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Homes of the Not So Rich and Famous

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

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Getting out and exploring the not so well traveled parts of our American west has long since been a past time of treasure hunters, bottle collectors, historians, off road enthusiasts, and the just plain old curious. In today's fast paced world these out of the way experiences can often be found within a few hours of a major metropolis. Four-wheel drive vehicles take you down dusty roads right to the front door of homes long since vacant and often collapsed. Theses are the homes that housed the not so rich and famous folk that helped to build this country, working their fingers to the bone removing metals and raw materials from within the earth.

"Be it ever so humble there's no place like home." So goes the line of a song often quoted when referring to one's dwelling. These homes found high on mountain crags, deep in forests, or in sheltered desert canyons and along dry washes come in a variety of styles that were often put together with the available and scavenged materials of that very day. Though they customarily lasted only as long as the homemaker lived in the dwelling, some like those built of adobe will last far into the future.

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Picture yourself in the desert, even today. You've just spent most of your savings to pay for claims, picks, shovels and the necessary provisions. You have a tent but it surely won't last long. You need to build something sturdier to weather the elements whether heat, rain, wind, or snow. You have what you feel is a good strike and you can't leave. What do you do? What did the old-timers do? Think about it and you'll start to understand the conditions that folks lived in and why and yes, it was "home sweet home."

In a better-built adobe home in the desert, perhaps the last holdout of the Wild West, a quiet evening might be spent reading or finding solace in a bottle of whiskey. Packing crates serve as chairs, a scavenged wire spool does duty as a table, and perhaps the metal frame bed dragged from another miner's abandoned camp is the finest furniture in the household. Under the legs of the bedposts were placed coffee cans filled with water to keep the spiders and other crawly insects from getting up onto the bed. Water has to be brought in for cooking, drinking and the rare bath.

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A little further down the wash are the homes of miners scooped out and hand picked into the sides of the wash. Hard packed clay serves as the roof, which wasn't always the most stable. Two by fours frame the doorway, sometime with a wooden door on creaky hinges and in the more elaborate dugouts a window might be added with a piece of screening material nailed to the frame. In the back of the one room shelter a stovepipe rises to the ceiling.

Further back in the hills a bit are shelters built of stacked rock and covered with logs and a layer of soil. Some are made with pine boughs and covered with calico shirts.

Log homes last long and those that manage to escape vandals sometimes can be found intact deep in the forests. Cobwebs, critters, and clutter greet you but with a bit of imagination a lifestyle emerges before you that does not seem so bad. The floor of such a cabin is often dirt or sometimes one by twelve planks complete with knotholes and usually so uneven that any chair or stool becomes a rocker when being sat on. Windows often were covered with blankets to keep out the cold and in some homes jars were stacked in the window hole and clay packed around them creating a glass substitute again using available materials. In a corner a small table sits with stools on either side, a checkerboard painted on its top and colored cork checkers lie strewn about. Tin plates, pewter forks, and an occasional china cup would adorn a table covered with oilcloth.

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Of course each home whether it was adobe, wood, log, or rock had its own personal adornments like a calendar with dates crossed out, a family photo or two, or the picture of a personal hero.

As long as they are lived in they are home. Some new branches well placed, a rock here, some dirt there, a new layer of plaster coating, and another reason to stay another day, kept their homes in place.

So when you stumble onto the old homestead wherever it may be, take a moment to reflect on the person that lived there, the hardships endured, and the fortunes that were made and lost. Think about it hard enough and you might even imagine where personal treasures might have been stashed for retrieval at a later date.

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