This summer when Bob and I were in the Black Hills, we were looking around in the gift shop at Mount Rushmore, when I came across a book called “Women’s Diaries Of The Westward Journey.” Since then, I have been thinking about what it must have been like to travel in a covered wagon…especially for a woman. Of course, times were different back then, and people did not have the luxury of a daily shower, or even a real bathroom…and that was in their own homes. So, imagine what life would be like on a wagon, traveling in a wagon train headed west in the mid-1800s. As the emigrants were traveling west, they were making their own roads, hunting their own food, and cooking over a campfire. For a lot of people, I’m sure this sounds like going camping, but then imagine doing it for months at a time. A day’s travel averaged about twelve to twenty miles, meaning that on the plains, they often stopped for the day within sight of the site they had just left that morning. For travelers now, that would seem insanely slow, but for the wagon trains, it was just the normal day’s journey. They knew no other way.
People back then would have been somewhat crazy to set out alone for the west…or to set out any later than spring, because either scenario was bound to fail. They needed the protection of the wagon train, as well as the additional supplies, should a wagon be lost to fire, a river crossing, or an attack by Indians. It was their back up plan. They couldn’t just stop at the next town at a store and buy more supplies. There were no towns, stores, or even roads. When we travel, even in the rural state of Wyoming that I live in, we are used to seeing miles with very little to catch the eye, other that an occasional farm house, and an occasional town, but remember that we have roads to follow so we don’t lose our way. And even then, many of us use GPS to make sure we are taking the right road. They had none of that. They had to use the sun and landmarks to make sure they were going the right direction. They depended on people who had taken this trip before them. It was all they had. I think most of us today would go nuts if we never saw a house, a road, or a town. We would wonder if we were insane for setting out on this crazy adventure at all. One woman wrote to her husband, who was waiting at the end of the line, with the spelling ability she had at the time, “I can tell you nothing only that were hear and its strange I wish we had never started … it seems impossible to get their.” She had set out in a wagon train with her four children, without her husband, and that in itself must have been scary.
Days on the wagon train began long before dawn with a simple breakfast of coffee, bacon, and dry bread. After breakfast, the people secured their supplies, hitched up their teams, and hit the trail by seven o’clock in the morning. Most people walked because of lack of space, and the fact that the wagon was so uncomfortable. The train stopped at noon for a cold meal of coffee, beans, and bacon, which had been prepared that morning. During this break, called nooning, men and women would gather and talk, children would play, and animals would rest. After that, the travel would continue until around six o’clock in the evening, when they wagons would circle for the night. Some people would visit after supper, but most went to bed, because they were exhausted. Some slept in the wagon, but most slept on the ground, because oddly enough it was more comfortable. While traveling west on the wagon trains was a necessary journey to be made to grow this country, it was not an easy journey to make, and for that reason, I have to stand in awe of those who did it.
A young friend of mine recently had a new baby, and I was reminded if the age old tradition of the shower. Women through the years have helped brides-to-be and soon to be moms prepare for the upcoming event for some time now. The bridal shower got it’s start in 1890, and is mostly a tradition held in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The baby shower was one that transitioned from the purification rituals that used to occur back when women had to remain in seclusion for 14 days after giving birth, to the naming and baptismal ceremonies, and finally to what they are today, which is more of a way to welcome the new baby with gifts that are necessary for caring for the child. Personally, I like them more for what they are today, as I’m sure most people would agree. These days, the showers just as often include the husband-to-be or the new daddy, in what used to be a pretty much exclusively female party.
One tradition, when it comes to showers, that people either like a lot, or completely dislike is the traditional shower games. We have all been to showers where you tried to name the new baby, diaper a balloon, remember the kitchen utensils on a tray, or give marriage advise to the young couple. Not everyone likes to play these things, and having been to showers of both types, I really have to say that I like both. I think it is simply a matter of taste…and maybe of well thought out games. In the years that I have been attending showers, I have played just about every possible game, and I must say that there have been a few that were great. I personally liked the diapering the balloon, the name game, and the balloon under the shirt game. That one was actually played for the first time…by me anyway, at my niece, Ashley Parmely’s baby shower, and it was hilarious. Of course, as the mother-to-be, Ashley won. The point was to see who could have the biggest belly. Technically, Ashley had a distinct advantage over the rest of us…she had the balloon belly, and the Reagan belly. The rest of us didn’t stand a chance, but it was fun to try to get a belly that was bigger than hers.
Some of the funniest shower games are those played with a blindfold on…like the one above, in which my sister-in-law Jennifer Parmely was trying to scoop all the cotton balls into a bowl, without being able to see them. They are so light that you really don’t know if you have anything on there or not, and since you can’t use your other hand to assist in the process, you find yourself being less than successful. And since it seems that there are always a few little ones in the group, the laughter can get going pretty easily. My brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg found his sister’s attempts quite hilarious indeed. It’s all intended to break the ice among friends of the honoree, who may not know each other, as well as adding a little bit of laughter and fun to the whole occasion. So the next time you go to a shower, and find that games will be played, try taking a lighter view of it. You might find yourself having a great time, even if you don’t usually like to play those silly shower games.
We have all watched old Western shows, and the cowboys always seem to look very romantic…at least for the period of history they lived in, but the reality was not exactly like that. Now, I can’t say for sure that none of the cowboys of that day looked like that, but the majority of those men were hard working homesteaders, who lived in an era where there was no running water, and all too often the water they had was needed for crops. The land was hard and dry, and tough to work, because it had never had crops planted in it before. There were rocks to be removed before the land could even be tilled. This was the world our ancestors lived in…if they came out to the wild west, like mine did.
Now don’t get me wrong…they did their best to clean up, when they cleaned up, and they looked real good, but the daily shower that we take for granted, was not possible in those days. Often the same water was used for more than one person, and you had to hope that you weren’t going to be the last one. The cowboys of the old west took a weekly bath and washed their hair every couple of weeks…most of the time…or sometimes anyway. They did not understand hygiene, because no one really knew anything about that then. And they couldn’t have done much about it if they had, without any running water.
The roads were dirt, the land was dusty, the sun was hot, and the people…well, the people were as clean as they could be under the circumstances, but since the only odor improving items were the perfumes that the women used very sparingly, people just got used to the odors that existed. They were around horses and cows all day, and they had to clean up after those animals. It wasn’t their fault, and there really was nothing that they could have done about it in most cases…it was just the way it really was in the old west, and they were the real cowboys.