Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chicken Dinner: Outhouses

Debra Holland wrote about grand buildings and houses constructed of Sioux quartzite. But hey, not all buildings in the Old West were so fancy. Let's face it--every human needed somewhere to take care of business, visit Mrs. Murphy, have a conference with the governor, or see a man about a horse. You get the drift.

Plug your nose because today, Chicken Dinner is visiting outhouses.

We might as well start off with a general overview of plumbing with Plumbing--It's Good to Have. This is a brief synopsis of plumbing throughout the ages, from the ancient Chinese to modern times.

Anything you want to know about outhouses, you'll probably find on the Outhhouses of America Tour website. Don't overlook the trivia and FAQ pages.

Two-story outhouse in
Silver City, Idaho
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 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 been a 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!

Next week: Diane Davis White! And no, she won't be talking about outhouses. You're in for a real treat because she has written an article that RTW will publish in two parts about the history of her family's log cabin. Stay tuned!


  1. What a great subject. I'm in a still-rural part of the East and we have our share of old outhouses, usually turned into some kind of outpost for hanging flowers. That's how my neighbor used hers until the day she had to jump behind it for cover as errant bullets from some liquored-up deerhunters flew past her. I didn't see it, but I understand she hunkered down there, cussing like a sailor at the top of her lungs. The shooting stopped, though nobody ever found out who did it.

  2. When I was a kid, my great grandfather still had one in operation. Though there was indoor plumbing in that old house, and one small gas heater in the front room.

    We stayed there in the winter once, and I remember being weighed down by so many quilts you couldn't move. However, getting up to go to the outhouse was the worst. They asked us to use it instead because they wanted to save money on water. They had survived the Depression, and nothing was ever wasted.

    Here's to the instantly recognizable icon of days gone by.

  3. Outhouses had to be a scary adventure. lol

    The smell alone in a outhouse had to about kill you, but I've read critters liked to hide in them, too.

    I have to say,I'm quite pleased to live in world where there's indoor plumbing.

  4. When we took my mom back to Tennessee to visit her relatives, we also visited some of my husband's kin. One lovely lady, Lily, had no plumbing. I was thrilled, as our daughter had never seen an outhouse and I thought this would be educational for her. Nope. Because the limestone is so near the surface, digging an outhouse is difficult. So, when Lily's children built her new home in the 1960's, they did not include a septic system. Amazing for that year, eh? My daughter and I asked Lily where we could relieve ourselves. She said, "Out behind the big tree." We went out, but no outhouse. So we came back and asked more explicit directions. "There's no outhouse, you just squat behind the big tree." We asked if that wasn't cold in winter. She said then she went inside the chicken coop. ???? I know the simplicity of life in the ninetennth century is appealing on a lot of levels, but I'll take modern plumbing, thank you very much!

  5. Jacquie--I was born in a house with no running water, therefore we had an outhouse. We moved to "town" when I was four, thereby instantly gaining indoor plumbing. Still, when we traveled back there to visit our grandparents, we still had to use the outhouse--or squat behind a tree--until they died. They never, never got indoor plumbing, and that was way into the 60's. Just imagine.
    Oh, the memories of Granny's outhouse. I'd take the tree any day of the week.

  6. Well, like the rest of you, I remember outhouses from my grandparents. Not pleasant and kinda scary. Besides the formidable smell, I worried that a snake would be hiding down there--like why, I'm not sure. ha ha
    A two-story outhouse is totally new to me. does the poo go to the first story? Or is it a really long drop to the bottom of that pit? Yuck!

  7. Thanks for stopping by, everyone! Yes, outhouses are simultaneously smelly, scary, uncomfortable, and funny. There's nothing quite like the experience of visiting an outhouse, and few people these days have actually used one.

    The other thing is, women were just as fussy with their houses as they are now; hence, my great-grandmother not wanting any one to defecate in her house. The very thought was repulsive to her. Pigs don't even do that unless they have no choice. But I didn't understand her until I was much older because we had always had indoor plumbing.

  8. Thanks for the blog post Jacquie. I made the school outhouse an issue in my book, Starry Montana Sky, and those scenes were a lot of fun to write.

  9. Great subject! My only experience with outhouses was while tent camping. I do not like them, especially at night. I had to take a big flashlight with me to light up the whole interior.

    We now go camping in an RV with it's own tiny bathroom that can be hooked up to the sewer in a modern campground. Don't even have to walk at night to the bath house anymore. That's progress! lol

  10. i remmeber being up to 8 yrs old, using a outhouse or a chair with hole cut out in it, when was winter and middle of night
    LOL my kids would just die if they had to use 1 ,


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