R: Michael, why would a frontier Texas community have wanted a blacksmith around?
M: The isolation of the frontier, with its scarcity of available tools and hardware, made a blacksmith invaluable. The Texas frontier was removed from the industrialized centers in the eastern part of the United States, so people there were more reliant upon handmade and hand-forged goods. It wasn’t until later in the 19th century, when the railroad made its way through the frontier, that the role of the blacksmith changed. As goods became mass produced and more widely available, it became cheaper to replace an object than repair it. Blacksmiths remained important, however. They just adapted their roles to serve the existing need.
R: What kinds of things did the blacksmith make?
M: It would be difficult to narrow down to a short list! They made wagon parts, farm tools, and even did some farrier and gunsmithing work. If it was made of metal and it was needed, then more than likely a blacksmith made it.
R: What misconceptions do people have about 19th century blacksmiths?
M: Well, people tend to think that they only made horseshoes. Kids typically think that they made swords. I think these perceptions come from the movies. In reality, blacksmiths made all of the items I mentioned before and more. Also people usually think that nail-making was the blacksmith’s most important job. By the time of the Texas frontier, most people could buy manufactured nails fairly easily. You could get these “cut nails” by the barrel. In addition, making a nail is a fairly straightforward task that could be learned by a novice in basically one day. Most people wouldn’t rely on a blacksmith’s expertise for such a simple job.
R: So the old story about burning down the house to save the nails isn’t true?
M: It’s more than likely true, but probably not of our time period. It would more than likely apply to the Colonial American time period (18th century), before manufactured nails were available. At that time, most nails were hand-wrought and therefore QUITE valuable.
R: What made you first interested in blacksmithing?
M: I’ve always been interested in technology and mechanical things. I decided it would be a fun hobby. I’ve been blacksmithing for 15 or 16 years now, although I’ve only been here at the Village for a little more than 5 years.
R: Well we’re glad you’re here! Thanks for chatting with me today, Michael!
Be sure to come see Michael in action this Saturday!
For more information on blacksmithing, please visit the North Texas Blacksmiths Association or The Artist Blacksmith’s Association of North America.