak knot was hewed in shape and a handle was inserted; or a white oak sappling, eight or ten inches in diameter, was made into a maul, the head and handle all one piece. Nearly every farmer had one iron wedge. This was driven in the railcut to open a small crack for the entrance of the wooden gluts which could not otherwise be driven. From this circumstance, the term "entering wedge" has come into use. In the process of splitting very large timber into rails, an extra large maul was sometimes employed to drive wedges or gluts which the ordinary maul could not start. This was called a "death maul."
The gluts were of dogwood when it was handy, otherwise beech, maple, ironwood and oak answered very well. The mate of the "death maul" was the "king glut," an extra large one, two or three feet long, and four or five inches in diameter. It was needed for very large logs. An expert railmaker could pound enough first class white oak into rails in one day to beworth three hundred dollars at present prices of lumber.
The Grist Mill - The grinding of grain by waterpower was not usual in the earliest years west of the Alleghany mountains. The grist mill which did work of that kind came later than the hominy block and the grater. A little capital was required to build and equip such a mill, even of the simplest kind and smallest size. The stones which did the crushing of the grain were not shaped by novices, but their making required the hand of a man who knew that business. A coarse grained, very hard rock was needed, and a pair of stones was necessary, the upper and the nether. The coarse formation known to geologists as the Pottsville conglomerate was so well suited for millstones that one of its names still is "millstone grit." This formation extends north and south along the mountain ranges in the eastern part of the state, and the people within reach of it generally made their millstones of the material. Many parts of the state were too far away from that supply, and they used something else. A set or pair of old fashioned millstones weighed from 600 to i,ooo pounds. The two were of about the same weight. The upper turned upon the fixed one, and the grain between them was crushed.
The miller regulated the coarseness and fineness of the meal or flour by raising or lowering the upper stone. All customers did not like meal of the same fineness, and the accommodating miller learned what pleased each, and sought to give satisfaction. The mills were generally simple and primitive in the extreme, and often were scarcely fifteen feet square. They were almost destitute of machinery, the principal items, aside from the millstones, being a barrel or box for the miller's share of the grain, a measure with which to determine how much there was, and what was his portion of it; and a meal chest.
The laws of Virginia made ample provision for the regulation of mills. The amount of toll which might be lawfully extracted from a patron's grist was nicely regulated, and appropriate penalties were provided for the miller who took too much. The statutes were plain enough, and no one questioned their justness; but there was a lame place in the law's machinery. No adequate provision was made, or at least none was enforced in the western parts of Virginia, for inspecting the weights and measures which the miller used. There was sometimes a county officer who inspected measures brought into the county, but not those made in the county. The "bushel measure," was generally a half bushel capacity, as nearly as the miller could guess its size. Twice full made a bushel, and all of his customers understood it; but did any of them know, or did the miller know how much the measure really held? It was the handiwork of some neighborhood cooper, and he made it, as he supposed, the proper size to hold a half bushel. If it fell short or went beyond that measure, no one was ever the wiser. The millers' honesty was proverbial, and few of their customers ever gave a thought to the desirability of having some impartial and competent inspector pass on the size of the measure the miller was using.
The toll dish was in the same class. The bushel vessel measured the customer's grist, and the toll dish measured the miller's part of it; for the custom was to take a certain part of the grain as pay for grinding the other part - usually one-eighth or one-tenth. The toll dish seldom or never passed beneath the eye of an inspector. If it was too large, either by accident or design, the miller went on year after year, overpaying himself without any of his customers being the wiser. The old-time arithmetics which the schoolmasters of that day taught in their schools (or pretended to) contained a high ratio of problems for pupils to work, in which the chief factors were a dishonest miller, a toll dish too large, and ill-gotten gain. That perpetual reminder should have suggested to the people the desirablity of having millers' measures inspected, but it never seemed to work that way.
Millers were exempt from jury duty and militia service, under Virginia law. The popular opinion was that they were forbidden to act as jurors because constantly liable to indictment for dishonest practices, and were not, for that reason, fit persons to sit in judgment on others. That was not the basis of their exemption from jury service. They were not required to serve because they were needed at their mills to grind the people's grain. They were exempt from militia duty for the same reason.
Some of the early mills ground thirty or forty bushels of grain a day, others only four or five. The mill that ground corn did not necessarily grind wheat. Additional apparatus was required for the latter. A silk cloth separated the flour from the bran, but with corn, no such separation was required.
In early pioneer times grain was generally carried to mill on horses. The boy rode on top of his grist, and waited at the mill until it was ground, and rode the meal sack home. The family that had no horse, and there were many such, carried the grain to the mill on their backs.
It was not unusual for a man to carry fifty or sixty pounds of corn several miles to mill, and carry the meal home.
The mill was often the social center of the neighborhood, or rather the news center. The people all visited that place, and each man told what news he knew and listened to others tell theirs. By that method the people were kept posted on whatever happened in the country. Newspapers were few and of small circulation on the frontiers, and the people depended for information upon word of mouth. The weekly or fortnightly visits to the mill, and the yearly attendance at court, and the occasional gathering at the militia musters, were the best opportunities to learn what was going on.
The Doctor - In early years on the Western Virginia frontiers, there were few physicians and surgeons who had studied their profession in schools. Medical colleges were few then, and it was a difficult matter to procure an education. Those who were able to meet the expense and overcome the obstacles, and prepare themselves for practice, could do better from a financial standpoint than to take up their abode on a thinly settled border, where the people were too poor to pay what a doctor had a right to expect for his services. There was now and then a physician who was actuated by the same motives that send the missionary into foreign lands on a labor of love and duty; but not many such cases are recorded in early medical history in Western Virginia, and the doctors who were educated for their calling were scarce. Joseph Doddridge, who knew early conditions so well, and who wrote so entertainingly of the times of his boyhood on the frontiers, said he lost both of his parents for the want of a doctor. The army that marched to Point Pleasant in 1774, numbering 1,400 men, had only one surgeon, and he was shot and disabled early in the battle. The large number of wounded had no medical attention except such as their more fortunate companions could give. A number died who could have been saved by a little attention from a surgeon.
There were instances now and then of a doctor in the thinly-settled regions who gave his services to the people for a poor living, when he might have enjoyed prosperity with half the hardships, had he gone to the eastern towns to practice his profession. But the usual frontier doctor was not a college man. He may have had training under some other physician for a short time; for it was not unusual for a young man wishing to enter the profession, to "read medicine" with some older doctor. The reading which he did was not extensive. Two or three books usually comprised the course, and the time required did not cover many weeks. It was simply no education at all, from the scientific standpoint. There was generally no surgery in the course. Often the young man who went out to practice what he was pleased to call his profession, did not know the names and functions of ten muscles or twenty bones in the human body. He was superficially acquainted with a few herbs, and knew where to find them in the woods, and how to pound them in a mortar and make extracts and decoctions. He had his ideas of the quantity required for a dose for this complaint and that; and he might be acquainted with the effect of a drug which had mineral in it; but any knowledge of chemistry was impossible. The science of poultice making and applying was mastered to the last analysis, and along that line his materia medica were complete. He had no surgical instruments, or very few. Had a kit been placed in his hands, he could not have named one in ten, or even given an intelligent guess at its use. He often had a "cup" and lancet for drawing blood, and he drew it without stint or hindrance. That was one piece of surgery which was easy to learn.
In spite of all handicaps - lack of education, lack of appliances, lack of medicines - there were frontier doctors who were noble men and who did noble work. Occasionally one of them would develop powers and discover resources of his own. Strong common sense, an ability to employ to the utmost all the resources within his reach, a quick perception and a clear understanding, and a sympathy which brought him in constant touch with the patient, sometimes produced a doctor, in spite of disadvantages. Many of the frontier and back-country physicians were successful. They cured with remedies which they had tried out and found efficient. Nearly everyone of the successful practitioners had some medicine which he had found out for himself and which he held more or less a secret. It was not in any of the books. The old doctor sometimes taught it to a disciple and thus handed it down.
The country doctor usually had a pretty hard life, if he had any practice. He went day and night, and in all kinds of weather. When roads were good, the labor was lessened. In early days the roads were often as bad as they could be; mere paths, up mountains and down, among rocks, over logs, in mire, across bridgeless streams, in pitchy darkness, pouring rain, or driving snow. The sick could not wait for the elements to grow favorable or for storms to howl themselves away. The doctor had to face whatever came, and to hurry on. There are unwritten histories of frontier physicians, tales untold, sacrifice and heroism surpassing the soldier's in the campaign or on the field of battle. The everlasting wilderness was the witness of much of it, and none knew all that was done. It was not for gain, but for humanity. A life of perhaps fifty years was spent in the work by a single doctor whose iron constitution and unyielding courage carried him through hardships that would have worn out other men long before.
There was a strange admixture of knowledge and superstition in the folklore remedies of early times in Western Virginia. The scarcity of doctors compelled the people to be their own physicians, and nearly everybody had a little hoard of cures and preventives, nearly all of which were worthless and some were positively harmful. The barks, buds, roots, flowers, and leaves of numerous trees were held to possess medicinal virtues; and in many instances the more nauseous to the taste, the greater the healing property was supposed to be. To scrape a bark upward in removing it from a tree gave it efficiency for one disease, to scrape it downward made it a different kind of medicine. To pull certain herbs up by the roots preserved and enhanced some supposed quality; to dig them out, wrought some mysterious but profound change in their nature.
Rheumatism and consumption were the prevailing diseases. The people knew there was no cure for the latter, and their pharmacopoeias contained no remedies for the dreadful malady. The victim hoped for a time, and died. No precautions were taken against the spread of the plague, for it was supposed not to be contagious; and it was common, considering the out-of-door life the people led. Rheumatism was different. People seldom died of its effects, and the storehouses of nature were ransacked for remedies, and they were discovered by scores and applied without stint. When the sufferer imagined he had found relief, it answered the same purpose as if he had. Poulticing and hot applications, the latter internal as well as external, were the most sensible of the attempted cures. Poor shoes and wet feet were probably the cause or contributing cause of much of the rheumatism and tuberculosis on the frontiers.
There were probably more supposed remedies for snake bites than for any other one thing that afflicted the people of that time. Snakes were numerous, and they frequently struck. Almost every family had a long list of alleged cures, most of which were herbs to be made into poultices and applied to the bite, but sometimes the poultice was placed elsewhere than on the wound, in the belief that it would draw the poison away from the point where the snake's fangs had deposited it. It was rather unusual for a person to succumb to the bite of a snake.
Dyspepsia or indigestion was prevalent, due to the poor quality of food, its coarseness, and the bad cooking. The belief that the early settlers were exceptionally healthy is a superstition. All were not healthy or sickly alike at that time any more than at present; but there is abundant evidence that many people were dyspeptic.
Measles, whooping cough, smallpox, erysipelas, scarlet fever, and other contagious, epidemic, or sporadic diseases made the rounds of the settlements in early times as persistently as might be expected from the lack of precautions and the want of sanitary conditions in most homes where the family lived in crowded quarters and often in the midst of more dirt than they needed.
The common belief that the pioneers who lived in cabins, and who hunted and slept in the woods, waded streams, and traveled mountain trails in sun and storm, were a robust, healthy, long-lived race, is not founded on historical evidence, or based on probability. The people's health as a whole would probably fall a good deal short of the average health of the people of the present time in the same region. There are no exact statistics by which to draw comparisons.
The Tavern - There were no large towns in Western Virginia for many years after the country contained a considerable population. Every county had a court house, and a few houses clustered near it for the accommodation of the clerk, a lawyer or two, perhaps a doctor, a merchant, blacksmith, and a few others, but the courthouse towns always had one or more taverns or inns. The code of Virginia called them "ordinaries," and they were usually quite ordinary. There were taverns at country crossroads and at other points where the travel justified. Many travelers complained of the entertainment, but some were satisfied. Plain food and substantial beds were generally provided, and the charges were regulated by state law, or by county ordinance. In 1788 the tavern rate in Randolph county was fixed by the county court in shillings and pence, which translated into modern currency were as follows:
Maderia wine, per half pint 25 cents
Other wines 20 5/6 cents
West India rum 16 2/3 cents
Other rums 12 1/2 cents
Peach brandy 11 1/9 cents
Good whiskey 11 1/9 cents
Dinner 16 2/3 cents
Breakfast 12 1/2 cents
Supper 12 1/2 cents
Lodging, in clean sheets each night 8 1/3 cents
Corn and oats, per gallon 11 1/9 cents
Horse at Hay, every 12 hours 11 1/9 cents
Pasture, every 24 hours 8 1/3 cents
The Virginia pound was $3.33 1/3; the shilling 16 2/3 cents; the penny 1 7/8 cents. The coins in circulation were mostly Spanish or Mexican. In 1795 the Randolph court ordered that whiskey sell at 8 1/3 cents a pint and cider at 8 1/3 cents a quart. In 1829 the court again fixed the tavern rates, and a tendency to advance is observable:
Lodging per night with clean sheets 6 1/4 cents
Dieting per meal 25 cents
French brandy, per half pint 25 cents
Whiskey, peach brandy, or apple brandy, per half pint 10 cents
Cider-wine, per quart 25 cents
Cider-oil, per quart 12 1/2 cents
Cider, per quart 6 1/4 cents
Horse at hay, 24 hours 25 cents
Oats or corn, per gallon 10 cents
In 1792 a court order was entered that "Thomas Summerfield be permitted to sell liquors without license on the road which leads from Tygart's valley to the North Fork for the benefit of travelers on such a long and lonesome road." That "long and lonesome road" was the old Iroquois Indian war path, called the Seneca trail, leading across the Alleghany mountains. It is described elsewhere in this book.
The instances of tavern prices and customs here given are not presented because they possess any particular historical importance, but as examples of the custom of the times. The tavern business was pretty much the same all over the state. The leading item in all tavern business of that time in Western Virginia was whiskey. Taverns were simply saloons with arrangements to lodge and board customers. A public house without its bar or liquor closet probably did not exist in the whole region. Drunkenness, or at least drinking, was so common that it excited no comment except from travelers from other regions. Such occasionally passed through the country, on business or pleasure, and a number of diaries written by them have been preserved. The perusal of these records must inpress upon the reader the debauchery and drunkenness that existed a century or more ago about public gathering places in Western Virginia. No one should grieve for what in that particular has passed away, for the present is an improvement upon the past.
A great deal depends upon the viewpoint of the observer, and the frame of mind in which he happens to be when impressions are made upon him. It is well known that one man will draw conclusions very different from another's, though similar facts might be within reach of both. One sees the unfavorable only, and the other the favorable. The picture of certain parts of Western Virginia by Felix Renick, who traveled to the Ohio river in 1798, is not favorable, yet he perhaps did not exaggerate, but simply picked from his experiences that which was calculated to leave the least favorable impression. Following is an extract from a letter by him:
"The first night after leaving the settlement at Clarksburg, we camped in the woods: the next morning while our horses were grazing we drew out our wallets and saddle bags for a snack, that we intended should pass for our breakfast, and set out. We had not traveled far before we unexpectedly came to a new improvement. A man had gone there in the spring, cleared a small field and raised a patch of corn, staying in a camp during the summer to watch it to prevent its being destroyed by the wild animals. He had, a few days before we came along, called on some of his near neighbors on the Ohio, not much more perhaps than thirty miles off, who had kindly come forth and assisted him in putting up a cabin of pretty ample size, into which he had moved bag and baggage. He had also fixed up a rack and trough, and exposed a clapboard to view, with some black marks on it, made with a coal, indicating that he was ready and willing to accommodate those who pleased to favor him with a call. Seeing those things, and although we did not in reality need anything in his way, Mr. Harness insisted on our giving him a call, observing that any man who would settle down in such a wilderness to accommodate travelers ought to be encouraged. We accordingly rode up and called for breakfast, horse feed, etc.
"Then let me say that our host had just put the ball in motion and was destitute of any helpmate whatever (except a dog or two) and had of course to officiate ill all the various departments appertaining to a hotel, from the landlord down to the shoeblack on the one side, and from the landlady down to the dish wash on the other. The first department in which he had to officiate was that of the hostler, next that of barkeeper, as it was then customary, whether called for or not, to set out a half pint of something to drink. The next, which he fell at with much alacrity, was that of the cook, by commencing with rolled-up sleeves and unwashed hands and arms, that looked about as black and dirty as the bear's paws which lay at the cabin door, part of whose flesh was the most considerable item in our breakfast fare.
"The first operation was the mixing up of some pounded corn meal dough in a little black, dirty trough, to which the cleaner, and perhaps as he appeared to think him, the better half of himself, his dog, had free access before he was fairly done with it, and that, I presume, was the only kind of cleaning it ever got. While the dodgers were baking, the bear meat was frying, and what he called coffee was also making, which was composed of some article which grew some hundred or one thousand miles north of where the coffee tree ever did grow. You now have the bill of fare that we sat down to, and the manner in which it was prepared; but you must guess how much of it we ate, and how long we were at it. As soon as we were done, we called for our bill, and here follow the items: Breakfast, fifty cents each, horses, twenty-five each, half pint of whiskey, fifty cents. Mr. Harness, who had prevailed on us to stop, often heard of the wilderness hotel, and whenever mentioned, he always had some term of reproach ready to apply to the host and the dirty breakfast, though we often afterwards met with fare somewhat similar in all respects."
A letter written about the same time as the above by another traveler gives a more cheerful picture of the country and people in the same region. The traveler passed though Monongalia county, a portion of which is now included in Preston, and part of the scene is laid in adjacent parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Says the letter:
"The next day we dined with Mr. M. McCartin still higher up in the mountains. There are many settlements in this vicinity. We were entertained in a beautiful, cool, roomy house, surrounded by oat fields and rich meadows, where the sound of the bells told that cattle were pasturing. We dined from delicate china, good forks, spoons, and other utensils. Our hostess, a bright, handsome, healthy woman, waited upon us. After dinner a charming feminine guest arrived on horseback, a young girl from the neighboring farm, of perhaps fifteen years of age, with such bashful eyes and such rosy cheeks, so lovely and attractive in manner that even Coopley, our good mathematician, could not restrain his admiration.
"This is the back woods of America, which the Philadelphian is pleased to describe as a rough wilderness—while in many parts of Europe, in Westphalia, in the whole of Hungary and Poland, no where is there a cottage to be found, which, taking all things together in consideration of the inhabitants, can be compared with the one of which I have just written. ...
"We breakfasted with Tim Friend, a hunter who lived six miles further on. If ever Adam existed he must have looked as this Tim Friend. I never saw such an illustration of perfect manhood. Large, strong, and brawny; every limb in magnificent proportion, energy in every movement and strength in every muscle, his appearance was the expression of manly independence, contentment, and intelligence. His conversation satisfied the expectation which it awakened. With gray head, sixty years old, forty of which he had lived in the mountains, and of an observing mind, he could not find it difficult to agreeably entertain people who wished for information. He was a hunter by profession. We had choice venison for breakfast, and there were around the house and near by a great number of deers, bears, and panthers. I cannot abstain from believing that the manly effort which must be put forth in the hunt, the boldness which it requires, the keen observation which it encourages, the dexterity and activity which are necessary to its success, act together more forcibly for the development of the physical and mental strength than any other occupation.
. . . "We dined at Dunkard bottom, crossed Cheat river in the afternoon, reached the Monongahela valley, spent the night in a very comfortable block [log] house with Mr. Zinn, and arrived the next day at Morgantown. . . From Morgantown we went to the mouth of George's creek, Fayette county, Pennsylvania. As it was afternoon when we reached here, we were overtaken by night and compelled to spend the night in a small block house with Mr. McFarlain. We found Mr. McFarlain a respectable, intelligent farmer, surrounded as usual by a large and happy family.
"Directly after our arrival the table was set, around which the entire family assembled. This appears to be the usual custom in the United States with all people who are in some measure in good circumstances. One of the women, usually the prettiest, has the honor of presiding at the table. There were good table appointments, fine china, and the simple feast was served with the same ceremony as in the most fashionable society of Philadelphia. Never, I believe, was there in any place more equality than in this. Strangers who come at this time of day at once enter the family circle. This was the case with us. Mr. McFarlain told us more about his farm and the misfortunes with which he struggled when he first cultivated the place upon which he now lives. He has lived here thirty years, a circumstance which is here very unusual, because the adventure-loving nature, together with the wish to better their condition, and the opportunity, has led many people to wander from place to place.
"'But,' said Mr. McFarlain when we made this observation, 'I have always believed there was truth in the saying that a rolling stone gathers no moss. With labor and industry I have at last succeeded, and can still work as well as my sons.'
"'Oh,' said his wife, a jolly woman, 'he does not do much. The most he does is to go around and look at the work."
"'Let him, let him,' interrupted the daughter, an energetic, pretty girl of perhaps seventeen years, who was serving the coffee. 'He worked hard when he was young. And no girl of finer education could have said it with more charming naivete or with the appearance of more unaffected love.
"After the evening meal the eldest son showed us to our bedroom. 'Shall I close the window?' said he. 'I usually sleep here and always leave it open; it does not harm me, and Dr. Franklin advises it.'
"The next morning when we came down we found the old farmer sitting on the porch reading a paper. Upon the table lay Morse's Geography, The Beauty of the Stars, The Vicar of Wakefield, and other good books. I have entered into particulars in my description of this family because we were then only five miles from the home of Gallatin, where the people are too often represented as rough, uncultured, good-for-nothings. It is not necessary to mention that all families there are not as this, yet it is something to find a family such as this, living on this side of the mountains, 300 miles from the sea coast."
West Virginia History Center