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What it Wasn't Like

Imagine a world without electricity, telegraph, cameras, telephones, TVs, radios, video games, computers, the Internet, email, iPods, iPads, VCRs, DVDs, or cell phones? There was no piped-in water or gas. You couldn't take a shower. Depending on how built-up the area was there may or may not have been a post-office. Grocery stores and banks weren't on every street corner. You couldn't call 311 if you had a problem. There were no cars or buses. You couldn't hail a taxi or request a car service to come get you, and there were no subways. Bathrooms inside the home were non-existent. There was no air-conditioning on hot summer days. There were no emergency rooms to go to if you got sick or if you hurt yourself. There were no pharmacies to get your non-existent meds.

What it Was Like

Every day was pretty much the same as the day before.
You got up with the sun; you went to bed shortly after it got dark (or, if you were two adults, you engaged in the "wild thing" and made babies), and each day was filled with incessant labor.

The husband would go out and hunt or work the land; the wife would tend to the home chores of cooking, cleaning and making clothes.
Depending on your supplies, breakfast might consist of corn bread, stew, boiled eggs; dinner of boiled mutton.1 If supplies could be sent from Philadelphia then you were set; if not, then you had to fend for yourself. Forget all the exotic spices we have today. The usual fare was salt and pepper. You may have had flour, sugar, cornmeal, coffee, dried beans, rice, bacon, and salt pork, and if you didn't, then you did without.

Transportation was via a horse and wagon, or if you couldn't afford a horse then your wagon was pulled by a mule or oxen.
You were lucky if you had a well and pump, otherwise you had to walk to the creek or river for your water.
If nature called you had to go outside to an outhouse (this writer remembers his parents visiting a couple that still had an outhouse). Illumination was by candles, fireplace, or a wick oil-burning lamp.
Prices may have been less back then, but when today's inflation is taken into consideratio even the basic necessities were expensive back then. What cost $0.35 in 1800 would cost $6.27 today. What cost $100.00 in 1774 would cost you $2,790.00 today.2

Pioneer men got up with the sun and worked before breakfast,3 which was followed by more work, then lunch, then more work, then dinner, then either more work or an evening sitting in front of a fireplace with the family. Each and every day (except Sunday) was like this.
Pioneer women cared for their children. They cooked, cleaned, made candles and soap, did laundry, and helped their husbands in the fields.
Pioneer children were put to work as soon as they were able to do so. Picnics, weekend socials, and barn raisings were the principle activities of entertainment. Children played games such as hoops and sticks, hide the thimble, hide-n-seek, and spelling bees.

Winters were exceptionally bad for pioneers. Chores still had to be done. Hunting was scarce as were the availability of crops. Water for cooking was often frozen.4

Life expectancy was variable in pioneer days. It's not necessarilly true that they lived shorter lives. The factors considered when calculating life expectancy are merely conventional. For instance, it's considered by many that abortion should be a consideration when calculating present day life expectancy as a whole (it's not).* If it were, life expectancy wouldn't be set at its current 74 years of age, but only 52. For every "fact" that you can find to show pioneers had shorter lives, I can show you examples of someone living to a ripe old age. There are many instances where someone lived to their seventies, eighties or nineties during the pioneer days. Having said that, it's understandable that living conditions affect one's life expectancy. Some pioneers may have died younger back then, but they had to be more robust up to the end or they couldn't have endured such harsh living conditions.

1. Pioneer Foods.
2. Measuring Worth.
3. Pioneer Life.
4. How Did They Survive?

* Note here: This isn't meant to instigate a discussion about the morality of abortion, or to give the reader an opportunity to inject a strawman argument about how much better we have it now, but just to show how conventional (arbitrary) the factors are when calculating life expectancy.

(c) July 4, 2011: (All rights reserved)