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The Myth of Living in Simpler Times: Life in a Soddy - Part Three

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Continued from Part Two

Caring for the rest of the livestock – Milk the cows, put them to pasture, bring them in at night. Feed the pigs, they’ll do the rest. Horses, similar to cows, except you don’t usually try to milk them! All told, and hour or two out of your day.

Laundry – also a whole day chore, depending on the size of the family. It started with a fire built under a large pot in the yard, and after several trips to gather water (from the well if you are lucky, from a nearby creek of you are not), you get that water hot and add soap flakes grated off a bar of soap you made yourself. Then in went all the white clothes – sheets, bath sheets, undergarments – to be stirred, scrubbed, rinsed, and hung to dry. The fire was allowed to die out, and the colored clothing went through the process next. Then the dry clothes were then ironed, everything, even the sheets. A smart homesteader had two irons, so that one could be in the fire or on the stove at all time getting hot with the other was in use. The only saving grace of these times was that most people had a limited supply of clothing; 2- 3 outfits per person, plus underwear.

These are the time consuming, weekly chores. Add in a weekly bath for everyone, usually Saturday nights, and that could take a few hours as well.

Then there were the seasonal chores – planting the garden in the spring, making soap during the summer, gathering plants and herbs for medicinal use and to make things smell and taste good. Late summer brought your harvest from both the garden and the field; a food where dried or canned, and harvesting the field was a full family event. Many areas had a number of farmers and their families coordinating efforts during these times, traveling from farm to farm to help harvest each other’s crops. The women not making the food for everyone also helped out in the fields, as did the older children. The only payment expected was a decent meal at each farm and the expectation you’d go help harvest at their farm.

Winter was the time for repairing farm implements and making new ones, new clothing was made, new stockings, scarves, hats and mitts knitted, and the fancier work of embroidery was often indulged in. A lot of schooling happened during the winter, either at home or at the local school. Schools in farming communities had two sessions – winter and late spring, early summer when the crops had been planted and there was nothing to do but wait.

The sheer amount of chores I’ve described above is not only an example of the everyday work faced by these homesteaders, but an example of easy, prosperous times. The bad times included drought, grasshoppers who ate the crops, wildfires, predators who killed your livestock, injuries and illnesses that took a longer recovery time than those under modern medications, child birth and death, problems with ranchers and Indians and other settlers. The need, in many cases, for a husband to leave to go elsewhere to work after the planting season, so the family had enough money to get by.

Life in a soddy was a different time, but by far from a simpler time. But this was not the only way of life for a family coming to Colorado. Next time, I will talk about life in town during the late 1800s.

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