An Early History of Cache County…

<<Back Index Next>>

Compiled by M. R. Hovey, Secretary, Logan Chamber of Commerce. January 1, 1923 to January 1, 1925. Also as printed in the Logan Journal, beginning August 4, 1923.

Mendon Utah Logo

Early Social and Domestic Conditions in Cache Valley

When the settlers of Cache Valley arrived at the various sites where it was decided to locate the settlements, the first things, of course, to receive consideration were the building of the houses and the preparation of land for crops. Until the houses were built, those who had tents and covered wagons lived in them while others made dugouts. For the dugouts, were a side hill was available, a hole about ten by twelve, or twelve by fourteen feet, was dug into the side of the hill and saplings or boards placed across the top and covered with grass and then a thick coat of dirt for the roof. Where there was no hillsides, the dugouts were similar to a dirt cellar but had a dirt roof on like those of the log houses. Some of the settlers lived in dugouts for a year or more.

The houses were built of logs and the logs were cut in the canyons or in the river bottoms and were usually pine or cottonwood. The men usually went to the canyons and fields in companies so as to give better protection against the Indians. It was soon demonstrated that the best way to control the Indians was to be well armed and prepared to meet them. The first log houses usually consisted of one room with the ground as the floor. The logs were hewn smooth on one side for the inside and placed one on top of the other to the square, and clay was used to fill up the chinks. The roof consisted of a number of straight saplings being placed close together then a thick covering of dirt. A board about eight or ten inches wide was placed around the eaves to hold the dirt in place and keep it from leaving the roof with rain. A little later shingle roofs took the place of the dirt roofs.

In the beginning of the settlements, President Brigham Young advised the settlers to build their houses close together in the form of forts so as to give better protection against the Indians, practically all the first settlements of the Valley did this for the first year of so until the sites were surveyed and set off into blocks and lots and the settlers were assigned to the lots and moved on them.

The forts consisted of two rows of log houses facing each other with a space or roadway between the two rows. Back of each row of houses was another roadway, and just beyond this was a space for the gardens and just beyond the garden space, was a place for the stack yards or hayricks and corrals. A strong, high pole fence was the outer protection and the stack yards and corrals were placed against it. When the Indians were threatening, picketmen or guards were stationed on each end of the streets outside of the fort so they could give an alarm if necessary.

A public corral was also built near the fort and at night time all the cattle and horses of the settlers were placed in the corral and guarded. The fence for the corral was a high one and built of strong poles placed together. These corrals were good protection and if they had not been provided many more cattle and horses would have been stolen by the Indians. It was a difficult problem for one family to build a corral sufficiently strong to protect their cattle and horses, but by all the settlers cooperating and building a strong public corral, they were much more successful. The same applied in building the fort or the houses close together rather than each family just building for themselves with no regard for the others. Their strength was in their union and if they had not cooperated in this manner they could not have succeeded in colonizing the Valley at that time. The conditions of the time naturally drove the settlers together and forced them to cooperate.

On the inside of the log houses the furnishings were few and simple. An adobe fireplace was built in one end of the house and around this was the whole life of the family and groups of families. It was the center of the home. At first, split logs, hewn smooth on one side with two pegs placed in each end, were used as seats and benches. A little later Esais Edwards of Millville, David Osborn of Hyrum, Canute Peterson of Logan and others mechanics, made chairs with rawhide bottoms and these were quite a luxury for that time. As window glass was expensive, the open spaces for the windows were covered with factory (cloth). After the sawmills were established, rough boards were use for the flooring, This was a great improvement over the ground floors. The side walls were whitewashed. Rugs and carpets were woven from cut rags and colored warp. Some very durable and beautiful rugs and carpets were made.

Many used what was known as the “Mormon Bedstead.” It consisted of two holes being bored into the wall of the house. A strong piece of pole or board was placed in each hole in the wall and supported by posts on the opposite ends and made up the feet and head of the bed. A strong board supported the posts and made one side of the bed, while the wall of the house with the supports made the other. Slats or pieces of wood and rawhide, were the family was fortunate enough to get it, were placed or strung on the framework and made the bottom of the bed. Ticks were filled with straw, hay or cattails and constituted the mattresses.

Some had tables made from rough materials, while others used boxes which answered for tables as well as cupboards. In some cases, two holes were bored into the wall of the house and pegs fastened and boards placed on the pegs and this was used for a table. The only pictures or literature in the home, except church works, were war pictures, almanacs and the old Mountaineer Newspaper, the Deseret News, or the small newspaper called the Northern Light, and later the Logan Leader and then the Utah Journal. The mail came about twice each week if the carriers had good luck. There were few clocks or watches, and most everyone looked to the sun for the time of day.

Most of the settlers had a few sheep. After the shearing in the spring, the women would take the wool and wash and dry it. Groups would get together and help each other pick the wool over. It was then taken to one of the carding mills in the larger settlements and carded. There were several such mills in the Valley and a few looms in each settlement. The wool was then taken and spun on a large wheel and when the spindle was full, the wool yard was then reeled on a big reel two yards around. It took forty threads to make one knot and ten knots to make one skein. It took fifteen knots to make one yard of linsey. From the linsey, cloth, skirts, shirts, waists, and other clothing were made for men, women and children. The men usually wore jean trousers but some were lucky to get buckskin. The buckskin trousers were suitable until they became wet which lengthened them out and when dry the became shorter. One old timer who had not had much experience with buckskin trousers, cut them off at the bottom when they became wet and too long. When they dried he had knee breeches instead of long trousers.

Some flax also was grown and this was cured and spun on the same wheels as the wool. From it they made rough linen towels, shirts and other articles.

When the spinning was done, the yard had to be washed and colored. There were no diamond dyes so to color the yard was quite a problem. The red colors were obtained by taking bran and soaking it until sour. This was strained and mixed with madder root. The yard was placed in this mixture and after it was washed clean, the red color was set with alum. The blue color was obtained with indigo mixed with a certain liquid known principally by the women. Ask them. The yellow color was obtained by boiling in water the blossoms of the rabbit brush and strained. The yard was then placed in the liquid and the yellow color set with alum. The green color was obtained by mixing the yellow with the blue dye. Black was obtained by boiling bark of the alder tree and straining it. The yard was placed in the liquid and the black color was set by blue vitriol or copper. The cotton yard for the wrap had to be colored and it cost $5.00 per pound.

Straw hats were braided for the men and boys, and the women and girls wore sun bonnets, and calico and linsey dresses. There were but few who could spin, so certain ones had to do this work and teach others. Many could not cut out patterns or sew and a few had to do tis work and teach others. It was just another case of fine cooperation among the settlers.

Shoes were scarce and expensive and were remove at the door to save them as much as possible. The following account will verify the statement that shoes were a luxury. One young man in those early days, who later became one of the prominent and successful citizens of the Valley, failed to find a pair of shoes in Logan at any price. After much effort he traded for the fresh hide of a Newfoundland dog. Mr. Weir, a tanner who lived in Logan, tanned the hide after three months work. Mr. Davidson, one of the first shoemakers, was unable to make the shoes from the hide as he had no sole leather, pegs or thread. The young man made a search and found a piece of California saddle machiers, an ox-bow and a ball of shoe thread. After a delay of four months, the shoes were made. They were soft as silk, elastic as rubber and when wet, expansive as buckskin, and the owner was proud of them and they gave him good service.

At first there were no stores nearer than Salt Lake City. Factory cost $1.00 per yard; calico seventy-five cents; and soda thirty-five cents per package. Thread cost thirty-five cents per spool. Soap was made by the leach method. The leach consisted of a large square box which tipped at one end to a point with a small span open similar to a feed hopper. During the winter months the wood ashes form the fire places and stoves were placed in the leach or hopper. In the spring water was poured slowly on the ashes and as it filtered through it was collected at the bottom of the leach. The water was in the form of a strong lye which was then mixed with beef tallow, hog fat and other grease and when cooked and allowed to cool, made a good soft or liquid soap.

There were few stoves and lights were furnished by tallow candles made with moulds, when the settlers were lucky enough to get the tallow. Sometimes the settlers had to make their own wicks and with a little grease had what was called a “bitch light.” A potato with a hole in it was often used for a candle stick holder.

Sugar was very scare and expensive, so molasses made a good substitute. A number of the settlements had molasses mills. Most of the settlers grew small patches of cane from which the molasses was made. As the population increased, William Jennings and William S. Godbe, each opened a small store in Logan and got their supplies form their larger stocks in Salt Lake City. All classes of imported goods sold at high prices. Nails were sixty cents per pound, and sugar the same. Eight by ten-inch glass was sixty cents per light, and al kinds of groceries and hardware, as to prices, were alike in proportions. Indian head sheeting sold for $1.00 per yard. Blue denim was sold for $1.00 to $1.25 per yard. The shingles which were fastened on the Franklin meeting house, were nailed with nails forged on the anvil from cast-off tire irons.

Contrasting the prices and the conditions of the present with those of the past, it is difficult to see how it was possible for the early settlers of the Valley to make ends meet, especially when for years there was no good market for the products of the Valley. During those early days it was no uncommon thing for the farmers to haul their grain to Salt Lake City, a distance of nearly ninety miles, and receive in exchange a limited assortment of goods.

For small groceries, it was necessary for the smaller settlements to drive to Logan. Flour was $5.00 per hundred and the best market for it was in Montana. Nearly everything was home manufacture and not many supplies were purchased. The chief fruit grains and vegetables raised were wheat, corn, potatoes, a few wild currants, serviceberries and pottawatamie plums. The serviceberries were gathered, dried and used in the winter. Orchards of small fruits such as raspberries, currants, gooseberries and a variety. Some of the alkali beds furnished small particles of saleratus on the top of the ground and these were gathered and used in place of soda for making soda biscuits.

Wild hops were gathered and used for making tea and used in yeast. One or more of the elderly women in the settlement would make large batches of yeast and exchange it for flour or molasses, and later sugar. The settlers were usually well provided with beef and bacon. Dried beef, bacon and rings of dried squash were strung across the rafters.

The preparation of the land for the crops and the harvesting were important matters, as this meant bread and they could not live without bread. Their implements were crude and one wonders how such large crops of grain were planted and harvested. Many of the plows were made by the blacksmiths and any old piece of scrap of iron was valued considerably especially if it had the width out of which the smiths could beat a plowshare. Usually a piece of board with an iron point, or four or five pieces of scrap iron were formed into the shape of a mould board and bulled along in the ground.

The harrows were made with an A-shaped frame built of poles with holes bored in it, into which wooden pegs were driven. The pegs or teeth were made of native hardwood such as Maple or Hawthorne. The ground was plowed, harrowed and leveled as much as possible, then the gain was sown by hand and covered with the harrow or a brush drag.

For harvesting, the grain was cut with a cradle. This was a scythe with an exceptionally long sharp blade, with a strong light framework consisting of a number of long teeth or fingers made of Maple or Hawthorne. These extended horizontally with the blade and the frame was fastened to the handle of the cradle. This held the grain in a bundle as it was cut and delivered on the ground with each semicircular stroke. One man cut from one and a half to two acres of grain in a day while some experts could cut four acres in a day. Hyrum Bair of Richmond and a Mr. Jones, were exceptionally good cradlers and they cut from three to four acres of grain in a day.

Chaff PilerAfter the grain was hauled and stacked, a small separator called the “Chaff Piler” and run by a crude horse power arrangement, would follow up and separate the grain from the sheaves. The power was furnished by a team of horses placed on a treading machine. The separator had a small cylinder at the head of the machine where the bundles were pushed in and the grain and chaff would fall below in a pile. At first the workers had to separate the grain from the chaff and straw and rake it; but later a straw carrier was added and this carried the straw away. After the separator or chaff-piler was through threshing, the fanning mill crew followed and cleaned the grain from the chaff and weed seeds. Sometimes it took most of the winter before all this work was done so it was very necessary that the piles of chaff and wheat be carefully protected until the fanning mill crew came.

Andrew and Daney Walton, of Richmond, built the first home separator or threshing machine. The cogs for the cylinder were made from pieces of maple. Some of the first threshing machines brought into the Valley were purchased by Mr. E. R. Miles and Albert Miles of Smithfield. They went to Nebraska and it took about four months to get the machines into the Valley. These with other machines, of course, made the threshing of the grain much easier.

Most of the hay was cut from the river bottoms and the natural meadows in the center of the Valley. At first all the hay was cut with scythes and a strong and fast worker could average about one to one and a-half acres a day.

Yokes of cattle did all the heavy work such as plowing, logging and the heavy hauling on the highways. It was surprising how much work a good yoke of oxen could do in one day or the heavy work they could do in the canyons, or on the highways. It was not unusual to plow at least two acres of land in a day with them. The horses were small and used only for riding and traveling in light vehicles. Wooden skein wagons were the only wagons or vehicles used in the early days.