Down The Backroads
Submitted by By Bob Smith – 2015
Historians tell us that Indian Summer is a term coined by early settlers along the frontiers of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee when thecolonies along the Atlantic Coast began their westward explosion. The phrase itself refers to the short period of warm, pleasant weather that usually follows the first frosts and early freezes of late autumn, usually a few days in November. In pioneer times folks along the frontier knew this would be a very dangerous time for them and their families. Indian hunting parties would be out and about, making meat and the warrior societies would be conducting raids on their hereditary enemies. If their routes took them by some isolated settler’s cabin, those folks just might not see another sunrise. This time frame put the settlers at greater risk because they, too, needed to be outside, gathering corn, digging potatoes, making hominy, and drying meat and fruit. If the head of the household was afield hunting when the Indians passed by, the cabin was without its principal defender. Too often the cabin was found by neighbors or a heart broken husband and father, burned to the ground and everyone there massacred and scalped.
There came a time when the Indians no longer returned in November, but America remembered their passage and rural folk came to expect those mild, warm days after winter makes its initial appearance.
Indian Summer was a busy time for early Kentucky families, even without the Indians. With winter coming, they stayed busy cutting firewood, gathering crops, and hunting and trapping.
When I was a boy growing up on our farm on the big Andy Ridge, Lee County, Kentucky, in the 1950s, life wasn’t all that different than it was a hundred years earlier. Most of the year the roads were so bad that you could not get an automobile into our place. If one drove the three quarters of a mile from the main road to our house during the dry season, he could not get back out if it rained. There was no bridge across the creek and the mud was knee deep much of the year. To get in and out we walked or rode a horse. If we wanted to haul something, we used a horse or mule- drawn sled or wagon.
My sisters, my cousins, and I walked out to the gravelled main road to catch the school bus for the consolidated grade school at St. Helens, and later, the high school in Beattyville, where we got more than a sampling of the modern world. Once we got off the school bus in the afternoon, we walked home and carefully made our way over the primitive “walk log” across the creek to the world that seemed to be locked in a time warp of yesteryear.
Until 1954 we had no electricity or running water at our place. We heated our house with wood, and my mother cooked the family’s meals on an old wood-burning cook stove. Firelight and three “coal oil” (kerosene) lamps provided whatever artificial lighting we had after the sun went down. Reading a book, solving a difficult math problem, or completing a homework assignment was never an easy taks by lamplight.
We had an outhouse a hundred yards or so from the main house, a bunkhouse out back for visitors, a smokehouse, and several barns, and outbuildings for convenience. And yes, the outhouse was an inconvenience, but a fact of life, whether the outside temperatures were 90 degrees or 20 below zero. We drew our drinking water from a dug well behind the house and the galvanized bucket, used to pull the water from the well, doubled up to keep the milk and butter cool when they were put int he bucket and lowered into the well.
Indian Summer was a busy time for us, too, back in the early to mid-fifties. We hunted and fished during whatever spare time we could muster, but not with the urgency felt by our pioneering forefathers. Dad had a pretty good job, and we raised most of our own meat, fruit, and vegetables. We kept poultry and milk cows, too, and had our own eggs, milk, and butter.
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