Pioneer Pastimes

If the pioneers lived in a time of rude civilization, they enjoyed their scenes of fun and frolic quite as well as their descendants enjoy their more refined amusements. Their house-raisings, their log-rolling’ and corn-shuckings, were times enjoyed by every community, particularly by the young people, when, as was often the case, a ” quilting” was a part of the programme, and that followed by a dance when the work was done. Sambo, with an old, cracked, wheezy fiddle, but three strings on it as like as not, furnished music far more highly prized by these simple, rude people than would have been the sublime notes of Paganini or Ole Bull. Ah, those were enjoyable times !

But of all the gala days in the whole year, the great, glorious holiday was the day of “big muster,” when the ” cornstalk ” militia turned out in force for annual training. What a glorious time that was for the boys and darkies! The writer remembers well how he used to think he had lived a whole life-time in a single day, and how he would give-well, a half of his kingdom, only to be man enough to wear one of those long red plumes. They were gorgeous ! When the generals and colonels and majors mounted their war horses, who “snuffed the battle afar,” with plumes in their hats as long as stove-pipes-the men, not the horses-and swords equal to the broadswords of Roderick Dhu and his clan, belted around them, ah, how they excited our boyish envy ! James Weir, in his novel of “Lonz Powers,” gives a most excellent description of those old muster days of the long ago-a description we have never seen equaled except in a speech made by Hon. Tom Corwin in the United States Senate years ago. Both of the descriptions referred to are as vivid as life, and no doubt many old gray-headed men, when they read these lines, will recall the picture, and the excitement of the militia muster; the rolling of the drum, the shrill screeching of the fife, the nodding plumes and gleaming swords; the prancing steeds (old plow horses), the words of command and the martial bearing of the Napoleons and Wellingtons, the Washingtons and Marions, the LaFayettes and Greenes and Jacksons as they marshaled their forces for the fray. They were displays that had to be witnessed to be appreciated.

The muster-day served a multitude of purposes. It brought the people together from all parts of the county, and kept them acquainted, if nothing more. The day was an epoch in the county’s chronology, from which all important events dated. National questions were discussed, State issues debated, neighborhood gossip ventilated, petty differences settled, often with “knock-down” arguments, and when the muster was over, it was usually found that all the cases had been cleared from the docket, and a new era had dawned. But the institution of the old militia muster, with its pomp and glory, its fun and frolic and its fights and excitements, has passed away with other relics of our earlier civilization. With the close of he Mexican war it began to wane in popularity, and soon passed out of existence.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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