The Settlement of the Longleaf
Pine Frontier in the Early 1800s
(bolded words in text indicate key words
Although it may be hard to envision, at one time the longleaf pine
forest was the wild frontier. Mysterious and (sometimes) dangerous
animals and plants could be found everywhere in the forest. Paved
roads and air-conditioned cars and houses did not exist. Mule-drawn
wagons slowly carried people through endless longleaf pine forests.
Homes were built from the lumber of longleaf pine trees cut with
axes and saws. Most families could only afford a single mule to
farm the land. Life was tough for these people.
The procurement of food, shelter, and medicine on the longleaf pine
frontier was filled with uncertainty and peril. Self-sufficiency
was essential, and the survival of these people were inextricably
linked to the fruits of the longleaf pine ecosystem. The axles of
every pioneer wagon that moved through these woods were lubricated
with the tar extracted from
the lightwood of longleaf pine.
The essential tasks of life in the piney woods could easily result
in serious or even fatal injury. Access to trained medical practitioners
was often a days ride or more from ones settlement.
Pioneers learned to gather the herbs, animal parts and minerals
needed to concoct various herbal medicines
from the woods around their house.
Longleaf pine forests were found across a variety of different
soil types (from very fertile clayey soils
to not so productive sandy soils). Before the introduction of modern
fertilizers and irrigation systems, only the more fertile soils
such as those found in east Texas, Southeast Alabama, and the lowcountry
of South Carolina proved to be valuable agricultural
areas for cotton, corn, etc. In these areas, cleared land was deemed
more valuable then forested land. Trees were cut with hand axes
and sawed in lumber for cabins, smoke houses, barns, etc. Trees
not used in construction of the homestead were either pilled and
burned or sold to nearby lumber companies. Stumps were removed by
hitching up a mule and coaxing the mule to pull them out of the
ground (later, dynamite seemed to do the trick).
Unlike todays enormous agricultural fields maintained with
diesel powered tractors, pioneer farmers were physically limited
by how much land could be farmed. As a rule of thumb, one man and
one mule could work only 50 acres.
Since the landscape was open-range,
cattle were generally free to roam where they pleased. Fences were
used to keep livestock out of areas (like crops). Smaller longleaf
pine trees were quartered and made into rail
fences. Typically a few acres of subsistence
crops were planted around the house (like collard greens and purple-hulled
peas). Plum or persimmon trees may be planted around the house for
fresh fruit. Chickens were raised mainly for eggs but also for meat
in the rare event of a visit from a neighbor. In the common event
that something could not be grown, the nearby pineywoods provided
a wealth of foodstuffs. Numerous edible berries, plants and animals
flourished in the pine uplands.
Key Words and Concepts (click
on for glossary definition): acre,