Who Would You Be in Prairietown

What was it like to be a craftsperson or a cook in the 19th century?

Click on a role below to take a look at the some of the trades and skills that helped or hindered Prairietown's survival.

Which role would you be best suited for in 1836?

Learn more about the important and time-consuming life of a prairie cook.

Learn more about the chores surrounding growing crops and caring for farm animals.

Discover the ins and outs of raising vegetables and herbs on the prairie.

Learn more about prairie justice and the deputies who enforced the laws.

Discover the tricks of the trade and see what the daily routine of a housekeeper was like.

Find out about the typical routine of schoolchildren back in the 1800s.

Discover the many trades that were useful in Prairietown.


Who would be a cook in Prairietown?
In 1836, cooking was generally done by women – mothers, wives and sisters – but men would certainly know how to cook basic things so they could cook for themselves when they needed to. It was common for children to start helping with chores as soon as they were big enough to hold a spoon! By the time children – especially girls – were eight or nine years old, they would regularly help with the meal and would know how to cook a few basic dishes on their own.

How would a cook decide what to make for a meal?
That would depend on what ingredients they had to cook with, and that would depend on what time of year it was. In the summer and fall, cooks would have plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, poultry and wild game. In the fall and early winter, families would butcher their hogs and have plenty of fresh meat. In the late winter and spring, having good food to eat all year long depended upon whether or not the cooks knew how to preserve their excess produce.

What ingredients would a cook need to buy?
Cooks would NOT go grocery shopping. Instead, they would grow most of their food as they were very reluctant to spend money on cooking ingredients. They would only go to the store to get the few things they couldn’t grow for themselves. Can you think of what those things might be? Hint: Do you like sweets? Visit Prairietown to find out the answer!

The Basics:
Corn, pork and beans. In 1836 Indiana, these three ingredients were the most common and important parts of any meal. They were easy to grow, could be stored for months on end, and were tasty! So, if you chose to settle in Prairietown, you’d need to know how to cook a few receipts (or as we call them today, recipes) that use these three ingredients. Here’s a recipe for Hasty Pudding that an 1836 cook could make at any time of year.


How would cooks make their food last?
There were three ways—dry the food out, pickle it or preserve it with salt or sugar. Which method a cook would use depended on the type of food. Here are two receipts for preserving veggies and fruit. Give them a try!

Hasty Pudding
The proportion of 1 part meal to 4 parts water is a good general rule of thumb. If the meal is coarsely ground, however more meal may be required to thicken the mush. A little salt was also traditionally added if available. A half an hour is sufficient to cook the mush. Serve hasty pudding with butter, molasses or meat drippings.

Pickled Green Beans
2 pounds fresh green beans
3 cups water
1 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 tablespoons dried dill
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves of garlic
Trim the ends from the beans; then wash and drain. Cut to fit pint jars. In a pan, cover beans with boiling water; cook uncovered for 3 minutes. Drain. Pack lengthwise in canning jars. In a large kettle combine 3 cups water, vinegar, pickling salt, dill weed, cayenne and garlic and bring to a boil. Cover beans with pickling liquid to within 1/2 inch of top. Adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes a quart.
~ from the "Thirteen Colonies Cookbook"

Apple Butter
10 pounds of apples
4 pounds of brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground allspice
6 quarts apple cider
2 tablespoons ground cloves
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Wash, peel, core and quarter the apples. Boil down the cider with sugar and spices. Then add the pared and cored apples. If the apples are tart, add more sugar. Stir the apple butter constantly until it is of moderately thick consistency.
~ from J. George Frederick's 1971 edition of "Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook"


Indiana was a great place for farming in 1836. The land was incredibly fertile and there was a good market for many different kinds of crops. Of course, it was hard work—the land in Indiana was covered with huge trees that would have to be cut down and the soil was full of stumps and roots that had to be cut through. But it was profitable and farming was by far the most common way for Hoosiers in 1836 to make a living.

How would a farmhand in 1836 decide what to grow?
They would first ask, what grows well, what seeds could be attained, and how could they get them? They would also consider which crops would be the easiest, fastest, most reliable, most popular and most valuable to grow.

Most farmhands who moved to Indiana grew corn. Most Americans enjoyed the taste of corn and everything that could be made from it. Plus, it was relatively easy to transport in various forms. The most common way for farmhands to ship corn was by turning it into something else. The successful crop was used to fatten hogs, which were then transported over land for slaughter, or corn whiskey was distilled and then shipped in barrels across the country.

How would a farmhand make money from their crops?
Most crops would be harvested in the fall. Farmhands would have to take their cash crops to a big city in order to sell them to make money. In 1836, the biggest city in this area was Cincinnati. Since Cincinnati was right on the Ohio River, it was a perfect place to bring goods that could then be sold up or down river and distributed through most of the country.

Farmhands wishing to sell their hogs or cattle had to walk their animals from their homes to Cincinnati. Stopping at inns along the way for rest was an option, but that cost money. Most of the time, they were likely to camp outside in the chilly, fall air. On the way down to Cincinnati, they had to be careful to keep their animals from getting injured or caught by wild animals. Once they arrived and sold their goods, their pockets would be full of money. Although the walk home would be a lot easier, they’d have to worry about criminals, bandits and highwaymen who knew all too well that hundreds of farmhands would be making their way home with their riches!


Gardens in the Midwest were necessary to sustain a family in 1836. Many families would have gardens right next to their house. This type of garden was used specifically to grow food to use in the kitchen. In their gardens, people would grow an assortment of vegetables and fruit. Gardens required constant planning and care.

What kinds of things were planted?
People would plant all kinds of things in their garden. What was planted varied from garden to garden, and was based on the preferences of the family. Common things to have in your garden would be potatoes, squash, cabbage, cucumbers, peas, beans, melons, and herbs (medicinal and kitchen). Pumpkins were often grown in the field with the corn, and apples, pears, peaches, grapes, and other assorted berries were grown in an orchard.

How much work could a garden be?
Gardening was a job for the whole family to be involved in. The men in the family would do most of the hard plowing, while the younger children and the women of the family would tend to the seeds and harvesting in the garden. Everybody would share in the responsibility of tending to the garden. Young children were often given the responsibility of weeding, due to smaller hands. They were also given the duties of killing bugs and of thinning out plants. One of the most important practices in gardening was using manure as fertilizer. Another problem that needed to be tended to was the insect problem. Gardeners developed many ways to keep pests from eating and destroying their garden. Sometimes people would spread sage leaves or cabbage leaves to attract the bugs away from the important plants. Sometimes soaps and water would kill unwanted pests, as well.

Vinca Major
Vinca Major

“Once the seeds and plants were in the soil the gardener had regular responsibilities to attend to their cultivation. Hoeing was the first act of cultivation; it was suggested as a way to destroy weeds and to provide regular nourishment to the soil. Weeding was necessary to remove the so called “garden sins” from exhausting the soil. Thinning the seedling plants was recommended in order to provide plants with adequate space to grow. Watering also was considered important.” ~ Gardens of the Midwest


What we would today call a “police officer” or a “deputy,” in 1836 would be called “Constable.” Constables were in charge of keeping the peace and catching offenders. They would bring them to trial in front of a Justice of the Peace. Only townships had constables and a Justice of the Peace. Smaller villages or towns relied on the constables and Justice of the Peace from larger, local townships.

What is a Justice of the Peace?
The Justice of the Peace in 1836 would look a lot like a city or town judge. It was an elected office in townships (not villages like Prairietown). In a township, Justices of the Peace and constables were elected. There were the same number of constables as there were Justices of the Peace and that number was based on the township's population.

Unlikely Laws

  • Breaching the Sabbath (including working, fishing, hunting, etc. on the first day of the week, Sunday)
    Fine: No more than $3 per offense.
    Selling liquor on the Sabbath or to minors (14 years and younger)
    Fine: $3 for every offense.
  • Profane swearing in the name of God
    Fine: Between $1 and $3 for every offense (not exceeding $10 per day).
    Altering the brands or marks of livestock.
    Fine: Same punishment as those guilty of grand larceny (theft).
  • Accepting or challenging another to a duel.
    Fine for Challenging: no more than $2,000 and prison for one year.
    Fine for Fighting in Duel: no more than $5,000 and one year in jail.
    Encouraging escape of slaves.
    Fine: No more than $500.
  • Playing bullets (a game where rocks are thrown across the road to hit a marked space on fence-rail) on road or in town.
    Fine: $3 for every offense.
    Vending cards or other obscene book.
    Fine: Between $1 and $3 for every pack of cards sold.

What about the Jail?
Prairietown is too small to have its own jail. The nearest jail would be in Noblesville. However, the jail would not look like you might be imagining with cells and bars to hold criminals. Instead, the jail might be a separate room attached to the Sheriff’s house. Felony trials would be held in the jail until trial, unless they were released on bond. There was a state prison as well which would have been able to hold many more people.


In 1836, housekeeping was an art and a family’s social status in the community would depend a lot on how well their household was kept. “Housekeeping” included everything from dusting and sweeping to making clothes, soaps and medicines, and educating children. In 1836, a good housekeeper had PLENTY to do!

Do you wonder how people would fill their days in 1836? There were plenty of chores to keep everyone busy. Everybody had to help:

Make the Bed
Scrub the sheets clean by hand, then allow the bedding to air dry by hanging it over a fence or a ladder. Once the linens were dry, put them back on the bed.

Wash the Dishes
Keep the kitchen clean by washing dishes after each meal. Use a splash of vinegar to cut the grease, and remember—the hotter the water, the better the results.

Drain the Dishwater
Always take a few steps away from the house to prevent dirty water from splashing on the paint. Pour the cool, soapy water over plants as a simple insecticide!

Clean the Floors
Sweep along the cracks with a broom that has been dampened to help pick up extra dust. Allow surfaces to dry before putting things back where they belong.

Rinse Every Surface
Clean cutting boards, unpainted tabletops and bowls by dusting them with salt and then scrubbing. You can draw pictures in the salt, and it helps remove layers of grime!


In 1836 attending school was not a required part of life for children in the state of Indiana. Parents often decided if their children would get a formal education. Families sending children to school had to pay about $2.31 per student by using store credit, cash, barter, or work. This paid for a three month school term that lasted from December to February. The rest of the year, children were very busy helping out their families with important household chores and farming.

Who would go to school in 1836?
Students or scholars as they were called in 1836, of all ages (six to late teens) sat in a one-room schoolhouse without being organized into grades. Both boys and girls were allowed to come to school. However, more boys usually went to school because they were expected to work outside of the home as wage earners for the family. Girls were mostly in charge of handling household chores and raising children. Mothers often taught their daughters about these responsibilities.

What would a schoolmistress/schoolmaster do in 1836?
During this time period teachers were normally men. The schoolmaster served as a teacher, principal, and janitor. Before class students would help the schoolmaster with chores such as carrying firewood and filling water buckets.

What were lessons like?
Schoolmasters would have class six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Reading, writing, spelling and math were the main subjects taught to students. Other topics (grammar, geography, history, etc.) could be studied too if a schoolmaster had the knowledge. Students typically recited these lessons out loud, which caused schoolhouses to become known as “loud schools.”


Mechanics, artisans, tradesmen and craftsmen. These are all terms for those with special talent and training for building and fixing things in 1836. These men were the backbone of a small community as their businesses helped make a community self-sustaining and would help draw customers from farmlands. It was not easy to be a craftsman in 1836 – and it was highly unusual to find a woman trained to practice such important skills.

Who would be a craftsman in 1836?
The term ‘craftsman’ encompasses many different jobs. In 1836, business owners were primarily men. Women were rarely found practicing trades, as their most important role was that of wife and mother. Craft or trade was usually seen as secondary to a man’s primary task of farming and raising food for the family. Craft or trade skills were usually passed down through families – if you were the son of a silversmith or weaver, there was a very good chance that you would become one too.

Here’s an abbreviated list of just some of the craft and trade jobs in 1836 Indiana:

  • Apothecary
  • Baker
  • Blacksmith
  • Brewer
  • Cabinet maker
  • Carpenter
  • Cobbler (shoe maker)
  • Cooper (barrel maker)
  • Distiller
  • Druggist
  • Glass blower
  • Goldsmith
  • Grist miller (makes flour)
  • Gunsmith
  • Hatter
  • Leatherworker
  • Plow manufacturer
  • Potter
  • Printer
  • Quarryman
  • Saw miller
  • Silversmith
  • Tailor
  • Tanner
  • Tinsmith
  • Weaver
  • Wool manufacturer

How could you learn to be a craftsman?
Apprenticeships. If you are learning the family trade, you would start learning the basic skills as soon as you were big enough to hold a broom or a dust rag! But if you wanted to learn a new trade, your family would send you away from home to learn with a master craftsman when you were around 10 years of age. Average apprenticeships were seven years long and you’d live with the tradesman. In payment for his training, you’d help him with all the household chores. Apprentice craftsmen would get very good at sweeping, chopping wood and following orders. More than one apprentice ran away from his master because the work was so hard and lonely.

But it was usually worth it. A master craftsman could make a very good living in most towns and was likely to be one of the wealthier members of the community.