After all, it’s one thing to read and romanticize pioneer life, but it’s another thing to really live the realities that many people have had to experience.
So I packed up the kids and headed to Pioneer Farm out in Eatonville, Washington. While I was stuck on Meridian (pretty much the worst street in the entire state of Washington), I had plenty of time to contemplate how the same journey by covered wagon would’ve likely taken at least 2 or 3 days. (Particularly if there was a log jam of other covered wagons stuck at traffic lights.)
When we got there, the place was eerily empty. So seriously guys, if you’re local and looking for a non-crowded place to visit on a Saturday with the kids, head to Pioneer Farm.
Our tour guide was dressed in full pioneer garb including boots, apron, and bonnet. She explained to us what life was really like for the first homesteaders. Most of their lives consisted of growing, cooking, and preserving food. Life was hard – for instance, did you know that the childhood mortality rate was about 50%? The nearest doctors were usually a three days’ journey away and many of their “medicines” were laced with such fun stuff as cocaine.
Talk about a hard life, imagine about 5-6 people living in a cabin this big:
Honestly, I think that’d be enough to drive me stir crazy.
The kids back then had lots of chores to do. But first, of course, they had to dress up in pioneer clothes to do them in. That goes for both boys….
They had to churn butter…
and also knead the dough into essentials, like doughnuts (of course).
But of course, little children would be expected to walk 5 miles in the snow uphill both ways to attend school, too.
Meanwhile, Ma would set the laundry out to dry. This would be a precarious chore in the Northwest given our frequently rainy weather. I think the long underwear is also overdue for mending.
Of course, pioneers would have had animals to care for too. The cow would have to be milked every morning.
If there was time, pioneer children had to find stuff to amuse themselves with such as jumping in hay.
And riding a horse.
In all seriousness, we talk about self reliance more than I think we actually consider what it really means. For instance, you might proudly say, “I made this pie all from scratch!” But did you, really? Is making a pie from butter, flour, and apples truly baking it from scratch? Did you grow the wheat and grind it? Did you harvest and store those apples? Did you grate cinnamon sticks into powder?
That’s not to say our efforts to learn to do things for ourselves are in vain. There is value in learning how to can your own food, grow a garden, or make your own soap. But I don’t think all conveniences are bad, either. (Need I remind you that if you’re reading this post you have a phone or computer or such device and some sort of internet connection.) I also don’t think it’s bad to rely on others – such as relying on local farms for fresh produce or butcher for good quality meat. Taking the time to learn to do some things for yourself will instill a sense of pride that you are capable of doing more than you once thought as well as give you a new-found sense of appreciation for the everyday conveniences you enjoy. (If I could sum up this entire series in a sentence, that’d be it!)
I also think there is this feeling that you need to go whole-hog with this modern-day homesteading thing. That you’re not actually “doing it right” unless you move to the country, off the grid, only eat what you grow, and shoot your own bear (or whatever). I’d like to encourage you today that anyone can draw inspiration from this movement even by starting small. Maybe you can grow some food in containers on your porch or can a batch of tomatoes from your CSA. Maybe you learn to fix it yourself versus paying someone else, or you brainstorm ways to get the item you need for free instead of going to the store and buying it (or better yet, upcycle using materials you already have at home).
It’s my sincere desire that you found some benefit from this Adventures in Homesteading series and that I’ve encouraged and inspired you to do something you hadn’t considered before. If so, I’d love to hear about it! I’d also love to hear what you thought of this series – was it helpful? Did you look forward to reading the installments? Did you have a favorite?
Thank you for sharing this journey with me, friends. In case you’re wondering, yes, we’ve already started working on the next series. (And ideas for future series are always welcome and appreciated!)
PS Locals, I highly recommend a visit to Pioneer Farm to learn what early pioneer life was really like. There are lots of hands-on activities for the kids. For more information, please visit their website.