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.
"Alike all ages; dames of ancient days
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.
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