Monday, September 9, 2013

Know of an activity, perhaps long-forgotten now, that your ancestors used to make extra cash?

The Jasper County Review reported in 1904 that the community “had an old time log-rolling at W. B. Poore’s” on February 26, a Friday. By the time William and Emily Poore hosted this social gathering in the Moss community, the frontier necessity of log-rolling had long past.

Log-rolling had been a settler tradition that took place in late winter or early spring. A landowner such as William and his sons usually had spent the winter felling trees to clear new land. They sometimes chopped or sawed the felled trees into 10-foot lengths that made them easier to carry and stack.

Or, as was more usual, William and his sons may have only notched the timber every 10 feet. By starting a fire at each notch they could let the fire do all the hard work of cutting the timber into shorter lengths. The men and boys tended the fires morning and evening.

At log rolling time neighbor men and their sons came with handspikes to help gather the heavy logs into a pile. The handspikes were made from strong limbs or small tree trunks about 3-inches thick in the middle and trimmed smaller and smoother at the ends.

The men pried up the logs and slipped the spikes underneath. Men on each side of the log grabbed an end of the handspike in order to lift and carry the log.

Log-rolling was always an occasion for men to show off their strength, swap stories and play practical jokes. Sometimes a man would poke one end of his stick in cow dung before slipping it underneath the log to the unwary man waiting on the other side. Thus originated the saying, “I got the dirty end of the stick.”

When the logs were stacked high, the men set the pile on fire.

The wood ashes from such fires were once an important product on the frontier. The fire converted hardwood trees into mounds of ashes rich in potassium salts. From the ashes the settlers could make lye. In turn, they used lye to make soap. 

The settlers also could boil down the ashes to produce valuable potash. Or they sold their ashes to a storekeeper who ran an ashery. Until the late 19th century, the country was dotted with asheries that further processed the potash into pearl ash. Besides soap, potash and pearl ash were used to bleach textiles, make glass and in fertilizers.

By selling potash, settlers had a way to getting badly needed cash for their farming operations.

Do you know of an activity, perhaps like potash production, long-forgotten now, that your ancestors used to make extra cash?

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