Outside of St. Clair, on property mostly hidden from view, sits a farm seemingly from another century, and a woman who tries to spend everyday living the life of a bonafide pioneer woman.
Only a short walk from Linda Beckley’s front door is the log cabin she calls her home away from home. At least that’s what it feels like inside the authentic log home the Beckleys had moved to their property several years ago, and spent nearly seven years rebuilding, log by log.
Beckley, 72, is used to spending her time in the century-old, frontier style log cabin, and says if she could spend every hour of the day in it, she would. She believes she may have been born in the wrong century, and lives out her days recapturing what it was like on America’s frontier.
“It wasn’t that long ago. If you think about where we’ve come in such a short amount of time, it’s crazy,” Beckley says, as she uncovers some tea set on a wooden table in the cabin.
The cabin is just one part of the frontier life at the Beckleys’ farm. While Linda Beckley and her husband Don live in a modern home with air conditioning and heating, it is filled with frontier-age relics and furnished and stocked through traditional means.
Their eggs come from their chickens, their wool comes from their sheep. Beckley makes most of the fabric-based things in the house with handmade fibers and century old tools.
Nearly everything in Beckley’s home is homemade, often created with tools used on the frontier.
On her front porch sits a loom she estimates is roughly a century old. The large machine’s banging sound echoes around the property as Beckley pushes the loom back and forth, weaving threads from her sheep’s wool into fabric.
“If I get to do it enough I’m happy, but sometimes life gets in the way. I’d do this all the time if I could,” Beckley said. “I like to create. I like to start from nothing and make it into something. I could never leave here and just do this forever.”
The loom isn’t an anomaly: inside are several similar tools that were used in daily life on the frontier. A wood operated stove sits in the kitchen. Nearby is a wooden shelf stocked with jars of preserved food. In the living room are several well-aged spinning wheels used to thread yarn from fiber.
The Beckleys moved to St. Clair in 1991, having living in St. Louis for most of their lives. After raising four children, the couple was finally ready to make the move to a property where they could live the frontier life. They purchased the farm where they now grow almost everything they need on. From vegetables and herbs to flax and cotton, the couple grows it at the farm.
Through the gardens and several other frontier practices, Beckley makes her own everyday commodities. Soap, rugs, clothes, dyes and much more all come from the work done on the property.
Outside, a flock of sheep grazes in a field. Nearby a small herd of cows and a few goats also wander. Near the log cabin is a chicken coop and several wooden homes built for Beckley’s many rabbits. Don wrangles a chicken who has escaped the coop as Linda checks to see if any eggs are ready for harvest.
In two large bags in a shed nearby are last year’s wool clippings, which Beckley uses for many of her projects.
Beckley stands on the back porch of her log cabin, surveying the sprawling green field her sheep, goats and cattle roam in. This life makes her happiest. She says she wishes there were more time in the day so she could work more on her frontier life.
For most people, this lifestyle would feel hard and something to escape, but it’s just the opposite for Beckley.
“It’s the neatest thing in all the world to be able to do this. If I couldn’t do this, I don’t know what I’d do,” she said. “The biggest thing in my life is being able to share it and pass it on. I really do like the solitude, but I really like to be able to tell kids what it was like and see their reactions.”
Beckley often worries people will forget about America’s history. She said her visits to schools have become more seldom, and she believes that today’s students aren’t learning enough about America’s past on the frontier.
“I just think that we need to be able to show other people how things were made, originated and how they started,” Beckley said. “Today, they don’t really get to learn that that much. Everyone takes these things for granted”
After spending five years working as a master craftswoman at Silver Dollar City, Beckley said she had to stop. She said she wanted to be at home more and that the six-week stays were getting to be too much. She said she misses interacting and teaching children about life on the frontier, and gets the most out of her lifestyle when she can pass it on.
“A lot of kids have had too much. They have cars, computers; everything they want, they get,” Beckley said. “I think that they’re all asking themselves, ‘Well, what can we do?’ It’s all been hype, but it’s gone for some. You can still go downtown and do it all, but I see a lot of younger ones doing this type of stuff.”
The interest from younger people has mostly come from Franklin County’s Fiber Guild, of which Beckley was one of the founders. She said more and more younger people are joining the guild to learn about the way things used to be.
“I wish they’d do more with the kids,” Beckley said. “But I also am seeing a greater interest from young people. We have young people coming to the Franklin County Fiber Guild who would have never stepped through the door. But they want to learn all of it now.”
All of Beckley’s four children own farms, and she said the frontier tradition will continue in her family through them.
“My granddaughter and my daughter can do what I do,” Beckley said.” And we’ll keep passing it on. Whatever I can do so we don’t lose this.”