Log Cabin Pioneers: Stories, Songs, and Sayings
© 2001 Wayne Erbson
Few things are more evocative of the American frontier than a log cabin. This isn’t a new thing, either: log cabins entered American iconography as early as the 1840s, when a presidential candidate was mocked for his supposedly modest background and weaponized it in response, incorporating a humble cabin into his campaign literature to advertise his simple frontier virtues of hard work, self-sufficiency, and ingenuity. Despite growing up in sunny southern California, Wayne Erbson dreamt of living in a log cabin one day – and despite the odds, he and his wife found one for sale, in relatively good condition (minus the collapsing porch & steps). He opens Log Cabin Pioneers with an account of how such structures were originally built, pairing this with his story of restoring the old Crawford place, and building an outhouse on the property in a suitable spot. From here, Erbeson expands into frontier culture, particularly music: he has an avid interest in folk music, both traditional and modern, knowing everything from melodies that drifted over from Britain, to the songbook of the Industrial Workers of the World. Erbson laments the fall of music, which was once the province of everyone but which has become a product to be consumed, often alone. From here we move into the labor of cooking in the frontier, with included recipes, and finally into general lore — ranging from stories about how to learn to play the fiddle from the devil, to how to forecast the weather. You may argue amongst yourselves as to where these fall between traditional knowledge and simple superstition. Almost every page has a little frontier saying on it, though what some of them mean I can only imagine. “More ways to kill a dog than choke it with biscuits”? I’m guessing that’s kin to “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”. If you fall in this book’s niche audience — those interested in the culture of the early 19th century pioneers — you’ll find no shortage of interesting little tidbits and funny stories. I can only end with the insightful words of Honest Abe himself, who offered as a blurb on the back of this book — “For those of you who like this kind of a book, this is the kind of book you will like.” That certainly sold me on it!
Count Those Buzzards!, Kathryn Tucker Windham. A collection of Alabama folklore. Very small, more of a booklet with ambition.
Everyday Life in Early America, David Freeman Hawke. A social history of Americans during early colonization.
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