My parents were married in 1876 and homesteaded in western Nebraska. They lived in a dugout near a small creek. They had a sod fireplace and a little stove for cooking. We burned cobs, cornstalks, sunflower stalks and chips from the cow pasture. When corn was eight cents a bushel, we burned some of that.
Father made a table and other furniture that was very sturdy, but not very polished. One time we had two kegs for Father and Mother to sit on at the table. A man came by who wanted a keg for pickles, and he traded us a chair for one of the kegs. We children stood up at the table and didn't think anything about it because we were used to it.
Our parents didn't even have a table when they were first married. They sat on big pumpkins with the food spread out on a canvas on the bed. Once our lamp chimney got broken, and Mother went to the smokehouse and got a saucer of lard. She buried a twisted cloth in the lard and lit the end. We were perfectly contented with such makeshifts – at least, we children always were happy.
The first school my brother and I attended was in a neighbor's house. He had a two-room house and all the other homes had only one room. We had to furnish our own books and seats, so we had quite a variety. The teacher was a 17-year-old girl who was paid $15 a month.
One morning when we went to school, there was a new baby in the living room and water had to be heated on the topsy stove in the schoolroom. The teacher had us take our books and go out under the trees. We had no desks, but the teacher allowed us to sit at a table to learn to write. The next year, our father and the neighbors built a sod schoolhouse on our place.
We were 75 miles from a doctor. Mother had a toothache for several months and there was no relief for it until spring. She had to wait until her baby was born and a month old, and then we made the long trip to the dentist.
One neighbor family had to burn hay for fuel. The father had TB and couldn't work He sat by the fire all day and twisted up bunches of hay to feed the fire. The children had no shoes except cloth moccasins their mother made.
Jessie P. Gentry
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.