Pioneer corn shuckin’ was a jolly good time

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I found a book online titled: Canton: Its Pioneers and History. A Contribution To The History Of Fulton County, by Alonzo M. Swan, that was published in 1871.

As can be seen, the Canton Mr. Swan is referring to is not the one in nearby Stark County, Ohio, but the one farther west in Fulton County, Illinois.

At the time of the events described in these stories, western Illinois was still considered the frontier, but was being slowly settled. Here is an interesting account of how those pioneer folks had fun, probably a somewhat infrequent occurrence in those days.
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“A pioneer corn-husking was an event of more than ordinary interest, at which would congregate the young and many of the middle-aged of the entire neighborhood.

When the farmer’s corn was “snapped” from the stalk, in the husk, and the time arrived for it to be “opened” for winter use, a boy would be dispatched to warn the settlers, for miles around, that “We’re goin’ to have a schuckin’ at our house Wednesday night, and we want you all to come over.”

This invitation was more sure to meet an affirmative response than do the perfumed and gilt-edged cards of invitation of this more refined age.

Young folks

About three o’clock of the day of the “shuckin’,” the young folks would begin to arrive: the beaux dressed in linsey-woolsey ”hunting-shirts,” or “wamuses,” and the girls in checked linsey, or cotton gowns, with cow-hide brogans.

The corn had been divided, when hauled, into two separate piles of equal size; and before these piles the assembly was convened.

From among the most expert huskers two captains would now be chosen. These captains, when selected, would toss up for first choice of huskers, and then choose alternately from among those present, male and female, until all the working hands had been selected.

Now rails were placed between the piles to prevent the sly kicking of corn from one pile to another, and at a given signal work would begin.

Friendly competition

And now the fun would grow fast and furious, each side striving to outstrip the other, and each side taunting the other with their lack of skill and sloth. Whenever some lucky fellow found a red ear in husking, he was entitled to a kiss from his girl.

At some frolics the “red ear” entitled its “shucker” to a kiss from all the girls on his side; of course, the announcement of a “red ear” was the signal for fun, and many a tussle would ensue between some stout and buxom pioneer lass and stalwart beau; he determined to have the kiss to which the “shuckers” law declared him entitled, and which the maiden with coyness and fun would pretend to refuse.

It was noticed, however, that the man in these encounters was always the stronger vessel, and would be sure to obtain his kiss.

Continuing the tradition

And such is human nature to this day. At frequent intervals, during the evening, the bottle of Monongahela whisky would be passed, and all “took it by word of mouth”; i. e., each would turn the bottle up to their lips, drink from it and pass it to their next neighbor, male or female.

The victorious captain would be seized by the party, raised upon the shoulders of a few stout men, and borne from the husking-pile to the house, surrounded by the crowd, cheering and shouting; the bottle-holder marching by his side, furnishing him refreshments along the way.

After the piles would be husked, loud crowing and shouting would announce the victory; and the winning party enjoyed themselves hugely at the expense of the vanquished. Husking completed, supper was next in order.

This meal had been prepared by the more sedate of the matrons, while the young folks were busy “shucking.”

Boards were spread, borne upon boxes or tables, and a bounteous meal prepared. The choicest pewter and delft dishes from the whole neighborhood had been borrowed for the occasion; and the table fairly groaned under its load of venison, stewed squirrel, squirrel pie, chicken pie, johnny-cake, hominy, honey and stewed pumpkin.

Something extra

Perhaps, too, if the landlord was rich, there would be a high dish of fried doughnuts at each end of the table.
At these frolics many a backwoods youngster would master courage to tell his inamorata, in faltering terms, of his love, and receive her coy pledge of fidelity.

After supper the tables would be cleared, the furniture removed to the “yard,” the dogs driven out, and a dance begun. The fiddler, who was an important personage at these gatherings, with an air of pompous authority, would take his position at one end of the room and announce with professional dignity a four-handed reel, or jig.

At these dances there was no standing still; each “hoed it down” with might and main, in a style that would excite the astonishment of a dancing-master of today.

The jig was a favorite dance, as it gave the boys an opportunity to cut each other out, and in it each tried to tire out all the rest; so that it would sometimes continue for hours.

Into the night

The bottle passed as frequently during the dance as it had before the “shucking,” and we confess, with shame, that our ancestors would sometimes get just a little uproarious before daylight, for it was not until daylight that anybody thought of going home.

When the dance broke up, bashful swains and coy maidens would trudge off homeward, on foot, hand in hand; or, perhaps, both mounted on one horse, go jogging along together telling of the fun that they had enjoyed.

Carriages and sleighs were then unknown; and even had they been, the roads were not in a condition to have made it pleasant traveling over them.”

Do any readers recall husking bees? I don’t.

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Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for the article. I am reading a book that uses the phrase “that kiss meant no more than a red ear at a corn husking” and I wondered what it meant. Thank you! Christine, Grapevine, Texas

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