Pioneer children wanted the same things children want today. They liked spending time with their families, learning new things, and playing with friends. Their lives were very different in other ways though.
- Pioneers often had large families, although it wasn’t uncommon for at least one child or parent to die early of disease or accident.
- Pioneer children helped their parents from the time they were very young. Girls learned to cook, grow gardens, and sew. Boys learned to hunt, raise crops, and build things. Both boys and girls might milk a cow, gather firewood or buffalo chips, or gather eggs.
- Pioneer families had few belongings. The children might have a pair of clothes for every day and one for Sundays and special occasions. Their toys were usually handmade. Girls might have a special doll. Boys might have a ball or carved animal. Children slept on skins on the floor or in beds filled with feathers, corn cobs, or cattails. They usually shared a bed with at least one sibling, sometimes more!
- Pioneer children often walked for miles as they traveled west with their families. When their shoes wore out, they walked barefoot.
- Food was simple and consisted mostly of cornbread or porridge, meat, and fish. During the summer, they ate fresh fruits and vegetables. They also dried onions, beans, apples, and other foods to use during the winter. Candy or cookies were special treats, usually saved for holidays. Some people made maple syrup candy by pouring maple syrup onto snow and letting it harden.
- Life could be dangerous! Falling from a wagon, being crushed by oxen, drowning, or getting lost were all very real dangers. Older siblings often cared for the younger ones.
- Handmade: made by hand
- Porridge: a thin cereal like oatmeal
Questions and Answers
Question: Did pioneer children think their lives were hard?
Answer: Many pioneers recorded their feelings in diaries. We know that they were sometimes sad and felt their lives were hard. Mostly though they focused on working hard and enjoying happy times with their families.
Read about the games pioneer children played.