Down at the Farm: Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm
May 2014~LBJ State Park, Stonewall, TX
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- A living history farm, restored to its 1915 glory (some of the buildings on the property date to 1861)
- Working farm with a kitchen garden, hogs, chickens, guinea hens, turkeys, cattle, and sheep
- Maintained by park docents in full period costume
- Our favorite thing: the park docents cook, garden, tend to the farm animals, give demonstrations for visitors, and somehow live without air conditioning in Texas. Hats off to them!
*Please watch this beautiful video about the farm, from Texas Parks & Wildlife!*
ALL ABOUT IT
We had the opportunity to visit the Sauer-Beckmann Farm on a cloudy day in May 2014, and all we can say is, if we'd been farmers in central Texas nearly 100 years ago, we would have probably died from starvation! The things people knew how to do back then astound. They raised and butchered their own hogs, chickens, and cattle; milked their dairy cows and made cheese/butter; sheared the sheep; spun wool into yarn and actually made stuff out of it; grew their own fruits and vegetables and canned them; cooked on wood-burning stoves; hauled water from the well...the list goes on and on.
Gene Logsdon puts it best in his excellent book The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening when he refers to this old-fashioned lifestyle as "the craft of subsistence living." A craft takes time to learn and perfect, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight. Back in the day, self-sufficiency was a way of life, a matter of course, but today many of us are taking those first tentative steps into the farming life with little (to none) first-hand knowledge. This is where living history farms such as Sauer-Beckmann come in handy, to take a look at how people did things back in the day.
Evidently they did a whole lot more manual labor than we do today, which could explain why they wouldn't have had issues with obesity. The early Texas farmers would have broken the counters on their pedometers, if they'd had those gadgets back then! Just hauling water around to irrigate the crops and feed the animals, not to mention water for doing laundry and cooking, kept everyone in shape. And they did a lot more than haul water; a quick peek in the barn revealed all kinds of interesting tools requiring human power. The farmers would have walked along behind the plows, harvested wheat with a grain cradle, and more. By today's standards, backbreaking work; folks probably burned more calories growing, harvesting, preparing and preserving their food than they got from eating it!
We had about a million questions for the costumed docents, but so did the million (or so) kids on the school tour that same morning we were there. We did get a word in edgewise with one of the volunteers, so we asked about canning...how did they do it with no electricity and no running water, during the hot Texas summers? The volunteer pointed to the wood-burning stove in the (non-air-conditioned) kitchen, and said, "On that. When we're canning vegetables in August, it can easily get up to 120°F in here!"
So the simple life was not necessarily easier...but in a whole lot of ways, it was probably much less stressful. Early Texas farmers had to deal with many difficulties (think drought, pests, sickness), and yet they did not have to deal with the kinds of chronic stressors modernity presents (traffic jams, crime, crippling poverty.) Us? We'd take on the farm life anytime. As long as we could keep our running water and electricity...
If you'd like to learn more about life on early Texas farms, try out this great oral history account that we unearthed at the LBJ State Park gift shop: Harder Than Hardscrabble (edited by Thad Sitton.) This gem provides an amazing look at life on the farm, from the farmers themselves.