Matt and wife Julia came by this morning to pick up my credit card, remeasure and go to Lowe’s to buy the PVC plumbing. Once again the water is off so I thought I’d take a moment on this last day of the month to blog about my volunteer opportunity at the High Desert Museum. The name of the homestead living history area is the Miller Ranch and Sawmill and the time setting is 1904. This is an “upscale” homestead at 12 x 20’ with a porch instead of the traditional 12 x 16’ homes. And these are homes. This is a replica of a homestead that was home to a family of seven.
The porch area and the wood floor are atypical but possible because of the sawmill, though we always point out that the point of the sawmill, which is owned by four homesteading families, was to build the barns and sheds to protect their livestock. Without their well-being there would be no homestead. That’s the backbone of our story and we embellish on that.
The Homestead Act of 1862 permitted citizens (including freed Blacks) to pay the $10 filing fee and apply for the 160 acres. The catch was that they had to live on it continually for five years and prove up at the end of that time. If they were successful, the land was theirs, free and clear. You would think that digging a well and establishing water would come first but this was the era that believed in dry land farming. The ill-fated homesteading community of Fort Rock (southeast of here) optimistically build their homes because they had two years of good rain. The wells never emerged and it never rained again.
Each of us living history interpreters has a story that we make up individually. Candace is a retired nurse so plays the role of an apothecary and midwife. She greets people with “and how are you “feeling” today?” The porch is also a stage of sorts. In the back right you can see a collection of small brooms. Children love the sweep the porch.
I’m Mrs Wilson, a neighboring homesteader, and bring my spinning and knitting when I pay a social visit to Mrs Miller.
There’s a complete wood shop and a couple of volunteers spend their shifts here. Yesterday we were joined by Robert, his first day as a living history interpreter. He has worked Mondays as a greeter and wants to try his hand out with us. He is just beginning to work out his story to find his role and I could tell he was nervous. Ethan got him going with the cross-cut saw, and by the end of the day he had helped visitors make little slices from logs. The kids were thrilled to have something to take home.
A new and larger wood shop is under construction and when it’s completed, the old one will become a blacksmith shop. There are already volunteers in the wings to take that on.
The outhouse is always popular with the kids, so when I’m doing a tour inside the house and the kids learn that they would have climbed a ladder to sleep in the loft if they lived then, I show them the chamberpot. They are floored and grossed out. I remind them that the alternative is to hike down the ladder and walk to the outhouse, not inviting in the dark or snow.
Yesterday was Ethan’s birthday and Emily, a paid summer intern, wanted to bake him an apple pie. She had made a rhubarb pie on Tuesday with one of the volunteers who is a wood-stove and castiron cook. This is only the third pie she has made in her life.
She got the crust a little thick but otherwise she did a great job. She is also a wilderness guide so easily managed the wood stove and kept the temperature even for the 90 minutes it took to bake.
Yes, the crust was too thick and the recipe she was given had too much butter. That recipe called for 3 cups flour and three sticks of butter. I sent her my standby Better Homes and Gardens recipe with two cups of flour and 2/3 cups of butter. She’s pretty proud as she should be, and she wants to do it again. She cut the first slice for Robert and butter literally drained from it as she plated it. We laughed but it was delicious.
Sophia our littlest volunteer could hardly wait. She excels at helping the children play the traditional games of that period.
I really don’t enjoy carding wool so have readjusted my basket with prepaired roving, at least I’ll see how it goes next visit. When we were in Red Rock recently I asked our old neighbor Tom to make me a couple of dowsing rods. He taught me how to dowse but I left my rods behind in the move. Linda, our director, is interested to see if this works out. I’m a little worried about the sharp rods and children, but I do want to try it out.
Oh, and here’s the pie crust recipe I sent to Emily. It hasn’t failed me yet, and in fact, Matt and Julia just brought us raspberries and rhubarb from their yard. Ian wants a pie.