Hotter Than a Fur Coat in Marfa

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.

irrigation ditch

 

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.

1890s ice wagon

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!

 

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Julie Benson has written five novels for Harlequin American, and her Wishing, Texas series is available from Tule Publishing. Now that her three sons have left the nest in Dallas, when she isn't writing, Julie spends her time working on home improvement projects, rescuing dogs, and visiting Texas wineries with her husband. Visit her at www.juliebenson.net.

62 thoughts on “Hotter Than a Fur Coat in Marfa”

  1. I enjoy our air conditioning. I drink iced water and iced tea. I am disabled so I am unable to get out much.

    • Debbie, I enjoy cold seltzer water. For mother’s day my middle son gave me a mimosa kit with these little flavored sugar cubes. They’re great in cold seltzer, too. It’s a nice treat on these horrendously hot, humid days.

    • Charlene, I love going swimming. That’s another thing that’s made the summer tough. We still don’t have our pool repaired from the winter ice storm! The last pipe was repaired this week. Now we have to drain the swamp, clean it, and refill it. I’m hoping I get to swim before the weather cools.

      Take care, stay safe, and thanks for stopping by today.

  2. When we lived in Phoenix, AZ, and our AC went out during the summer, I slept on my bare vinyl waterbed mattress, as it was cooler than sleeping on the hot bedding. Another time, we all went outside and slept on the trampoline, dogs and everyone! It was actually quite comfortable. We also spent a lot of time in the pool, over which we had a shade sail so the sun wouldn’t fry us!

    • Sherry, thanks for stopping by the corral today. I’m chuckling at the idea of my family sleeping on a trampoline. With four dogs of our own and two foster pups that would certainly What a smart idea to have a shade sail over the pool! Your dogs must be better behaved than mine are! Thanks, too, for the idea of having a shade sail over my pool for those days when it’s so hot the pool isn’t even refreshing because it’s in the sun. Take care and stay safe.

  3. I live in a hot, humid area. NO way to stay cool in that! My husband’s ancestors were in West Texas – they had a dry heat, but also the wind blew incessantly – which sounds good, but they also had dust that got into everything. My MIL told me there would be sand in closed water bottles – not sure if she was pulling my leg, but after living there for six years, I don’t doubt it!

  4. I do everything early in the morning, so I can relax the rest of the day. I remember when our a/c went out in the middle of August. You know how hot it gets in Texas this time of year. The entire unit (inside and out) needed to be replaced. It was a week before we could get it taken care of. My mother-in-law decided we had suffered enough and took care of it for us. We didn’t even have the money to stay at a hotel and mother-in-law is an hour away, so it was too far for my husband to have to drive every day for work. I took bags of ice and hang them down the inside of my loose cotton dresses. We also took multiple cold showers daily. Sleeping was another story. With the windows open, mosquitoes could get through the cracks in the blinds.

    • Janine, I feel your pain. We’ve had AC go out on the long July 4th weekend and couldn’t afford a hotel either. How sweet of your MIL to help you.

      Having someone back over our gas meter and knocking out our heating was much easier. We built a fire in the fireplace, dug out our old long underwear from when we lived in Iowa, and piled on the clothes. But dealing with a broken AC is so much harder. The other big issue for me is being hot makes me cranky. I find myself snipping at everyone. And cooking. Who wants to eat when it’s so hot in the house?

      Take care, and stay safe. Thanks for stopping by today.

    • Debra, what a great idea! When my middle son would play baseball in the summer, we we towels and froze them for them to put around their necks. Thanks for stopping by today to chat. Take care and stay safe.

    • Tonya, what a great idea! I think of sticking my feet in a lake or a pool, but never thought of a bucket for when neither of those are nearby. Thanks for stopping by today. Take care and stay cool.

  5. Morning reading this brings back seeing my great and grandparents and how they dress. I myself always wear 2 shirts tank under my regular. So when I get hot if there is any kind of wind it cools me off. Learned this little trick from my great and grands. Love sitting on our porch in the shade and have something to read or work on. Thanks again for a wonderful walk down memory lane for me. Have a blessed day!

    • Kristi, I’m so glad my post brought back wonderful memories. I thought a lot of my grandparents working on the farm when I wrote it and h.ow everything kind of stopped in the mid day heat. Take care, stay safe and cool. Thanks for stopping by today.

  6. Good morning! I’ve often thought about how on earth people tolerated the heat before a/c too. Of course, we are more tolerant of conditions that we are accustomed to. I do know that many had screened in porches & had beds out there in the summer to sleep where they could get the breeze. That would be my choice. Maybe some shallow contraption to where you good put fresh very shallow water fresh from the well every night & sleep directly in it!!! ??? I have MS and like many of us MSers, I’m very heat intolerant & on top of that my temper flares if I get too hot so my crew wants me to stay cool!! ? I can barely tolerate a period of the electricity is out in the summer. A couple years ago we had a period in August of about 11 days of above 100° temps and people were pulling so much electricity & a near by town chose to pull electricity from our substation too that our substation caught fire & burned to the ground. That was a miserable week while we waited for a temporary substation to be erected!! I’d love the opportunity to read your book! Stay cool! Oh, by the way I have a cool cloth that I wet and put around my neck when I have to be in the heat and I have a cooling vest that freezer ice pouches can be put in pockets of the best to stay cool too. Just FYI’s for future no electricity issues!! Now if my MS memory could just remember this for myself but when I get too hot my brain goes haywire!!!?

    • I love your idea of a shallow pool type thing you could sleep in! And who knew there is a vest that can hold ice packets! I could’ve used those a few days when my middle son was playing baseball. Take care of yourself. MS is never easy even without this heat. Stay safe and cool. Thanks for stopping by to chat.

  7. Good morning! I’ve often thought about how on earth people tolerated the heat before a/c too. Of course, we are more tolerant of conditions that we are accustomed to. I do know that many had screened in porches & had beds out there in the summer to sleep where they could get the breeze. That would be my choice. Maybe some shallow contraption to where you good put fresh very shallow water fresh from the well every night & sleep directly in it!!! ??? I have MS and like many of us MSers, I’m very heat intolerant & on top of that my temper flares if I get too hot so my crew wants me to stay cool!! ? I can barely tolerate a period of the electricity is out in the summer. A couple years ago we had a period in August of about 11 days of above 100° temps and people were pulling so much electricity & a near by town chose to pull electricity from our substation too that our substation caught fire & burned to the ground. That was a miserable week while we waited for a temporary substation to be erected!! I’d love the opportunity to read your book! Stay cool! Oh, by the way I have a cool cloth that I wet and put around my neck when I have to be in the heat and I have a cooling vest that freezer ice pouches can be put in pockets of the best to stay cool too. Just FYI’s for future no electricity issues!! Now if my MS memory could just remember this for myself but when I get too hot my brain goes haywire!!!?

  8. Water ballon fight!
    When I studied abroad in Paris during the summer, they don’t really air condition buildings for the most part, and 99% of the time that wasn’t a big deal, except for a span of three days when it was Texas-level HOT, and no AC. I couldn’t think straight! I’d never not had a way to escape from the heat before. So what I did was take a cool shower, and then nap, with my bedroom window open to get any breath of air. It was like trying to sleep under a mountain of comforters.

    • Abigail, those three days of Texas level heat could sure spoil a Paris visit. Though it would be nice to have an excuse to be a lump during the middle of the day. Thanks for stopping by today. Take care and stay cool!

  9. I try to take my walks early in the morning also drink a lot of ice water. You can also make a poor mans air conditioner by freezing a gal milk jug with water and put a fan blowing across the frozen milk jug. My neighbor does this pretty often while he is setting on his front porch.

    • What a wonderful idea with the milk jug! I’ll have to remember that to use on our patio. Thanks for stopping by and telling me about the poor man’s AC. Take care and stay safe.

  10. I like a tall glass of ice tea. I sit on the porch in my rocking chair sometimes with a wet hanky draped on the back of my neck.

  11. WE grew up without A/C – but a fan in a screened window and allowing the cool night air in was a fantastic way to sleep – never remember being too hot to sleep! My dad’s house sits up on a slight hill and always has a breeze blowing there!

    • Teresa, I wish the night would cool down here in Texas. My son lived in Clovis, NM and I noticed it cooled quite a bit after the sun went down. No such luck here. Your dad’s house sounds wonderful, especially the porch. I miss that we don’t have decent porches in the burbs.

  12. As a girl, I would climb into the lower branches of my parents’ cottonwood with a good book and read in the shade. It’s amazing how you can forget everything around you when you’re in a good book.
    Now I enjoy swimming with my children, having Popsicles or ice cream, and reading in the shade.

    • Jess, I never could learn how to climb a tree. Plus, with as clumsy as I am, who knows what would’ve happened had I learned! But it does sound wonderful to climb up in a tree, get away from everyone and read. Thanks for stopping by today. I think I may need a popsicle. I can’t remember the last time I had one! Take care. Stay safe and cool.

    • Kathleen, it’s been so long since I lived in a house with a basement I’d forgotten how much cooler they could be. Thanks for stopping by today to chat. Take care and stay safe.

  13. welcome today. wonderful post. growing up on the farm, we didnt have AC until I reached high school. mom kept the windows open so any breeze would go through. she always had lots of water and other drinks ready, as well as fruits and snacks. She always told us it was just as important to drink as it was to eat, getting liquid from food. we learned to keep the animals cool with lots of water and shade. from early on mom gave each of us girls a fan that we could carry with us. at least the air was moved across our faces. but we learned how to deal with the heat and to stay out of the hottest part of the days sun. we lived in the desert. our front yard was surrounded by large trees and grass, so it was nice and shady. not sure how dad did the grass, but it was a life savior at times. mom got a slip and slide and when it got super hot, after we made sure the animals were good, we would play on that thing for a long time. we learned so many important things about keeping both the animals and ourselves hydrated and safe in the summers

    • Lori, it sounds like you’re mother was a smart woman, teaching you how to care for animals and yourselves during the summer heat. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your wonderful memories and your mother’s wisdom. Take care and stay safe.

  14. When I was growing up there was no AC. I cannot remember being uncomfortable though since we played outside all day and it was hot and humid. We didn’t have fans. We opened all the doors and windows which made a cross breeze. This was in a large city and we went to the pool, and managed.

    • Anne, isn’t it amazing how when we didn’t have AC we simply dealt with it, but now that we have the luxury, we can’t imagine life without it. I was the same way when we were at my grandparents’ farm. Now we think it’s awful if we have to be outside in the heat. Thanks for stopping by today to chat. Take care. Stay safe and cool.

  15. I get up very early and go for a long walk. Mornings are my favorite time. Then as it warms up I can accomplish a few things. Even though it is hot I sit outside in the backyard, drink sparkling water and sit under the umbrella and read and enjoy life.

    • Ruth, I love mornings too when it’s cooler and quiet. It’s such a great time of day to walk and think. Though sitting in the backyard under an umbrella, reading and drinking sparkling water sounds pretty good too. Thanks for stopping by today. Take care and stay safe.

  16. To beat the heat I drink tea, and keep hydrated, walk in the evening and enjoy the day in the shade of the beautiful trees.

    • Sharon, enjoying the shade of big trees sounds wonderful. I need to repair my bench and put it back under our huge live oak tree. Sitting there with a glass of tea and a good book sounds wonderful today. Thanks for stopping by today. Take care, stay safe and keep cool.

  17. I keep cool by staying in the shade and wearing a nice sun hat. I’ve also used an umbrella as shade when I’ve been out walking the dogs. Its amazing how much cooler it can be if you just keep that sun off of you. I think they were on to something when they used to use parasols. Thanks for the chance to win!

    • Megan, I think you’re right about the parasols! With so much risk of skin cancer, we really should return to using them to protect our faces. I’m not a big hat, gal. They look awful on me. I’m amazed how much cooler it feels in the shade, too. Thanks for stopping by the corral today. Have a happy summer and stay safe.

    • Caryl, I agree. It’s been awful doing yard work without the pool to cool off in. We had the pipes that broke in the big freeze fixed this week. Now it’s on to draining the swamp, washing the pool, and refilling it. I’m hoping we get to do some swimming before the summer’s over. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Stay safe.

    • Emma, some days the only thing that helps on a hot summer day is a cold shower. When my AC went out that was the only thing that kept me sane. What’s even better is getting out of a cold shower and sitting in front of the fan! Thanks for your comment. Take care and stay safe.

  18. Interesting article. Of all things mentioned, I would have a hard time sleeping with wet sheets. It doesn’t sound cool or comfortable at all.

    I am not a morning person, so getting out early is rarely an option. During mid-day I try to work in the shade of the house or under the trees. I often work in the gardens in the evenings when the sun isn’t as direct. We have an old victorian farm house on a hill with a wraparound porch. We have tables and chairs set up in one corner and that spot catches a nice breeze 99% of the time, no matter how hot it is. I make sure to have cold drinks available, but have a bad habit of not drinking as much as I should. If it cools off a bit at night, we may open the windows, closing them in the morning.

    I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the tropics for 3 years. While there I discovered the advantage of using an umbrella for portable shade. Very effective. During the rainy season, it was hot with near 100% humidity. There was nothing to do to escape it. You just sat there and dripped, a lot like a sauna. It was hard to accomplish much of anything. Great for weight loss, though.

    • Patricia, I thought the same thing when I read about the wet sheets! It didn’t sound comfortable to me either.

      Your house and especially the big porch sounds fabulous. I would love to find an old farmhouse, but sadly, I think most folks have torn them down around here and built big new houses instead. 🙁 It must be wonderful sitting in the chairs, having the breeze waft over you, while you sit and chat with a good friend. And you’ve been in the Peace Corps! You must have some great stories from those years! Thanks for your wonderful comment. And BTW, I never seem to drink enough water either. Sigh. Yet another goal I’m working on.

  19. I keep the curtains closed during summer, but I can handle heat. We didn’t get ac until about 15-16 years ago. We drank ice water, put ice packs around our necks, and sit or do work in front of the fan.

    • Keeping the curtains closed makes such a difference. I like the natural light, but by midday I have to close the shutters. Otherwise it gets too hot. My silly dogs miss the sun, though. 100 degrees outside and they want to sit outside in the sun. I guess they tolerate the heat better than I do. Take care and stay safe.

  20. When I was growing up in the 40s we didn’t have ac. My grandparents lived in a small wood frame house. Luckily the kitchen was shaded by a huge walnut tree. They would get the chores done early, have their main meal at noon and take a rest during the hottest part of the day. They had a small farm so didn’t have to leave for work.
    My favorite thing to do was read sitting on the swing that hung under the big Walnut tree.

    • Maureen, my grandparents did the same thing. Chores were done early and then everyone rested after the noon meal. It drove me nuts as a kid because I got bored. I would’ve loved sitting in the swing underneath the walnut tree and reading, though. Thanks for stopping by today. Take care, stay safe, and keep cool.

  21. Julie, what a great blog. I remember when I was little and we only had window air conditioners in the summer how hot it’d get at night. We left all the windows open throughout the house. It was refreshing and in those days we didn’t worry about anybody tearing open the screens or anything on that line. Again, thanks for a wonderful, thought provoking blog. Miss you and blessings.

  22. Hey lady! I can’t leave my windows open either. One night one of the dogs heard something and went shooting through the screen! Scared us to death. Miss you too.

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