That’s what my house felt like this June when my air condition conked out. When the temperature hit over 85 degrees inside, I wondered how people in the old west handled the summer heat. How did they stay cool? Or rather as cool as possible? Staying warm in the winter I can image as the upstairs bedrooms in my grandparents’ northern Iowa farmhouse lacked heat. We piled on the layers during the day and stayed in the room with the gas furnace. At night, we bundled up and slept under a huge pile of blankets. But summer? There’s only so much folks can take off before they get thrown in jail for indecent exposure!
Here’s what I found when I researched the subject. Folks wore loose fitting cotton clothing like the couple above that “breathed” allowing air in and sweat to dry which also helped keep them cool. I’ve got to admit, I’ve found some fabrics cooler than others. Western settlers also woke before the sun and accomplished the majority of their work before the heat of the day hit. After that they either napped or took a dip in an irrigation ditch, or canal. I’m not sure how I feel about those based on the picture above. They don’t sound like the most fantastic swimming holes. I’d prefer a nearby lake, stream, or spring.
Settlers learned to include shady breezeways in their houses. Thick walls of grassy sod and the same material covering the wood roof helped keep the structures cooler. The downside of this was sod houses let bugs in. Ugh. Not a great choice—being hotter or dealing with bugs. Many soaked their bedsheets in water before sleeping. Others slept outside to take advantage of the breeze. Kitchens were lean-to structures which allowed some heat to dissipate. But this didn’t help cooks much who still had to cope with it being ten to twenty degrees warmer at the cookstove.
Around the 1870s to 1880s, ice could be shipped in by railcar. However, it was so expensive few regular folk could afford it. Fans weren’t common either. There were some powered by foot treadles, but they were mostly used by businesses, offices, or the wealthy.
That’s what I discovered. In the old west during summer folks dressed in loose, lightweight cotton, drank a lot of water, rested during the day, slept outside, or on wet bedsheets to cope with the3 heat. I suspect it made for quite a few cranky people. I sure was a bit short on patience when we lost AC!
To be entered in my random giveaway for a copy of The Rancher and the Vet, a car rearview mirror charm, and a drink sleeve, leave a comment on your favorite way to keep cool in summer. Other than staying inside, that is!