Cabin Interiors

With the convenience of linen sheets to keep the sod roof from trickling in, a secondary benefit was that the white linen considerably brightened the dark cabin interior. This provided a bright surface for candles to reflect from, which greatly aided the long night hours of winter. Luxuries like interior illumination were still in their most rudimentary form in Jackson Hole, and elk tallow made excellent candles. Windows were a means for the elements to penetrate the home, and glass had not yet made its way into the valley. The more enterprising homesteader might bring windows with him, but for the Wilsons, their cabins were without decoration. They were efficient structures, carefully constructed to withstand heavy snow loads and high winds, but they were only temporary. Most homesteaders (like John Carnes) built larger, more comfortable homes as resources allowed. These later homes included windows, additional stories, wooden-shingled roofs, and wooden plank flooring. It is possible that the Wilsons had plank flooring, since Melvina notes they were skilled with a pit saw. But it is also likely that they stood on hard packed dirt that was swept daily. Despite the rather rough accommodations, the cabin interiors were clean, warm and inviting with regular upkeep.

Remnants of old newspaper insulation on a cabin.

Remnants of old newspaper insulation on a cabin.


The Wilsons were the first to carve out the route for Teton Pass, and this meant they had to be extremely economical in how they packed their wagons. They split up their supplies and had to make more than one trek over the mountains to bring all of their belongings into the valley. Due to this process, furniture was considered a luxury that could wait. They initially had brought everything they owned with them to St. Anthony, but a move over a mountain pass reorganized their priorities. While it is probable that they kept some heirloom pieces, for the most part, new furniture was constructed for their new home. Hand sawn lumber was used to create cupboards for linen closets, and poles for bedsteads. On the bed frame, strips of elk hide were interlaced and tied to the edges to create a surface for the hay and feather-filled ticking (ticking refers to the fabric, these were effectively shallow stuffed mattresses laid on top of one another to create a comfortable place to sleep). These were a rather old style of bed, tracing back to medieval times. These strips, or laces, often had to be tightened, as a night’s sleep could loosen them. The phrase “sleep tight” comes from a time when you had to tighten your bed before you got in. Children often slept together, as space was limited, and the Wilsons had many siblings. Boys often slept in bunks while girls squeezed onto one bed.

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