America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IV
THE FRONTIER

APART FROM THE MAIN STREAM OF AMERICAN RECREATION, fitting into no general pattern, were the amusements of the frontier. They maintained their place in our national life for almost a century after the establishment of the Republic. New developments affecting other phases of social activity did not touch them. But the frontier during these years was being pushed farther and farther westward, changing in place if not in spirit. And once civilization had caught up with it -- on the slopes of the Alleghenies, in the valley of the Mississippi, on the Great Plains -- the natural restraints of a more conventional way of life quickly spelled the decline of many of the pioneers' rough and boisterous diversions.

At the opening of the nineteenth century, travelers in Ohio brought home vivid accounts of the "dram-drinking, jockeying, and gambling" that characterized the frontier. They told tall tales of barbecues and backwoods balls where home-distilled whisky stood ready at hand in an open tub, a drinking-gourd beside it. The women sometimes drank toddies; the men took theirs straight:

Hail Columbia, happy land, If you ain't drunk, I'll be damned.

Some three decades later, when this pioneer country had become a state proudly boasting close upon a million inhabitants, Frances Trollope was visiting Cincinnati. "The only rural amusement in which we ever saw the natives engaged," she wrote, "was eating strawberries and cream in a pretty garden about three miles from

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