Pioneer Stories Included Laughter, Helping Hands

Claim shack dances were only one way settlers had fun in some pioneer stories.

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Many pioneer stories were often filled with laughter and fun.

The first winter we homesteaded in western Dakota Territory, the snow came early, and it was very cold. But we didn't stay home! We hitched old Bess and Lady to the sleigh or the democrat and wrapped up in robes and hied happily away to someone's claim shack to dance all night to the music of a mouth organ or any other instrument that was handy.

The hosts usually piled their furniture out in the yard for the occasion, all but the stove. We had to have warmth – and hot coffee to go with the sandwiches and cakes we had brought.

Everyone knew everyone else, and we borrowed from each other such things as kerosene for our lamps and medicine for the ill. We helped each other with the harder tasks and laughed together and shared ourselves and our provisions as people are intended to do.

Once when a blizzard hit, my sister and I were batching in a claim shack. We came home from school almost frozen to find that two men caught out with loads of wood had taken shelter in our shack. I can thank one of them for saving my ear. It was frozen stiff and stuck to my scarf. We two girls would have been afraid there alone, but the men kept us visiting and brought in the water for us and kept the stove red hot.

One old pioneer woman we knew told of setting a trap for a mouse. She heard a clatter one day and was surprised to see a rattlesnake appear on the floor with the mousetrap on his head! She ran for her son, who came with a hoe and killed it. The whole community rocked with laughter at the idea of a snake weaving around with a mousetrap for headgear.

When we went to dances, we danced all night. There were no cliques, and we danced with all, young and old alike. We went to have fun, and we had it. On Sundays, we went to various homes to sing and play games and pranks on each other.

We were poor, but we enjoyed life.

Mrs. Ray O'Connell
Milesville, South Dakota


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.