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Old West Do-Over

red61544

I just read a time-travel story in which the MC from today was was plopped down in the old west at around 1848. It was a tale of love, joy, and total improbability! Think of our modern sensibilities trying to survive around 150 years ago! First, two baths a year were common. Even among the wealthy, a bath a month was extraordinary. Women didn't shave. Armpits and legs would be covered in hair. Secret deodorant was still a secret. Menstruation was handled with an old rag that was washed out when needed. Dental hygiene consisted of having the barber pull a tooth that had become too infected to tolerate. Most teeth were either rotted or yellowed. Off-the-rack clothing was scarce and expensive and most clothing was homemade. So socks and underwear weren't changed very often and outer garments probably even less frequently. Charmin' didn't exist! There weren't even catalogues that could be used in its place. Could a modern man (or woman) actually tolerate these conditions and fall in love with someone for whom they were perfectly natural? More so, could someone write a time-travel love story that included all of these problems and make it believable? There's a challenge for someone brave. Write a story with no aliens providing modern conveniences but with two people with 150 years separating their sensibilities still falling in love. That's a story I'd like to read.

Replies:   sunseeker
Ernest Bywater

While it's true many people in past eras didn't bathe often, it's also true that many people did bathe often, there was no consistency. As far as the US West was concerned the issue of when you had a bath was more around when you had access to a metal bath to bathe in with hot water available. Many people often bathed in rivers and streams on a more frequent basis than most people believed.

The majority of the information on not having many baths comes more from the colder climate areas where having a cold bath on a regular basis was a real health hazard.

Another aspect of the 1800s and before is most people spent the majority of their day outside and working in environments that did smell a lot, so they were a lot more tolerant of odours than people are today.

And yes, some people from today would fit in real well back then, especially people used to working on farms or spending a lot of time on them, and military personnel would fit in well too. Then you have the whole back to nature crowd and the survivalist groups who'd fit in back then too. Plus the regular long hikers and the like.

The hardest part for someone used to modern city living to get used to living in that type of environment would be to use a flat stick or the like or an old rag to wipe their arse with. One common use for newspapers back then was to tear them into squares to use as toilet wipes when having a shit.

The realistic aspect is if some modern city dweller went back 150 years and couldn't quickly adjust, they'd be very quickly dead, and thus there's no story at all.

red61544

@Ernest Bywater

Another aspect of the 1800s and before is most people spent the majority of their day outside and working in environments that did smell a lot, so they were a lot more tolerant of odours than people are today.

That's exactly what I'm saying; people then were more tolerant of odors and a lack of bathing facilities. (Their odors didn't have the u in them so they weren't as fancy! Odours seem much less smelly than plain odors!) I find it hard to believe that anyone from this time could tolerate living back then. You mentioned the military. I spent 22 years in the Army crawling around in jungles, deserts and other unseemly places. Our first concern (other than not getting our arses shot off) was cleanliness. We were aware of germs and infectious disease; people in the old west were not. To fall head-over-heels in love with someone from that era would require overcoming most of the squicks that inhibit modern man. Few men fall for a woman who has a lot more body hair than he does! Oral sex with someone who hasn't bathed since last May can't be seen as romantic by any stretch of the imagination. What I was asking for is a story in which the MC finds ways to adjust his entire way of life and live and love in the circumstances in which he finds himself. Most time-travel stories simply ignore these things altogether.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Lazeez Jiddan (Webmaster)

@Ernest Bywater

Another aspect of the 1800s and before is most people spent the majority of their day outside and working in environments that did smell a lot, so they were a lot more tolerant of odours than people are today.


Coming from military experience, I can tell you that when the whole group of people don't bathe for the same length of time, nobody smells anybody. You get used to your own smell very quickly and if everybody smelled the same, you don't smell them either. The human nose gets desensitized very quickly to odours if it's exposed to them constantly.

Ernest Bywater

@red61544

Most time-travel stories simply ignore these things altogether.


Or introduce regular bathing, as I've done in most of mind. In some I've just ignored a lot of the daily stuff as everyone knows it happens.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Or introduce regular bathing, as I've done in most of mind. In some I've just ignored a lot of the daily stuff as everyone knows it happens.

Better yet, teach them about the benefits of cleanliness. Many might argue, but over time, those who sided with you would survive longer.

Replies:   red61544
red61544

@Crumbly Writer

Better yet, teach them about the benefits of cleanliness. Many might argue, but over time, those who sided with you would survive longer.

Crumbly, remember we're talking about the old west. If you start to suggest to a lot of people that they smell bad and would benefit from more frequent bathing, you're going to get shot! Insults, no matter how well-intentioned, should not be given to people with guns!

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@red61544

Crumbly, remember we're talking about the old west. If you start to suggest to a lot of people that they smell bad


I rather took the "benefits of cleanliness" as a reference to sanitation and disease/infection prevention rather than body odor.

Despite the reputation for violence, disease and infection were the number one killers in the old west.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Dominions Son

smell bad

sin bad the sailor. sail bad the sinner. Smell bad to the visitor. (Uptime visitor.)

StarFleet Carl

@Ernest Bywater

And yes, some people from today would fit in real well back then, especially people used to working on farms or spending a lot of time on them, and military personnel would fit in well too. Then you have the whole back to nature crowd and the survivalist groups who'd fit in back then too. Plus the regular long hikers and the like.


While I rather enjoy modern conveniences and such ... I grew up in a rural farming community in the 1960's. Heck, we only showered once a week, maybe twice, up until I was in high school. We didn't have a bathtub - we had a shower in the basement that was just a poured cement area.

You knew who the wealthy guys were because they smelled more like pig crap and cow crap than anyone else.

And we had a one holer outside up until I was 4, and we still kept that as back up until we finally used it for the high school bonfire when I was a senior in high school. You had to pee and you were a guy, you simply went out onto the back porch, unzipped and let fly.

You're right - a modern city dweller, especially a big city dweller - he'd be dead in a week or less. A country boy? Fit right in. Might have a few squicks, but no issues.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

Returning to the core of the complaint, there's a western I started back last year I'm still working on where I expect to get some unhappy responses to. However, I do have an important foreword to it that should stop most complaints if they bother to read it, and part of the foreword is:

Cowboys and Guns

There's a lot of authenticated information available about how the people lived and worked in what most people call the 'Wild West,' the name for the states and territories between the USA Rocky Mountain and Appalachian Mountain ranges during the nineteenth century. But most people only know what's in the books and films about the era.

The majority of what you see in the Hollywood shows and films on Cowboys and the Wild West relates to a couple of episodes in limited areas and small time-frames of the nineteenth century USA. There were some hired guns and fast guns, but not many. Violence did occur from time to time, usually with robbers attacking travelers, stagecoaches, and banks. In the cities few people went armed, and outside of them most people went armed. However, most people were armed with shotguns or rifles for use against dangerous animals and bandits. A lot of the people who spent most of their time on horseback did carry handguns, usually it was in a holster on the saddle in the same way a rifle is carried. Thus the rider could quickly draw the handgun to shoot something nearby while on horseback when attacked by wildlife, the main reason for having the gun. Usually a handgun was several years old, simply because old guns were much cheaper than new ones, and all guns were expensive. A rifle for hunting was where the people spent the most money on new guns.

Some of the western towns had local laws prohibiting people from wearing handguns within the town limits, and most people respected such laws. Thus the shootouts we see in books and films were very rare in real life, while road robberies were much more common events. A lot of the law enforcement people of the era carried shotguns to intimidate people, which they did. The few people who wore a handgun in a belt holster were most often criminals, or lawmen, or hired guards, because few honest men had a reason to carry a handgun on them. A rare few did go armed for their own protection, many such men had previously worked as hired guards or lawmen, but not all of them. Most people of wealth also went armed, but they usually carried a concealed handgun.

This story unfolds against this background, and not the Hollywood version of the era. Here most armed crime happened outside of towns.


The sad thing is most westerns that follow these truths aren't well received by many readers.

typo edit

Replies:   SnakeEater
SnakeEater

@Ernest Bywater

Quite so, too many take what they see in movies as gospel. As far as cleanliness goes few people who lived in the towns or cities noticed the stench after acclimating to it. When they left town for an extended period then returned is when they'd begin to notice the smells until they adjusted again. I've read where when when you got within a number of miles of a town you could begin to smell the town in the distance. You also see in many stories/movies where the comment 'dirty Indian' was used, ironically the 'dirty Indians' normally bathed far more often than the vast majority of Whites did at the time. They knew that most animals would avoid human scent whenever possible & regular bathing led to more successful hunting. Look at todays modern hunters & the market for 'odor absorbing' hunting clothing & soaps designed to camouflage human body odor. The 'Indians' knew it from having to Live in it.

Joe Long

@Ernest Bywater

old rag to wipe their arse with.


When I was a kid parents in the US were still routinely using cloth diapers on their infant's behinds. It just needs to be well cleaned off before re-use.

sunseeker
Updated:

@red61544

you don't say which story you read but try out Will to Survive from Ernest Bywater. Modern dude somehow gets sent back to mid 1800's, no aliens involved. I recently finished reading it again...

http://storiesonline.net/s/13144/will-to-survive

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