Monday, January 14, 2013

Firewood stories abound in history

by Delbert Trew

I would guess that since man first discovered fire, learned its uses and enjoyed its comforts, at least a zillion cords of wood had been burned down through the ages. History abounds with stories telling of the early Great Plains settlers sending out the children pulling wash tubs with ropes gathering cow or buffalo chips for fuel. Other settlers gathered rough tall grasses making small bundles called "hay-cats" to burn in their stoves. Prairie fuel was hard to find and keep in stock.

Chuck wagon cooks prepared for "woodless days" on the trail by swinging a dried cowhide beneath their wagon box, calling it a "coozie" and filling it with whatever prairie fuel found that day during the drive to the next camp ground. It might be wood, soto sticks from bear grass or just a pile of good cow chips found near a buffalo wallow.

Common sense tells us that Indians moved their camps regularly because of the lack of firewood more than any other reason. Every early western settlement provided jobs and business opportunities by the constant need for firewood, hauling water, moving outhouses and hauling off trash and manure the same as modern cities today.

My favorite firewood story comes from the history of a Colorado gold mining strike high in the Rocky Mountains. Winter forced most of the miners to flee the high altitude snows to lower altitudes to spend the winters in warm saloons. A few of the more hardy miners built good cabins, cut and stacked firewood for the winter, and stayed living near their mines.

One old-timer, well-experienced in winter survival, built a tight cabin and cut plenty of firewood to keep him snug through the winter. At some point that winter, he discovered someone was stealing from his firewood piles but was unable to determine the identity of the thief. He finally drilled a hole with a wood auger into a chunk of wood, filled it with black powder, plugged the hole and left the chunk near where the thefts were occurring.

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