The Pioneer Homestead: Survival on the Frontier


Carving out the wilderness and establishing a community meant that early settlers had to be self-sufficient in many ways.

When the Pioneers first headed west, they had precious few possessions with them. The journey was long and difficult. In a lifetime, most people “back east” did not travel more than a few miles from home. Those who decided to make the trek west were brave and hearty indeed.

Pioneer life centered around survival, so the priorities were shelter and food.

Building a Pioneer Home

Most homes of the era were single-room structures, with no clear definition of private and public space. People ate, cooked, slept, and entertained themselves in the same place. Their homes were small, bare, and poorly lit.

They would have been constructed of wood harvested from nearby forests. Window glass was a luxury, so if there were any windows, they would be open holes with shutters to keep out the weather. Pioneer homes would have been extremely cold in the wintertime.

The Hearth

The hearth was the focal point of the daily routine. It was here that the woman of the house cooked the daily meals and warmed water for dishes, laundry, and monthly baths.

First, a fire would be started with “banked coals” from the previous day’s fire. Baking would be done first thing in the morning, since it took the longest. As soon as one meal was prepared, it would be time to start cooking the next one. Large families would help to share the workload. Daughters would begin learning how to cook and sew at a very young age.

Pioneers used very basic plates, cups, and utensils, most often simple pewter pieces.. Fancy dining was simply not possible when there were no stores and very few trade routes back east.

The Self-Sufficient Homestead

Families did not live near each other, so each homestead had to be self-sufficient. There were no grocery stores like we have today. Instead, Pioneer families grew crops, hunted, raised animals, or traded with others to put food on the table.

Even the most basic ingredients were difficult to procure. For example, in order to get flour, you had to:

  • Plant and grow wheat
  • Harvest the wheat
  • Transport wheat to a mill to have it ground (often the mill owner would keep a portion of the flour as payment, since money was scarce on the Frontier)
  • After all that, then you could bake something!

Pioneer life was difficult, but many people chose to head west to make a new life for themselves. Gradually, towns and then cities sprung up, and advances in transportation and communication lifted the isolation the earliest Pioneers experienced.