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  • Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

    Firewood stories abound in history

    by Delbert Trew
    Delbert Trew
    Recently my wife Ruth pointed out a sign stating, "Firewood For Sale-$400 per cord." I immediately answered, "We are rich! We are rich!" I was thinking of the mesquite and cedar trees growing in our remote canyons. Then I remembered all the sweat and hard work required to make firewood out of such trees plus deliver it to paying customers. I dropped further thought on the subject. Keeping our own firewood supply replenished was enough work for this old man.

    I would guess that since man first discovered fire, learned its uses and enjoyed its comforts, at least a zillion cords of wood had been burned down through the ages. History abounds with stories telling of the early Great Plains settlers sending out the children pulling wash tubs with ropes gathering cow or buffalo chips for fuel. Other settlers gathered rough tall grasses making small bundles called "hay-cats" to burn in their stoves. Prairie fuel was hard to find and keep in stock.

    Chuck wagon cooks prepared for "woodless days" on the trail by swinging a dried cowhide beneath their wagon box, calling it a "coozie" and filling it with whatever prairie fuel found that day during the drive to the next camp ground. It might be wood, soto sticks from bear grass or just a pile of good cow chips found near a buffalo wallow.

    Common sense tells us that Indians moved their camps regularly because of the lack of firewood more than any other reason. Every early western settlement provided jobs and business opportunities by the constant need for firewood, hauling water, moving outhouses and hauling off trash and manure the same as modern cities today.

    My favorite firewood story comes from the history of a Colorado gold mining strike high in the Rocky Mountains. Winter forced most of the miners to flee the high altitude snows to lower altitudes to spend the winters in warm saloons. A few of the more hardy miners built good cabins, cut and stacked firewood for the winter, and stayed living near their mines.

    One old-timer, well-experienced in winter survival, built a tight cabin and cut plenty of firewood to keep him snug through the winter. At some point that winter, he discovered someone was stealing from his firewood piles but was unable to determine the identity of the thief. He finally drilled a hole with a wood auger into a chunk of wood, filled it with black powder, plugged the hole and left the chunk near where the thefts were occurring.

    The culprit's wood stove and cabin were heavily damaged by the blast and the two thieves became so enraged they shot and killed the old-timer responsible. This act prompted the other miners to hold trial, convict and hang the two wood thieves proven guilty beyond doubt by the blast.

    So, two thieves and a good man died as a result of the theft of a product that was abundant and totally free for the cutting. (That is, if you were not too lazy to cut.)

    Delbert Trew - "It's All Trew"
    May 10, 2011 column
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