Keeping Cool in the Old West

I lived in Nevada desert without benefit of air conditioning for 22 years. We lived on a generator and since we didn’t run the gen during the heat of the day, there was no way to cool down the house. We lived in the northern part of the state, so the hot, hot weather only lasted for three to four months and then it was time to get ready for the cold, cold months. I loved that house, and our isolation, but summer months could be trying.

To deal with the heat, we’d shut down the house by pulling blinds and keeping windows and doors shut after 10 a.m. We opened the house back up at 9 or 10 p.m. to let the cool(er) air blow through. Most importantly, we slept in the basement instead of our actual bedroom for at least two months every summer.  I lived in loose fitting dresses. My husband, who hated shorts, wore shorts. Once the sun started to go down, we escaped the now super hot house and hung out in the shade of our favorite tree. And we drank a lot of water.

So how did people with no electricity for AC units and swamp coolers keep cool(er) in the Old West?

In the Southwest, Native Americans taught settlers to build homes with shady breezeways to keep air circulating. Wind and moving air was the one thing that could ease stifling heat. Some people soaked blankets with water and hung them over windows to create a swamp cooler effect when the wind blew.

Many houses were made with thick walls to keep out the heat–adobe houses  in the southwest, and sod houses on the Great Plains. Also, people understood the benefit of cool earth. I’ve read of people that had “caves” or earthen places to escape to. I think I would have sat in the cellar, if I’d had one.

During the height of the summer, people slept outside if possible. If it was impracticable, or too dangerous to sleep outside, they would damped their bed sheets with water to cool them before going to sleep.

According to True West magazine, one shouldn’t believe all the pictures showing people in dark heavy clothing during the summer months. People wore lighter colors and looser clothing to deal with the heat when necessary.

And, of course, people tended to work in the morning and evening to avoid the super hot part of the day. They sought out shade and drank a lot of water.

Have you heard of any ways that people kept cool back before AC and electricity? If so, please share. I’m going fishing tomorrow (waving at Laura Drake) but will check in as soon as possible. I’m hoping to learn some stuff.