Guest-Owen Newman: Part One of Their Pioneer Life

Erin has asked me to write about myself.  She said that the Post folks would be interested in knowing how Evie and I learned our skills that help us live a pioneer lifestyle.  Right now we are not able to live as complete a pioneer life as we have in the past or would like to.

Just recently my mother passed away a couple moths shy of 98 years.  What does that have to do with how we live?  Well, mom was born on a gold claim on the Canadian border.  I have a photo taken in 1917 of my grandparents and aunt julia holding mom who was two at the time standing in front of the log house where mom was born.  The interesting thing is the double-barrel shotgun leaned against the log wall within easy reach.  I came from pioneer stock.  I guess I’m the only one in the family that still has it.

I have never fit into society, even as a child.  Not that I haven’t tried, but I was never able to succeed. As far as the modern world is concerned, I am a failure.  My happiest time as a child was were when we would go camping for two weeks every summer.  We camped all over the west.  On top of mountains, in the badlands, dry creek beds that flooded during the night, up in the Northwoods.

Most of our relatives were farmers, some continued to use horses until 1960.  We would go out to the farms and ride the horses, walk through the manure barefoot- call that fertilizer- must be why I’m 6’4″, fight wasps in the outhouse, etc… Typical stuff for the times.

Both sets of grandparents were very old fashioned.  Mom’s more than Dad’s.  Mom’s folks had a kerosene lamp in the bedroom and a chamber pot.   They continued to live the way they did when they were young.  They were comfortable with the old ways.  I learned a lot from my grandparents without realizing it.  Do you know why the old table knives had such a wide blade?  Because it was used to eat with instead of a fork.  There were so many little things like that.  How to can, make decent coffee, butchering, gardening (My dad and grandfather were fantastic), how to cook game, make sausage, how to choose the best chicken at the market (look for yellow fat), what old breeds were the best to raise.  It was all knowledge that was commonplace at one time.  We have lost so much by relying on stores and corporations for every need.


When I was a kid we didn’t need a lot of toys.  We built log houses out of sticks, fences and corrals too.  We were cowboys, or explorers, or knights with lath swords and garbage can lid shields.  There wasn’t a lid in the area that wasn’t dented out of shape.  We never owned a t.v. until I was 14 years old.  As I look back now, how gratefull I am for that.  We had to use our imagination a lot.  We learned how to think and make things.  Sometimes it backfired.  When I was 10 or 11 maybe, my folks bought me a chemistry set and a microscope which I still have by some miracle.  My folks wanted me to develop an interest in science and become a scientist.  Never once did the word “mad” occur to them.  When I made black powder it surely gave them some grey hair, but when I made a concoction that was killing mice my chemistry set disappeared.  My parents are to blame that I never won a Nobel Prize.  It’s interesting how things you did when you were a kid later on develop into a way of life or a skill.  Because some of my great uncles were black smiths, I would take nails, flatten them out and make horse shoes.  Later, I became a farrier-blacksmith, and a knife maker.  Dad worked in butcher shops when he was young and would take me with him to the butcher to select big chunks of meat, then take them home and finish them.  I too worked in shops and learned how to slaughter, cut up, cure and smoke bacon and sausage.  Because of camping, I learned about living out-of-doors and pioneer skills.  Until we moved to MO, I spent as much as six months a year living in a tent.  I became a buckskinner and learned many of their skills.  ~Owen Newman

to be continued…..

Send this to a friend