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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

TO SLEEP TIGHT
Beds

by C. F. Eckhardt
The old expression "Good night, sleep tight" once had real meaning. Beds didn't have springs in early Texas. They had ropes. A bedframe was drilled along the headboard, footboard, and sides with holes about an inch in diameter. Through these holes a rope of of an inch to an inch in diameter was threaded, to make a pattern of squares, like loosely woven cloth with very big yarn. This rope was pulled as tight as possible and secured. Atop this there was a 'tick,' which was what a mattress was called at the time.

The tick was a big sack. If you were very lucky, you might stuff the sack with feathers, but featherbeds were few and far between. Far more often ticks were stuffed with hay or prairie grass, or even cornshucks. The worst tick was a shuck tick. Not only did the shucks rattle and crunch loud enough to wake you up every time you turned over, but invariably there was a cob left in the tick. It would find your kidney or a spot behind your ear at about 3 AM.

One of the problems with rope is that it stretches. As you slept on the bed, your weight stretched the ropes and they got loose. Then it was time to tighten the bed.

Tightening a bed was a two-person job. Normally the side ropes were tightened first. With the tick removed one person got on each side of the bed. #1 pulled the rope that was tied off on the other side until it was taut, at which point he signaled #2 to pull the rope from the other side. Pinched fingers were very common. As soon as #2 pulled the rope taut, #1 moved up to the next section of rope and pulled. This alternating pulling was repeated until the side ropes were as tight as possible. Then the pair switched to the head and foot of the bed and did the same thing. The bed was again tight, and the people 'slept tight' until the next time the ropes stretched and it was time to 'tighten the bed' again.

About once a week, if possible, the filling in the tick was changed. This entailed dumping the old filling and finding more. Hay was not good for filling a tick because of the many stiff, sometimes sharp, pieces of straw in the hay. Grass was much better, but a person had to be very careful not to include any grassburrs or goatheads or similar stickers in the filling, for if even one was included it would be sure to work itself to the sleeping surface at the tenderest spot on the sleeper's body, and then announce its existence about 2 AM.

Feathers, if a person could get them, were ideal filling, but the feathers had to be prepared. You didn't simply stuff the tick with feathers, because feathers have stiff spines, and they would poke you as you slept. Each feather had to be carefully split, the spine removed, and then the feather had to be curled by dragging the remaining spine that held the softer part of the feather together over a sharp-but not too sharp-surface. It might take a thousand or more feather curls to stuff a mattress that fit a double bed. Featherbeds were tedious to make and the feathers, which would crush down over time, had to be replaced at least yearly. Yet they were valued greatly, for a featherbed was the most comfortable tick on the frontier.

Cotton ticks were commercially available or could be made if a person had the cotton. Normally cotton 'batts'-essentially a very thick, soft, fluffy felt made of cotton-would be sewn together to make the filling for a tick. If a person couldn't get or make a featherbed, a cotton tick was the next best thing, but because cotton absorbed sweat-and there was no airconditioning, not even any fans-the tick had to be laundered on a regular basis or it began to stink.

A tight bed with a featherbed atop it let a man and his wife 'sleep tight'-and in relative comfort.


C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
>
August 16, 2006 column

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