Winterkill, 1846

The tragic journey of the Donner Party

To the brothers George and Jacob Donner the way to California seemed clear and simple. Both in their sixties, solid and well-to-do thanks to their own hard work, but beginning now to feel their age and the long Illinois winters in their bones, the two men sat in the glow of the hearthfire that winter of 1845-46 and turned again the wellthumbed pages of The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California .Read more »

That Zenith Of Prairie Architecture—the Soddy

Pioneer farmers had neither wood nor brick to build with, but there sure was plenty of good earth

“My father was one of the early homesteaders in Red Willow County, Nebraska. His homestead was located a few miles north of the Kansas line on high, flat divide land. … If he looked toward Kansas, what did he see? He saw nothing but sod. If he looked to the north, what did he see? He saw the sod. In all directions what did he see? He saw the sod. Consequently he used the sod to build his home.” Read more »

The Boy Artist Of Red River

Between the ages of fifteen and twenty, young Peter Rindisbacher captured on canvas the lives of Indians and white pioneers on the Manitoba—Minnesota frontier

On August 12, 1834, a twenty-eight-year-old Swiss-born youth named Peter Rindisbacher, who was just beginning to attract international attention with his colorful and realistic drawings of Indian life along the mid-western United States and central Canadian frontiers, died in St. Louis. In a brief obituary the Missouri Republican noted his passing: “Mr. Rindisbacher had talents which gave every assurance of future celebrity. … He possessed a keen sensibility and the most delicate perception of the beautiful.” Read more »

Pioneers In Petticoats

Legend says the frontier was “hell on women,” but the ladies claim they had the time of their lives

I once had a conversation about the ways of the West with a wise and literate old man who had been a cowpuncher in Montana in the golden days of Charlie Russell and Teddy Blue. John R. Barrows was the author of a book called Ubet , describing the adventures of his parents who ran a stage station rejoicing in that typically jaunty frontier name. They had gone west with a wagon train from Wisconsin in 1879, taking several small children.

Lore Of The Woodworker

Today furniture is often made from just one kind of wood. In the old days, when people knew wood better, a simple rocking chair might contain as many as seven kinds of wood. The hard woods were used for pegging, with still harder wood to peg the pegs; soft wood cradled the load and springy woods carried the weight. Old chairs creak during weather changes, and creaking has much to do with their longevity. Wood, as the early craftsmen knew, “breathes” with the weather, warping, contracting or expanding with each change of humidity and temperature.Read more »