Outhouses in the Old West
by Moriah McCormick
and Jacquie Rogers
Have you ever wondered about outhouses? Growing up, my family and I did a lot of camping and at most camping sights there were outhouses available for use. My grandpa even had one on his farm. To me, outhouses were just a part of life. Nothing else.
It wasn’t until I moved to “The Big City” that I realized that not everyone thought that outhouses were commonplace structures. My friends would look at me strangely when I mentioned my grandpa’s outhouse and they’d tease me about how I was living in the wrong era, but invariably they’d start asking questions about them. I didn’t know how to answer these queries because an outhouse was a place to do your business and that was that.
When I was seventeen I went on a week long camping trip to Silver City, Idaho, where I saw a two-story outhouse. It triggered every question that my friends had ever asked me and a few of my own as well. For instance, what about that poor fellow on the ground floor? It was time to find some answers.
Crescent MoonIn modern day, there are men’s and women’s restrooms, but in all the pictures you see only one outhouse. Why? Also why was there a crescent moon on all of the outhouses? Conveniently for me those two questions can be answered at the same time.
An outhouse was made for privacy, but without a window how would light get in? Cutting a shape above eye level let in light but still allowed the users their modesty. In public places, a person could usually find two outhouses next to each other: one would have a carving of the crescent moon the sign for women, the men's would have a star.
Apparently the sanitation and maintenance of the men’s outhouses were not always on par with the women’s, and sometime in the early to mid 19th century, men began using the women’s outhouses and leaving the star behind.
But wait! What about toilet paper? Corncobs or paper (from whatever magazine or catalog available) had to suffice in the first half of the 19th century.
In 1857, Joseph C. Gayetty introduced the first paper specifically for this purpose, Gayetty's Medicated Papers, also called therapeutic papers. Rolled toilet paper wasn't invented until 25 years later, and wasn't commercially available to the mass market until the 1890s.
How did you keep down the inevitable foul smell of an outhouse so that a person could use it without throwing up? And what happens when it fills up?
Controlling the odor of an outhouse was a full time job. A bag of lime with a scoop was usually placed in the corner. After every use you sprinkle a scoop of lime in the hole as a chaser to keep down the smell. As for what happens when the outhouse gets full, easy—you simply dig a new hole, move the outhouse over it, and fill the old hole with dirt. This is a good place to plant a flowerbed or a tree.
|Two-story outhouse in Silver City, Idaho|
The two-story outhouse perplexed me the most. How in the world would you use the top without making a mess on the person below? It turns out that the seats were staggered and the top seat was placed farther back than the one on the bottom. In the lower outhouse there was a wall placed behind the seat so that the occupants wouldn’t be defiled by the contents falling from above (thankfully).
Apparently I’m not the only person who thinks about outhouses. I Googled “outhouse” and was slammed with thousands of sights.
Do you like music? Here's an outhouse song:
Anything you want to know about outhouses, you'll probably find on the Outhouses of America Tour website. Don't overlook the trivia and FAQ pages.
You just know Legends of America will have something to say on this topic. Take a look at their Outhouses of the American West pages (five of them).
A fun site to visit (and to send your outhouse photos and anecdotes) is OutHouseGraffiti.com. They refer to the Legends of America site for the history, but this site offers photos, stories, and "misc. crap" (which has nothing to do with anything, but fun if you like disgusting humor).
Outhouses have long been a convenient source of good old American humor, the most often used is privy-tipping. Outhouse scenarios are frequent in shoot-outs because they lend a little comic relief to an otherwise very tense "sit"-uation. Yes, there's outhouse humor in nearly all my books--didn't realize that until now!Here’s a snippet from
Much Ado About Madams
by Jacquie Rogers
Reese took aim, but lowered his rifle when he realized Buster was stabled just the other side of the wall. The .54 caliber bullet would go right though the man and the barn wall. Desperately, he searched for another way to take out the gunman. He ran to the outhouse and threw himself to the ground.
Gunfire stopped, and Reese’s skin crawled. Maybe his men had been shot. Maybe they were reloading. Praying for the latter, he positioned himself into a crouch, ready to spring. Seconds passed. The odor of the privy didn’t help his patience a bit. He made a note to tell Sadie to use more lime. Lots more lime.
♥ ♥ ♥
Hearts of Owyhee
Where the Old West really happened!
Where the Old West really happened!
|Much Ado About Marshals|
|Much Ado About Madams|
|Much Ado About Mavericks|