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The Madera Tribune

A look at the hard life of the frontier

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webmaster | 06/01/12

I was late, very late, getting to bed Wednesday night because I was one of the millions of Americans who helped set a ratings record for watching “Hatfields & McCoys” on the History Channel. In case you missed it, and don’t know about the Hatfields and the McCoys, you no doubt will be able to catch it later in reruns.

I actually watched part of it in rerun Wednesday night because I tuned to it late. After five minutes, I was hooked. The telling of that tale is television at its best. It is a story about hate, family honor, justice and miscarriages of justice. It is a western, but told in a way we aren’t used to seeing westerns. The acting and photography are so good, you can almost smell the people. And you can’t imagine they smelled good.

Life wasn’t easy in the hills of West Virginia and Kentucky in the years following the Civil War — just as it wasn’t easy in Madera County when settlers came here to try their hands at gold mining, and later to buy land and establish farms, and cut down the sugar pine forests.

Things we take for granted today, such as houses that keep out the cold and damp, were rare back then. Many families lived in shacks and considered themselves lucky.

The early lumber business, which eventually gave birth to Madera, was a tough occupation. The felling, limbing and hauling of timber was work that could leave a man numb with exhaustion by the end of a typical day, with little to show for his exertions but a paltry wage, bad food, bad whiskey and exposure to injury and disease. Very few would work like that today — and few have to, thankfully.

When a person could make a dollar back then, there was always someone shady waiting to take it.

Everyone should watch “Hatfields & McCoys” to get a feel for what life was like in frontier America.


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