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Spend a Day as a Pioneer!

Credit: Tim Abramowitz / E+ / Getty Images.

Have you ever gotten caught up in the romanticized idea of the Wild West and pioneer days? But, now that you are so used to modern conveniences have you decided life back then wouldn’t have been romantic at all? It would have been really, really, hard… Never fear – we have a resource to teach you how to experience parts of pioneer life – while in the comfort of your own home (and using some modern tools and safety equipment)!

Photo from “Make: Like the Pioneers.”

Make: Like the Pioneers will walk you through a (somewhat) typical day in the life of a pioneer. A pioneer (and you!) start the day building a fire – no matches or charcoal allowed! Learn to make and use a bow drill – using branches, string, and a knife (or an optional handsaw!) and you’ll never be without fire again! You can continue the morning routine by making bacon soap (yes, soap and not soup)! There are several other morning activities to learn and enjoy – including “kitchen table cider making,” (both fermented and non-fermented). Just think – you can move through the rest of your “pioneer-day” smelling like bacon and drinking cider! Would you like to spend your winter evenings next to the fire writing a book about your pioneer experiences? Then you just might like to spend your mornings learning to make paper and binding your own book!

How about spending the afternoon making furniture?! According to Gordon Thorburn (the author of Chapter 6, “Fool’s Stool”), “Almost anybody can make a 17th-century board stool. In those early, pioneering times, techniques and tools were fairly primitive and ambitions consequently modest, so today, faking the American colonial style requires a do-it-for-fun, cavalier attitude rather than serious precision.” The list of materials and tools needed include, among other things, “cow manure (preferred) or wood stain…” (You can see in the picture [right] your homemade furniture doesn’t have to be perfect!) Perhaps making a “Rok-Bak” chair (from a single sheet of plywood) is more your style… You can also learn to “lash.”  Chapter 8 is an entire chapter of full-page, full-color photos showing, in detail, how to build a sturdy platform using only sticks and twine!

Your evening can be spent pickling grapes and beets – or, in preparation for Halloween and Thanksgiving, you can learn to brine and roast a turkey and roast pumpkin seeds! There is also a delicious-sounding recipe for garlic herb butter for rubbing into that tasty T-day turkey!

Once those daily chores are finished, it is time to relax! Many pioneers spent their few leisure time making tools which would make their work and lives easier. Chapter 12 has clear, step-by-step instructions for building a da Vinci Reciprocating Mechanism. Learn to make a table-top version of da Vinci’s mechanism for powering a sawmill with a water wheel!

Photo from “Make: Like the Pioneers.”

If you want to go waaaay back – perhaps to prehistoric times – you can create your own oil lamp! Since there are cave drawings from as long ago as 15,000 to 30,000 years ago, experts postulate there must have been a way to light those caves in order for the “primitive Rembrandts” to create those drawings. Oil lamps have progressed over time (obviously!) and the final chapter details how to make your own “Oil Lamp from the Cave Dwellers of Lascaux.” (An interesting fact: This chapter was written by William Gurstelle. Since volume 4, every issue of Make magazine has had an article written by him.  We have all the issues here at the library – up to volume 57 now – so come in and check out all the other articles he’s written!)

So, ready to try your hand at living like a pioneer? Or at least “making” like a pioneer? I think you’ll find Make: Like the Pioneers makes it much easier than it was “back in the day!”


Make Editors. 2015. Make : like the pioneers. San Francisco, CA : Maker Media. Engineering Library TT157 .M35 2015

What hardships did American pioneers face? 2017. Reference.  IAC Publishing, LLC.

Other Resources:

Liu, Joanne S. 2009. Barbed wire : the fence that changed the West. Missoula, Mont. : Mountain Press Pub. Co.  Engineering Library TS271 .L59 2009