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35 Pioneer Skills That Will Help You Survive

Many may equate a lifestyle lived entirely self-contained or self-sufficiently with preppers, rural communities, on farmlands, or due to location such as in the Alaskan bush.  Actually, it may be by choice to downsize, seek a healthier lifestyle, or live fully self-contained.

The lifestyle of bypassing modern conveniences to be a modern pioneer or homesteader can be in any setting, as it’s a mindset. Many 21st century people, who may be seeking independence from government interference, or just want to free themselves from any dependence on their supplies coming from the bigbox and commercial chain stores, do not have to be off grid to use traditional pioneer skills to live a healthy and simple kind of life.

Here are some traditional skills that any modern day homesteader can utilize in making themselves more self-sufficient and in control of their materials, supplies, workmanship, and food sources, and in some cases ultimate survival. We will look at a quick overview of how each old-time skill was used by the Pioneers for clean living, homemade quality, and satisfying craftsmanship in their day-to-day survival. There is no greater sense of accomplishment than making or providing for your family by hands-on know-how. When it comes down to survival situations, these are 35 pioneer skills that will help you survive.

1. Being your own blacksmith

For pioneers, the blacksmith was one of the most essential tradesmen. Blacksmiths fashioned and repaired everything from the farm equipment, carriage equipment, cooking implements, household items like irons, fishing equipment, wheels, and most important: the horseshoe. He was valued by farmers, shop owners, and business that needed transporters alike.

2. Knowing how to plant a garden

A garden was the biggest source of food besides hunting, and each Pioneer needed a garden. The garden and its care were tantamount for survival, as it produced food, medicine, dyes, herbs, spices, fragrances, animal feed and even bedding for animal and human alike. The key to careful living, and living well was a well-tended garden, Pioneers studied European and even Native American methods for the utmost output.

3. Milking your own cows

The Pioneers raised many breeds of cattle. The males could be worked with plows and used to pull wagons if necessary, and the cows could be used for milk, cream, or meat. Actually, Pioneers drank little milk due to no pasteurization, storage, and weather, so most of the cream was used for butter.

worm farming

4. Tending your own chickens

Chickens are a cheap to feed and keep, and a fast resource of valuable protein and meat. Optimizing your egg output by care and feeding would help the Pioneers in daily food output and using their bedding and waste helped keep the gardens fresh with compost. Older hens not producing can be used for the cookpot.

5. Knowing how to make your own drinks

Besides water, you had to brew or mix any drinks from raw materials. Even simple tea was a process. When soda shops popped up, it was a novelty and only available at the shop by a soda jerk.

6. Handling your own waste needs

With people and animals producing pounds of it every day, knowing how to manage your waste and make it work for you on a farm is a good skill to have. The Pioneers, well the fancy townsfolk later on, had some of the first indoor plumbing and toilets.

7. Making your own candles

In a nonelectric time, using tallow or beeswax to make candles meant light past the setting of the sun.

8. Knowing how to wood build

In Pioneer times, houses were made of hewn logs and with no nails, they used wooden pins to hold them in place, and special cuts in the wood to lock them together.

9. Knowing how to build a canoe

Without cars, traveling by canoe was faster than horses in many ways. Knowing how to construct a canoe from branches and hides, or do a dug-out canoe provided transportation for 1-4 people, maybe more.

10. Knowing how to sew

When you wove your cloth, the next step was sewing. Any clothing for work or daily wear was made by sewing. A seamstress, or home sewer, was a highly valued skilled person and for many Pioneer ladies, the only presentable way to make a living if a widow or unmarried maid.

11. Knowing how to barter

A skill that can make your life a whole lot easier by providing goods and services you need.

12. Knowing how to can your foods

Canning foods was a main preparation for making it through the winter and food storage. This was one of the only ways to have fruit and vegetables off season.

13. Knowing how to preserve your meat

Meat preservation was the only way to ensure meat for the winter besides. Salting, drying, pickling, curing, pemmican, jerky, and sausages are forms of preserving meat.

14. Knowing how to set snares

The cheapest and easiest way to trap animals, snares have been around since the cavedwellers. To get fur and meat for the table or trade, snares helped immensely.

15. Knowing how to bake

Bread is a main sustenance even today in many countries, and baking helped feed Pioneers by adding grains and a variety of food to the table. Baking includes heat, frying, or ground methods.

16. Knowing how to start a fire

When there were no matches, fire making, and starting fires was a life skill for survival. Pioneers would borrow fire from a neighbor if theirs ran out.

17. Knowing how to harvest seeds

Seed saving and making selective choices by the Pioneers insured the next harvest and garden, and has been the traditional way farms have been maintained for over 12,000 years. Pioneers bartered and traded seeds for biodiversity to keep strains strong.

18. Knowing how to catch fish

The knowledge in catching fish to plump protein stores meant knowing how to snare, trap, spear, and hook them. The Pioneers used cleaning with proper preservation to store fish, add to their food supply, and as a bartering material.

19. Doing your own gathering of fruit

The Pioneers had to hunt and collect berries and fruits for jams, jellies, dyes, drying, storage, and baking needs.

20. Working on leather

Leatherworking from animal hides was needed for clothing and gear. Working items like harnesses needed proper preparation, sewing, and tanning for it to have quality, longevity, and value.

21. Knowing how to weave

Colonial America introduced spinning, dyeing, and weaving to Indians who traditionally finger wove. Learning to weave provided cloth for trade and home weaving was a currency.

22. Being able to plant an orchard

The pioneers and colonists reconstituted the fruit and apple orchards of England for fresh use, culinary preparations, drying, ciders, meads, and alcohols.

23. Being able to raise livestock

Animals meant the difference between survival or starvation in Pioneer times. They could work, be bartered, or even slaughtered. Being able to raise them from breeding and fattening a herd meant success and wealth.

24. Caring for your livestock

Knowing how to properly care for the animals meant your survival, as that was your wealth and your workforce in Pioneer times. Proper feed, care, and rest went into these workers.

25. Doing your own beekeeping

Bees are crucial to pollinate crops, produce wax, and provide a high energy, natural sweetener in honey. Phoenicians kept bees, but the Pioneers started making movable comb hives so they could protect the bees.

26. Making your own soap

Soap was of great value to colonial people from peasant to peddler for its versatility, cleaning properties, and bartering value. Using animal fat from butchering, usually once a year as an event in fall, the Colonists revolutionized the potash soap and lye recipe brought from England.

27. Making your own beer

Native Americans were the first to brew beer by using corn, teaching the early European Settlers and Virginian colonists. Almost every culture in civilization used some form of beer to drink, celebrate, and barter with.

28. Building your own well

Instead of being primitive, many hand-dug wells are considered works of amazing engineering and have reached over 80 feet deep to supply cool, fresh water. Pioneers also used materials such as stones and wood, brick and early mortar.

29. Being able to butcher your own meat

Knowing how to use every part of an animal, its fat, and hide were crucial to a family. They all pitched in to help, and saved every scrap for sausages, pemmican, and kidney pie. Hides, fat, bones, tallow, brains to tan with, even the sinew were collected.

Making your own pemmican from meat 18th century style:

30. Knowing how to forage

An important skill to collect food, medicine, herbs, moss and berries, especially for winter stores, passed down generationally.

31. Knowing how to compost

Collecting matter to enrich and fertilize soil for more abundant crops for food production and soil care.

32. Knowing the best ways to hunt

Hunting was the single most source of protein for the Pioneers and the biggest food producer. Fur was a big trade item and a main profession during the winter for survival.

33. Knowing how to use the sun to collect water

Utilizing condensation at night, and using materials with the hot sun to induce water is a must.

34. Being able to identify edible plants

Pioneers passed identification skills down so each generation could collect food, medicine, remedies, animal feed, and barter materials to survive.

35. Being able to make primitive weapons

Hunting with bows, arrows, spears, bolos, powder guns, atlatls enables the collection of meat and in some instances defense of one’s home and farm.

Many of these skills, people may take on as a passion or hobby. But in the pioneer days, you needed to know as many as you could for survival. The same can foretell successful independent living for the modern day homesteader and self-sufficient lifestylist when he learns these 35 skills.

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About Dyann Joyce

Dyann Joyce
Growing up in the Bluegrass State, it was a point of familial pride to be able to shoot, trap, identify plants and track animals. Summer camps helped us be well versed in camping, weapons, and survival skills from a young age. We were surrounded by such a lush environment and we used the resources we had. I met my soulmate in my happiest place to be- a seemingly enchanted winding trail next to a beautiful wooded glen- where I spent as much time exploring as I could during daylight hours with my trusty four-legged friends. I thought I would be a natural scientist like Audubon and travel the world NatGeo style painting and recording the fantastical. I love to create and paint in many mediums. After 3 years following the nursing track, I switched to natural and holistic medicine as that is where my passion lies. I am hoping to finish my doctorate in homeopathic and botanical medicine to achieve my nMD in Naturopathic Medicine by late 2018 (hopefully). The bucket list includes living the days painting and writing on a fully self-sufficient homestead, off-grid with our animals and family and plenty of land for the significant other (who I think is a true artist at weapons and living that way) to shoot to his heart’s content. Naturally organic living for us and the animals is a goal.

2 comments

  1. Another good one girl 🙂 I’m starting to wonder, why we ever had beef? Regardless, I would like to include a few trades not mentioned in your article.

    Plumbing. It may not seem like a necessary skill and is definitely not one the pioneers would have known but in today’s modern world with pipes being everywhere a plumber is a good choice for a survival group.

    Electrician. Although it’s likely that any disaster can bring the grid down, solar and wind as well hydro electrics and generators will be used post disaster. The more technology available post collapse the better life will be. Just remember the movie “Thunderdome” to realize how a whole city can be built on energy 😉

    Mechanic. Cars and other forms of conveyance will also be useful in the dark days but in addition to vehicles, mechanics are like jack of all trades and can usually figure stuff out that is beyond most tradesman.

    I also saw no mention of doctors and nurses and while herbalists will be the most consulted of healers for basic health needs doctors and nurses will still be needed. Specialist like surgeons and even therapists have a place in survival groups.

    Lastly and (definitely not least) while you mentioned woodworking skills and I agree totally, a carpenter is like a mechanic in their ability to make something out of nothing and are a must in any survival group.

    Now I know that these suggestions, don’t exactly follow the theme of your article exactly but I’m considering the total aftermath, in a progressive sorta way. Yes much of our learning, will have to go back to the days of our forefathers but much of how our societies will rebuild are forged in forward thinking. Not by any means a condemnation of your article, simply an inclusion.

    • Yes, I kind of miss arguing with you, like a big brother! Maybe we are more alike than I thought haha
      Oh sure, you are right, I was geared more towards Pioneer skills that would carry over. but you are right that mechanics (the Pioneer farrier), doctors and nurses (pioneer midwives, herbalists, and apothecary, tribes that offered their cures), and definitely carpenters will have their value in any post collapse community more than ever. It will/could be like medieval times in the trade sense, as skills and bartering goods will be currency.
      Thanks for the nice note!

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