Log cabin offers students glimpse into pioneer history


It took 11-year-old Molly Poole less than an hour to decide that the life of a pioneer homesteader wasn't for her.

There was the constant hunger, for starters. There were illnesses and accidents that could, and did, claim scores of lives. There were long, cold, rain-soaked days spent stripping bark from logs to build a family cabin no bigger than a kid's bedroom today.

"It would have been a lot harder work," Poole said, resting between efforts to strip bark from a log with a shovel.

That appreciation for history was just what organizers had in mind in an event at Dorris Ranch that took participants back more than 150 years: The building of a log cabin like one that housed a Springfield pioneer family.

Some say history is best taught firsthand and in the field, not in the classroom.

So 12 local teachers and organizers with the historic ranch hatched a plan. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and logs donated by Springfield's Weyerhaeuser Co., they're building a cabin that resembles the home of the Mastersons from Kentucky, one of the first families to homestead in the area.

The cabin will anchor a hands-on Springfield homestead history program for students and the community. Activities will include crafts and theater, and the cabin will be featured in guided tours and history walks.

There are plenty of records of settlers who traveled west on the Oregon Trail, because the families had time along the way to write it all down, said Scott Dano, education coordinator at the ranch.

But there are few records of what happened once they arrived. The need to build shelter and stock food left little time and energy for diaries, Dano said.

"Kids learn all about the Oregon Trail &

but what happened when (pioneer families) got here?" he asked. "There's very little known."

William Masterson, a 38-year-old farmer and brick maker from Kentucky, claimed a spot in 1851 that is south of the city today.

William and Eliza Masterson built a log cabin roughly 12 by 16 feet &

cozy quarters, to be sure, made even cozier by the fact that it also housed their five kids.

The family probably didn't complain, given that the first few months were spent in a tent, teacher John Lovdokken said.

"In a raining situation, 180 feet of coverage looks real good," he added.

Lovdokken teaches history for Springfield schools, and other teachers volunteered from the nearby districts.

The replica is being built at Dorris Ranch, not far from the Mastersons' former homestead, and where the Dorris family had established a commercial filbert ranch by the 1890s.

Under a steady rain, volunteers dug a foundation for the cabin and stripped bark from logs of Douglas fir.

Moving cabin-size logs around is no small order, and the Mastersons would have relied on horses, oxen and mules for the work, Dano said.

To re-create that, rancher Cordell Sele of Sweet Home relied on Sally, his one-ton draft horse. Sele chained individual logs to the horse and she zipped them up a hill to the site as if they were oversize plastic straws.

The cabin should be done by August, thanks to a swarm of volunteers. That the Mastersons did the same job &

despite countless more obstacles &

was a wonder to some.

"The thing that's really impressive is the idea of just one family doing this," volunteer Conrad Hodson said.


On the Net:

Dorris Ranch: http:www.willamalane.org/1""parks/parkhighlights/dorris.htm

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