Building materials from Pioneer Days

e.g. “Time for Tea” by Celia Klassen
Anybody who knows anything about pioneer history knows they lived in log cabins. It amazes the writer how people managed to build dwellings with no prior experience.
Until you take the time to think about it, there is also the question of where to live while you build the cabin and often building a barn for the animals took priority over building a house. Although most cabins were only one room, and a small one at that, it still took time to cut down the trees and build the cabins.
Another thing to take into consideration is if you picture the countryside of Aberdeen and American Falls there isn’t exactly a large forest from which to get lodge poles! Later on there were lumber yards and carpenters to build the houses, but the first settlers had to build their own.
Occasionally the man of the family would come ahead to build the house by the time the rest of the family arrived, but this required they would have somewhere to live in the meantime – both the man and his family – and it wasn’t always possible. Some of the first arrivals to Aberdeen dug a hole in the ground and used their upturned wagon as a roof, others slept in tents – even through an Idaho winter!
When the first settlers arrived in the Aberdeen area they found a land of sagebrush-covered plain. Aberdeen barely existed, and American Falls was just a small railroad town. The surrounding countryside was covered in sagebrush, some tall enough to hide a man on a horse, and grass almost as tall. Pests like rattlesnakes were underneath and deer and antelope roamed through with wild horses running on the desert.
An example of a first dwelling, if it wasn’t a tent, was a wall of rocks with the wagon box turned upside down for a roof, or even just a hole in the ground with the wagon box on top.
Although the homes varied in size, they were small by today’s standards; some were mere one-room shacks, others had two rooms and a loft. Boys sometimes slept on straw in the barn except in the coldest weather because there simply wasn’t enough space in the cabin. Some houses were made of logs, chinked together and coated with mud and plaster. It doesn’t sound like much but some still stand today.
If a settler had more money, they could stretch cheap material on the inside walls and coat it with whitewash. This was considered a luxury even though the solution was so strong that applying it peeled their hands.
Although logs made up the majority of dwellings, a few used the abundance of lava rocks. This served a dual purpose. They got building material and the farmers needed to rid their fields of rock. They would make a homemade mortar by mixing water, dirt and wheat straw. They would then choose rocks and lay them in the wet mortar to make walls. They then put up wooden poles spanning wall to wall; over this a matting of sagebrush and scrap boards, followed by a layer of wheat straw, and finally a covering of dirt. Amazingly some of these structures also stand today.
The lava rock buildings were more pleasant to live in as they stayed warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
One family which arrived from a thriving farm in Utah brought with them a prized possession – a carpet. Instead of it taking a prime place on the floor inside, it had to be used for a roof.
In 1900 two brothers came to this area when it was opened up and they cut logs to build their house during the winter. They couldn’t afford windows and doors, so they spent their winter with quilts over the openings, which were little protection against winter’s icy winds.
Now, if you’ll excuse the writer, I shall snuggle on my comfy couch in my warm, insulated house, with a cup of tea I didn’t have to stoke a fire to boil.

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