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stupidname1313
12-22-2016, 10:32 AM
Hello there. I was working on a piece and I realized that I've reached a point where I need more information than I already have before I can continue. I would like to know what a day in the life of a rancher in the 1860s or 1870s would look like. What were their responsibility on a normal day? What would the interior of their houses look like? Also how would the a day in the life of a rural school teacher look?

davidjgalloway
12-22-2016, 03:26 PM
I don't have specific suggestions for you, but more of a way to go about it, since I recently was trying to find this out for the 1890's. It's not an easy question, because people don't tend to look at their lives this way unless it's in the midst of a famous event (and even then, they focus on the event, not the context.)

So:

local newspapers can help, especially editorials that complain about local situations. Even small towns usually had a paper. I know your focus is more rural, so maybe this is harder. Try the LOC historical newspapers website (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/)
universities in the area where you are setting the story will usually have local/regional history holdings. If you're lucky, they may have diaries of someone in the exact role you need. The trick, though, esp. for pre-1900 materials, is that it probably exists only in handwritten copy and reading that (depending on the skill of the writer) can be a chore. But someone may have put that together already in an academic edition--call the reference desk and ask for suggestions.
census and other statistical data will give you a sketch of how people lived in terms of wealth, servants, etc. It is not a lot, but can fill in some details.
connected to that, if someone has done a family history that covers people in this position, they might have found resources already. These usually aren't in libraries, though, but can be found on various genealogical pages. However, if the author isn't citing sources, you have to be careful to ensure that it's not just "family lore," which is often embellished.
children's books about "what life was like" can be too general for what you need, but they also sometimes reference significant, serious books that do have the details required. Skim them to see if they cite sources, maybe they reference a notable rancher's diary, and that may lead you to something more significant.
fiction that focuses on ranchers may also give hints as to sources. If, for instance, you encounter a book that has what you need in it, if the author were alive I'd approach them directly to see if they can point you to resources--why not? Also, leading back to universities, if were someone famous either nationally or locally, you could probably find a professor whose research is on that author, and I bet they could point you to excellent sources.


Hope that gives you some ideas.
Good luck!

DrDoc
12-22-2016, 04:57 PM
Household chores! There was no refrigeration or tap water back then. Nor electricity to heat/cool your home. If you wanted to eat, drink, or be warm you had to do it yourself. In the morning you might start with someone being assigned to re-stoke the kitchen stove and get the place warm. This would probably be one of the kids responsibilities. Everyone had to empty their own pee bottle or toilet bowl. Preferably outside, away from the cabin. Someone would have to keep the water pitcher filled and the nearby bowl empty. And water! A well with a pump handle was a high tech piece of equipment back then, especially on the frontier. Someone, usually the women, would have to go down to the creek, fill the bucket with water, then haul it back to the house, arthritis or not. They were still doing that when Lyndon Johnson first got into politics in Texas. People had pride in themselves and their family, and they had to make a good showing. Women, or if a man was single, maybe himself, would use the sad irons to press the shirt. After the stove was warmed up three or four sad irons would be placed on top at the hottest location. Once heated they were used to iron shirts. When cooled, they were returned to the stove and the next one was used. This is where the verb 'iron' comes from.

The outhouse: technology here varied. My grandmother's outhouse used a bucket. She paid a man to come once a week and empty it. Such a convenience would not be available on the 1860's frontier. Instead, every few months the outhouse would be moved and placed over a newly dug hole.

Food was mostly hunting, fishing, jerking and canning. Jerking (along with smoking) dehydrates meat so it can be stored without spoiling without using refrigeration. There might be a smoke house if they were wealthy. The fire in it would need to be maintained, too.

All this fire means someone is gathering firewood or other burnables, such as coal. It needs to be located, cut down, dragged back, sawed or chopped, split, stacked, and dried before it can be used. To get through a winter you must have, during the warm season, have collected and stacked enough wood to get you through. That means from spring to fall you are replenishing what you used during the winter. You would probably need 10 to 20 cords of wood to frugally get you through the winter.

Clothing: what are you gonna wear? Store-bought clothes required cash, something in short supply on the frontier especially. If you shot a rabbit to eat, you saved the skin, tanned it and prepared it for a piece of clothing. You could also weave and possibly spin fabric to make your own pants and shirts. To do that you need a source of fiber, probably gotten from the flax you grew in your growing area. Of course, you have to harvest the seed first, the harvest the plant stalks, dry them, process them then make them into long fibers so to weave.

I could go on. I would say that, especially on the frontier, life was probably 90% maintence

Hope this helps.

Regards,

DrDoc

jclarkdawe
12-22-2016, 05:31 PM
Where -- Big differences between a ranch in Texas and a ranch in Montana.

What time of year -- Big differences depending upon the season.

Size -- Big differences between a one man ranch and a ranch with twenty hands. How many acres and head of cattle?

Lots of first hand accounts. Lots of good writers who know this stuff and have written about it.

Jim Clark-Dawe

King Neptune
12-22-2016, 06:26 PM
And another variable is how long they have been there. People add conveniences as time passed. Also, how far from the railroad? If you can get things shipped in easily, then you are more likely to do so.

Deb Kinnard
12-22-2016, 11:14 PM
I once asked my grandmother (born in the 1880s) what life was like when she was a girl. She looked around her two-bedroom house (coal-fired furnace, no air conditioning, gas for cooking) and said, "Just what you see here, just take away the indoor plumbing, central heating, natural gas and electric light."

They were largely cash-free. A great deal in central Iowa was done on barter. Two dozen eggs from your backyard hens for whatever you needed in town. When she married, my grandfather paid cash for their house, $2000 in gold pieces. He never had a credit card or bought anything on the installment plan, not even a car when those came in.

Gran and her sister attended a one-room schoolhouse. They walked to school, but the schoolteacher drove a light buggy pulled by a single horse. It was considered very daring, very naughty and great fun to hide in the bushes on the (young) schoolteacher's way home and throw rocks and horse puckies at the rig, to try to frighten the horse. Gran and her sister never actually hit the rig though (not that she ever admitted).

AW Admin
12-22-2016, 11:23 PM
Pick an area; try to pick it at least to an area of a state if not a county or nearest city.

Then look at newspapers online for that area and time. Read even the classifieds; they'll tell you a lot.

Siri Kirpal
12-23-2016, 03:11 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

My Missourah grandmother, born in 1890, told me the following: The men cut the wood and the women cooked on the woodstoves. She attended a one-room schoolhouse. Circuit riding ministers. Cloth was purchased from travelling peddlers. It was a big deal when one of these came through, because then they'd get the news and gossip, as well as pots and pans and cloth. Remember that they made their own fun. Singing in the evening was one.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

MAS
12-23-2016, 05:44 AM
If the ranch is located in the American northwest, you can pick up a good picture of everyday life on a ranch in the late 1800's from the movie "Heartland." It was based on the written memories of the young daughter shown in the movie. It's a lovely film in its own right, too. The leading roles were by Rip Torn and Conchata Farrell, if memory serves.

stupidname1313
12-26-2016, 07:51 AM
Where -- Big differences between a ranch in Texas and a ranch in Montana.

What time of year -- Big differences depending upon the season.

Size -- Big differences between a one man ranch and a ranch with twenty hands. How many acres and head of cattle?

Lots of first hand accounts. Lots of good writers who know this stuff and have written about it.

Jim Clark-Dawe

Sorry, probably should have listed this in the first place.

I'm thinking of an area similar to North-west Oklahoma, during late spring or early summer, and it's small enough to be run by a large (or at least large by our standards) family of 8 adults.

blacbird
12-26-2016, 09:22 AM
Some great writers mined this field, including Hamlin Garland, Willa Cather, Bess Streeter Aldrich and Andy Adams. Might be worth checking some of their work out.

caw

cmhbob
12-26-2016, 10:56 AM
I'm thinking of an area similar to North-west Oklahoma, during late spring or early summer, and it's small enough to be run by a large (or at least large by our standards) family of 8 adults.

You might try reaching out to the Oklahoma Writers Federation (https://www.facebook.com/groups/91274374466/?ref=bookmarks) on their Facebook page. There are several writers there who do historicals and could probably point you to some good research.

jclarkdawe
12-26-2016, 04:41 PM
I believe that in 1860 and 1870 Oklahoma was Indian Territory. It was not open to settlement by whites, and was a haven for criminals. Houses were by and large very primitive, although the Cherokee probably had some nice houses. I believe that Oklahoma was opened to settlement for the first time in 1889 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_Rush_of_1889) and many pictures exist of the start of this event. People who jumped the gun were people who went too soon, leading to the state's nickname of the "sooner state."

Jim Clark-Dawe

Siri Kirpal
12-26-2016, 08:33 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I don't have access to a gardening book at the moment, but I believe rhubarb comes on around that time of year. Twas a favorite for pies, and was thus called pie plant. The stems are edible, but the large leaves are toxic. Nonetheless they had their uses; children made pretend hats out of them.

I know that Missourah had mulberries, paw-paws, and gooseberries. Grandma loved gooseberry pie, which required huge amounts of sugar, since gooseberries are VERY tart.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal