Jean Schwieder


This time of the year gets me thinking of our relatives who lived on homesteads in Dehlin during the early 1900s. Boyd’s grandfather, A.W. Schwieder was one who homesteaded there in 1915. Those first Dehlin homesteaders stayed year round for a few years, but the winters were so cold and snow deep that eventually most of them moved closer to Idaho Falls.

Thinking of those challenges as I put clean sheets on my bed the other morning, I wondered if those settlers even had an extra change of sheets. Did they have to wait for a fresh washed batch to dry before they could make the bed? This would probably be the last time until spring that sheets and bedding would be washed back in 1915. The cabins were not large enough to hang sheets inside! If there was a child still in diapers, then weekly washings had to take place, and ropes strung across the ceiling of the cabin to dry those and any other small items.

Before doing a washing, they would have to haul in snow and melt it on top of their wood burning cook stove. Washing was all by hand: scrubbing the clothes on scrub boards using home-made soap; wringing the clothes out by hand; rinsing and wringing out again. It was an all-day affair.

They would winterize their cabins before the real cold and snow arrived. These homesteaders applied newspapers to their walls to help keep the wind and moisture out! Quilts would be tacked up over the newspapers, plus over any windows. They would make mud out of the clay soil to replace between the logs of their cabins, plus seal up any holes around the foundations. The men would have to gather, chop, and stack wood close to their home to use for fires in their stove to keep the family warm through the winter. If possible, some coal would be picked up on the next wagon trip to Idaho Falls. Throughout the summer and fall the men would have stored hay and straw in the barns for the cows, horses, and any other large animals to eat during the winter. They also had chicken coops full of chickens and nests for the eggs. They would make sure there was plenty of straw on the floor and in the nests to keep the chickens warm

The women would have spent time canning and dehydrating produce from their gardens and gathered locally, to have food in the cupboards. If the families had dug a cellar they could store potatoes, carrots, squash, apples and even home canned food in their cellar. They often used five gallon or larger cans to store food. This helped keep mice and other rodents out of their food. She would walk along fences and pick the wool left when sheep were in the area. This wool would then be cleaned, spun into yarn and dyed to knit mittens, socks, sweaters and hats.

The hog killing was in the late fall when the men were through harvesting their crops. This would be a community affair. A lot of them had a building where they smoked hams and bacon, and kept meat hanging throughout the winter. From the hog killing they would obtain lard, which was used in baking and other cooking, plus making homemade soap.

Trips to town (Idaho Falls) would take a full day. They would pick up flour from the mill, ground from wheat the men had delivered a few weeks earlier. Sugar; salt, both for cooking and to help in the preserving of meat; spices; and honey or molasses for cooking would also be on their lists. Hopefully, the sale of the wheat brought in earlier would cover the cost of needed supplies.

The winters were long and cold, and it was hard for them living in a small cabin with only one or sometimes two rooms plus the outhouse that was outside. It wasn’t always easy to keep children occupied. There was school held up there in the winter, and those of school age would ride horses or sometimes men would hook up a large horse-drawn wagon/sled to get children to school. Lunches were sent with the children, often packed in small metal boxes.

I get tired just thinking of their lives up there and certainly am not envious of that way of life. Reflecting on these early homesteaders makes me grateful for a warm home, automatic washers and dryers, electricity, and indoor plumbing.

Jean Schwieder is a writer who has spent her life involved in eastern Idaho agriculture. Her books, including past columns, are available by calling 208-522-8098 or by email at straddlin

Recommended for you