of the tools needed by man equaled that of fire. He needed it to cook, heat, make
light and to use for making other tools, like in blacksmithing. Before the friction
match there was only the flint and steel method of starting fire from scratch.
Because fire was so necessary, yet was often hard to start, cavemen, later American
Indians and early settlers kept live coals at hand carried in hard leather pouches
and wrapped in moss. Later, a copper box called a "tinder box" was invented and
used to carry live coals. One merely laid out a live coal, sprinkled dry grass
over it and blew on it. This created an instant blaze.
Just as important
as the need for fire was learning respect for the tool. Under control, a fire
is a useful tool. Out of control, a fire can destroy life or the livelihood of
the user. Respect for fire was carried out in many ways. Since most early fires
were started in the kitchen many settlers especially on large plantations or ranches,
built cook shacks out away from other structures for protection. Some early settlers
had kitchens but cooked outside on campfires to prevent tragedy.
the advent of brick, settlers built chimneys by the "mud and stick" method. After
the main structure was built leaving a large hole in the wall for the fireplace,
they laid the rocks for the fireplace then stood four vertical poles outside the
opening in a square, leaning against the house. Then they began tying short lengths
of wood horizontally inside the poles until the top of the chimney was reached.
As the chimney grew in height, mud was stuccoed by hand using mudcats both inside
and outside the hollow opening as the crosspieces were attached. When thoroughly
dry, the flue worked well carrying smoke upward.
If the clay stucco job
was good, not using much grass, the mud and stick chimney worked well. Sometimes,
if a large fire was built in the fireplace, the chimney itself would catch on
When this happened, all occupants rushed outside to push the chimney
poles outward away from the house to collapse on the ground to keep it from catching
the cabin on fire. After the chimney fire burned out a new chimney could be built
back the same way.
Eventually most communities developed a brick kiln,
usually on the largest plantation or business in the area. They dug good clay
from a nearby pit, mixed and formed the brick, then stacked them inside a kiln
for firing. Early bricks used wooden molds leaving the bricks somewhat crude and
uneven. After metal brick molds were invented, the bricks were smooth with sharp
edges. Bricks could be identified by color as each clay pit contained its own
Of interest, the brick kilns of the day were very crude
and heat was not always distributed as evenly as needed. The bricks stacked nearest
the fires, usually made of charcoal, became harder in glaze than those stacked
The harder bricks were then separated and sold for a higher
price than those with softer texture. That is why many old brick buildings today
show deteriorated bricks, whereas other buildings show no damage. The builders
used a cheaper, less fired brick.
"It's All Trew" December
14, 2010 column
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He
can be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail
at email@example.com. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears