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Leisure time in the frontier town

February 17, 2013
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

As hard as life was on the frontier, it was far from joyless, for the most part townspeople were young. 40 was considered getting well along in years. They were robust, and possessed a deep optimism. When they did find the time to play, they did it with gusto.

Saturday was the high point of the week in any town. It was then that the population would swell with country folks who came into town to buy whatever groceries they did not raise themselves, to sell their eggs and cream, to shoot snooker at the pool hall, play pinochle or poker in the saloon. Gossip was traded at the livery stable, the barber shop, or the porch of the hotel. By evening when most of the country people had returned home the townsmen might indulge in one of their most favorite pastimes, social dancing. It was here that any female from eight to eighty could count on a full dance card. Women were in desperate short supply in nearly every frontier town (the 1860 federal census showed the population of Colorado of 32,654 males, and 1755 females). In order to hold a dance men had to assume the role of female partners. They would tie a handkerchief around one of their arms. This had the effect of making the real women look overwhelmingly lovely, and their feminine allure was further enhanced by the practice of wearing wedding dresses when they had nothing else that was suitable for such a festive occasion.

In wintertime, towns organized lyceums, or literary societies for debates, lectures and songfests. The debates were a favorite part of the program with speakers arguing volatile issues such as slavery, capital punishment, or whether or not farming paid.

Sleigh rides were great wintertime pastimes as were turkey shoots in the summer. Foot racing was a passion, and horse racing was a diversion that often had the spectators literally betting the shirts on their backs! But in the years following the Civil War, the greatest sport of all was baseball. Every town and hamlet had a team, and the contests were often epic struggles, sometimes turning into long marathons before a winner was declared.



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