14 June 2010

What Surprised Me: Bathrooms, Gambling & Weddings

By Jacquie Rogers

We in the modern West have many notions, often promulgated by novels, movies, and television, that simply aren't accurate. Some of these surprised me when I first found out the facts, some of them didn't.See which ones surprise you.


When those of us in North America think of the history of bathrooms, we generally hearken back to the days of outhouses (or privies) and Thomas Crapper. But no.

Year: 3000 BC
Place: Mohenjo-Daro, in modern-day Pakistan, where nearly every single dwelling had a bathroom complete with a (sorta) flushable toilet.

Year: 206 BC to 24 AD
Place: Shangqiu County, province of Henan, China, where the Xinhua news agency quote archaeologists as saying: "This top-grade stool is the earliest of its kind ever discovered in the world, meaning that the Chinese used the world's earliest water closet which is quite like what we are using today."

Of course, the Romans had an efficient plumbing system with community baths and toilets. But somehow the Western Europeans forgot all that, and when the migration to the Americas began, it was still forgotten.


From Gambling Origins: "Implements associated with the practice of gambling have been found in ancient China sites dating back to about 2300 BC. A pair of ivory dice made sometime before 1500 BC. have been found in Egypt. In fact, writings mentioning gambling have been discovered on a tablet in one of the pyramids at Giza. Inhabitants of ancient India, Greece and Rome also practiced some form of gambling."

Okay, so we all knew gambling is nothing new, and in fact gambling paraphernalia (bone dice and sticks) have been found on six continents dating 10,000 years old and older. But our modern-day notion is that gambling has always been considered a vice. Not so, not even in the USA.

From the California Research Bureau: "The Virginia Company of London, the financier of Jamestown in Virginia, was permitted by the Crown to hold lotteries to raise money for the company's colonial venture. The lotteries were relatively sophisticated and included instant winners. Eventually, the crown banned the lotteries because of complaints that they were robbing England of money."

And: "All 13 original colonies established lotteries, usually more than one, to raise revenue. Playing the lottery became a civic responsibility. Proceeds helped establish some of the nation's earliest and most prestigious universities--Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton, and William and Mary. Lottery funds were also used to build churches and libraries. Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and George Washington were all prominent sponsors of specific lotteries for public works projects."

Then of course the Western Expansion is rife with gamblers. What surprised me was the stakes. We see B-Westerns where a gambler throws out a dollar or two to ante. But the truth is, most games were high stakes and many farms, ranches, herds, mines, and churches where lost in bets. Yes, churches. There are two instances where preachers' wives used their churches as wagers and lost.

Everyone gambled in the West. And if you think about it, that's only logical because the people who packed up their wagons and came west had gambled their entire futures on one venture. Most of those who migrated were middle-class people looking for a pot of gold, whether that gold came in the form of cattle, crops, or precious metals. So in the early days of the expansion, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn't be willing to make a wager, whether it was how many times the hound would bay in an hour, or who had the best hand of cards, or over a rip-roarin' game of bucking the tiger (faro).


We have a tendency to think of English traditions when we think of marriage.

Quite a few couples in the Old West weren't married in the strictest sense of the word--no marriage license, no church wedding, no Justice of the Peace presiding over a ceremony. Nada. Why? Because those services weren't available, but men and women just naturally pair up, and sometimes the family was already started, so necessity ruled. If possible, neighbors gathered and they'd throw a party. The senior man of the community might declare the couple husband and wife, but that wasn't particularly required--mostly, couples announced that they were married and that was that. If a circuit preacher came to the area, they might get officially married then, but they could have been living together as husband and wife for years and have several children before that happened.

Also, the American West had a variety of customs. Many immigrants came from Scottish stock who had themselves emigrated to Carolina and then on to Kentucky and Tennessee, bringing their traditions with them. According to MedievalScotland.org: "...a Scottish woman did not normally change her surname when she married." So way before it became popular in the 1970s, western women often kept their birth surnames or used it as their middle name.

As I research more, I'm sure I'll find more surprises, and isn't that the fun of it all? I can hardly wait!

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