The Longleaf Forest Served
as the Wal-Mart For Early Settlers
(bolded words in text indicate key words
Try to imagine what your life would be like without electricity,
telephone, internet, paved roads, or even grocery stores. For the
settler families living amongst
the longleaf pine forest, not having the luxuries that you and I
take for granted, was a way of life. The longleaf pine forest provided
much of the food and supplies needed for their survival.
It was generally the Carolinians of Scotch-Irish decent who settled
the longleaf pine barrens where rice or cotton plantations failed
to penetrate. A German traveler to the longleaf pine backcountry
in 1783 found cattle, swine, and these piney woods people "here
denominated crackers." Pioneering cracker families frequently
foraged for supplementary food and other goods in the Pinelands,
becoming in effect "hunter-gatherers".
Although life could be, and often was, hard for people living amongst
the pine-barrens, the forest provided food, housing and medicine.
These backcountry yeomen
were tough and resourceful.
This picture depicts a cracker family gathering various food staples.
The men are "pulling" (fishing) for gopher
tortoises (also called Hoover Chickens, Cracker Chicken
or Florida Bacon) while women are picking blueberries. Gopher tortoise
was considered very good eating by many pioneering country folks.
Wild blueberries could be eaten fresh out of the hand, with cream
and sugar, syrup or honey, or made into cobblers, pies, jam, preserves
In fishing for gopher tortoises, a rope made from braided grapevines
with a large hook attached was used for hooking and pulling the
tortoise from its burrow (or "gopher hole"). Gopher tortoises
have powerful front legs for digging. The strength in their legs,
however, made it extremely difficult to pull them from their burrow.
The picture also shows various tools that could be utilized to help
extract the tortoise from its home. Shovels of two kinds; a long
handled pointed end type and one shorter handled, square end shovel
(behind the fatwood stump) can
be seen, as well as a mattock
and a "tater rack". These tools were brought along in
case digging out the burrow or chopping roots was necessary-and
in case the gopher tortoise needed to be removed more forcefully.
Sadly, gopher tortoises reproduce very slowly. In some areas, overexploitation
occurred and populations of gopher tortoises were whipped out.
Besides wild blueberries and huckleberries, other native plants
utilized from the pine woods (and interrelated habitats) included:
yellowhaw and mayberry (in left background), berries
(Rubus species.), wild grapes, and prickly pear cactus (front in
picture). Both cabbage palm (in left background) and saw palmetto
(all through picture) provided "swamp cabbage" (heart
bud of either plants) for raw eating out of hand, in salads, or
cooked with salt, pork, hamhock, etc.
A hatchet buried in the fatwood (lighter
wood or lightwood stump)
is for cutting this wood to take home for kindling. The entire log,
in fact, could be loaded onto the family's mule drawn wagon (in
the background). On the wagon are other tools and equipment; such
as a long-handled axe for obtaining larger logs of oak, pine, etc.
to load up and carry home for longer burning firewood (note: the
axe is not visible, but it is
there). Also, on the wagon are several barrels, crates, croaker
sacks, etc. for whatever the family might find to put
in them; such as gathering Spanish moss (from the scrub oaks) for
stuffing pillows, mattresses and furniture upholstery. Saw palmetto
and cabbage palm fronds and fibers, oak to be split into thin strips,
wild cane and other grasses & sedges might be gathered and used
for weaving and plaiting hats, baskets, mats, etc. Also on the wagon
might be jars to hold wild honey (if the family is lucky enough
to find a hive).
Also not visible on the wagon would likely be a scatter gun of
some sort loaded with buckshot or birdshot or a small caliber rifle
for smaller game like squirrel or rabbits. The firearm would also
afford protection from various sources; animal or human.
In the background can be seen the family's hounds. Not exactly purebred-there
are traces of redbone, bluetick, black and tan, etc in them. They're
scouting out their territory as dogs will do. The dogs provide the
family with companionship, hunting allies, and protection.
The galvanized steel washtubs are used by the family to hold captured
gopher tortoises. These type of washtubs were in domestic use at
least as early as 1900. The baskets the mother and daughter are
using to collect the blueberries are based on baskets from the period
of 1890's to 1930's. The larger split-oak basket is a market-style
basket, while the small cane basket is actually called a "berry
The clothing styles are based on photos and drawings from about
1890 up into the 1920's. Isolated countrywomen wore sunbonnets and
long dresses as late as the 1930's and 1940's in some areas. Men's
(and boy's) clothing changed little for decades.
Key Words and Concepts (click
on for glossary definition): axe,