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Life in Pioneer Times, page 5

    About dark, when the supper was half over, the bustle and confusion commenced. The confusion of the tongues at Babel would have been ashamed at the corn-shucking, - the young ones hurrying off the table, and the old ones contending for time and order. It was the case in nine times out of ten, but one dwelling-house was on the premises, and that used for eating as well as dancing. But when the fiddler commenced tuning his instrument, the music always gained the victory for the younger side. Then the dishes, victuals, table and all, disappeared in a few minutes and the room was cleared, the dogs driven out, and the floor swept out, ready for action. The floors of these houses were sometimes the natural earth, beat solid; sometimes much excitement was displayed to get on the floor first. Generally the fiddler, on these occasions, assumed an important bearing, and ordered in true professional style, so and so to be done, as that was the way in North Carolina where he was raised. The decision ended the contest for the floor. In those days they danced jigs and four-handed reels, as they were called. Sometimes, three-handed reels were danced. In these dances there was no standing still; all were moving at a rapid pace from beginning to end. In the jigs the bystanders cut one another out, so that this dance would last for hours. The bottle went around at these parties, as it did at the shuckings, and male and female took a dram out of it, as it was passed round. No sitting was indulged in, and the folks either stood or danced all night. The dress of these hardy pioneers was generally homespun. The hunting shirt was much worn at that time, which is a convenient working or dancing dress. In the morning, all would go home on horseback or on foot. No carriages, wagons, or other vehicles were used on these occasions, for the best reasons - because they had none.

    Dancing was a favorite amusement, and was participated in by all.

"Alike all ages; dames of ancient days
Have led their children through the mirthful maze,
And the gray grandsire, skilled in jestic lore,
Has frisked beneath the burden of three score."

    The amusements of that day were more athletic and rude than those of to-day. Among the settlers of a new country, from the nature of the case, a higher value is set upon physical than mental endowments. Skill in woodcraft, superiority of muscular development, accuracy in shooting with the rifle, activity and swiftness of foot, were qualifications that brought their possessors fame. Foot-racing was practiced, and often the boys and young men engaged in friendly contests with the Indians. Every man had a rifle and always kept it in good order; his flints, bullets, bullet-molds, screw-driver, awl, butcher-knife and tomahawk were fastened to the shot-pouch strap, or to the belt around the waist. Target-shooting was much practiced, and shots were made by the hunters and settlers, with flint-lock rifles, that cannot be excelled by their descendants with the improved breech-loaders of the present day.

    At all gatherings, jumping and wrestling were indulged in and those who excelled were henceforth men of notoriety. At their shooting matches, which were usually for the prize of a turkey, or a gallon of whisky, good feeling generally prevailed. If disputes arose, they were often settled by a square stand-up fight, and no one thought of using other weapons than fists. They held no grudges after their fights, for this was considered unmanly. It was the rule, if a fight occurred between two persons, the victor should pour water for the defeated, as he washed away the traces of the fray, after which the latter was to perform the same service for the former.

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