the Not So Rich and Famous
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
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.
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.
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
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
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.