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A Shanty Boy's Meal - Lesson Plan

Background Notes

The cook and his helper, "cookee," were important persons in the lumber camp. They were kept busy—breakfast as early as 4:00 a.m., lunch brought out to the men in the woods, and a hearty supper after the woods were dark and work was done. Sometimes a man and wife team were hired to cook for the lumber camp. The cookee called the shanty boys to eat by blowing on a long tin horn called a "gabriel." They ate their meals in the cook shanty under a rule of silence to prevent arguments and fighting.

Breakfast might consist of fried potatoes, sowbelly, beans, sourdough pancakes with molasses syrup or gravy, hot biscuits, coffee or tea, pork sausages and other meats. Lunch, called "flaggins," was eaten in the woods. Supper was hearty with more pork and beans, potatoes, meat and gravy, and whatever the cook could rustle up. For dessert there may have been prune, raisin, dried apple, or lemon pie. "Vinegar pie" was a simple dessert. Occasionally some camps would hire a man to hunt and fish for the camp.


  • Students will be able to list foods eaten by the shanty boys in the lumber camps.
  • Students will be able to tell why silence was the rule followed during lumber camp meals.
  • Students will be able to express like or dislike of the foods eaten by shanty boys.

Michigan Social Studies Curriculum Content Standards

This lesson presents an opportunity to address, in part, these MEAP standards:

  • 3.1.2. CIVIC PERSPECTIVE: Describe consequences of not having rules.
  • 3.3.1. CIVIC PERSPECTIVE: Explain how conflicts at school or in the local community might be resolved in ways that are consistent with core democratic values.

Materials Needed

Foods such as those eaten by shanty boys: lots of pork and beans, pancakes, gravy, baking powder biscuits, potatoes (fried or boiled), pork sausages, etc., coffee or tea (optional; use decaffeinated for students, although the shanty boys would have had regular). Make a "vinegar pie" (recipe).


Plan a shanty boy's meal with the students. Discuss how the hard work of the shanty boys affected the quantity of food they ate and their willingness to eat "plain" foods—especially pork and beans—day after day.

Be sure hot foods are cooked/heated well. Encourage students to try everything. Coffee and tea may be tasted, but furnish an additional beverage. Announce the meal with trills from a horn, if possible. Enforce the silence rule during the meal. After eating and clean up are finished, discuss the food, its variety or lack of it, tastes, and the role played by the silence rule.

Seek cooperation from parents, volunteers, and—if you have a cafeteria—your cafeteria staff. Plan an active program and no snacks before the meal so students appreciate the hunger of the shanty boy at meal time, and arrange to eat later than the students' regular schedule.

Questions for Discussion or Research

  1. How hungry would you be after a day—from sun up to sunset—of back-breaking work in the winter woods?
  2. Why did lumber camps have the foods they had? Why is there no mention of milk (few had a cow), oranges or other fresh fruit (some had prunes and dried fruit), or many of the foods we are used to eating (transportation and storage problems).
  3. Would a "no talking at lunch" be a good rule to avoid arguments in a school cafeteria today? Why or why not? What other ways might you avoid conflicts?

At the Museum

  • Look carefully for photographs of lumber camp life. Find the "wanigan," a floating cook shack used on river drives.
  • Watch the 13-minute slide program about Michigan's lumbering era to learn more about how shanty boys lived.


  • Cookee: Cook's helper
  • Flaggins: Lumberjack's lunch eaten in the woods
  • Gabriel horn: Long tin horn used to call the shanty boys at meal time
  • Shanty boys: Loggers or woodsmen (named for the "shanties" in which they lived); lumberjack
  • Sowbelly: Fat salt pork or bacon


  • Barnes, Al. Vinegar Pie and Other Tales of the Grand Traverse Region. Traverse City, MI: Horizon Books, 1971.
  • Foehl, Harold M., and Hargreaves, Irene M. The Story of Logging the White Pine in the Saginaw Valley. Bay City, MI: Red Keg Press, 1964.
  • Maybee, Rolland H. Michigan's White Pine Era. Lansing, MI: Bureau of History, Michigan Department of State, 1988.

Vinegar Pie

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/3 cup vinegar
1/3 cup cornstarch
Dash of nutmeg
3 eggs
1 tablespoon butter
Baked 8" or 9" pie shell

Separate eggs and beat the three egg yolks together. Stir the first five ingredients together and cook until clear and thick. Stir half the mixture into three beaten egg yolks; add mixture to remaining mix in saucepan and stir until combined; let rest off burner for one minute. Stir in a tablespoon of butter until melted. Pour into a baked pie shell.

Barnes writes that Mrs. Russell Wood, Kalkaska, cooked vinegar pie in northern Michigan lumber camps. This recipe is adapted from one she used. Her recipe directions conclude, "If you wish to be fancy, just in case the girls are going to drop in, make the usual meringue [using the left-over egg whites]. (But lumberjacks were happy to have the pie without the fringe on top.)"

Adapted from: Barnes, Al. Vinegar Pie and Other Tales of the Grand Traverse Region. Traverse City, MI: Horizon Books, 1971.

Other Related Lumbering Gallery Activities


In addition to "shanty boys," the lumbering industry employed men to work in many different and fascinating jobs. Using a dictionary and the resources for the activities in this section—for many job titles are unusual and will not be found in the typical dictionary—learn about each job. Plan an activity around the unique jobs. For example, students might write a song or a Paul Bunyan-type story or make up a "word find" or crossword puzzle using the names of the workers:

birler hayman-on-the-hill sawyer
blacksmith inkslinger scaler
boomer landing man shanty boy
boom master landlooker skyhooker
bull cook loader sled tender
chainer logger swamper
cookee lumberman teamster
decker lumberjack tie hacker
edgerman millhand timberman
filer off-bearer yardmaster
groundhog riverhog  

What Is a Lumber Baron?

Look up the dictionary definition of "baron." It may read something like this: "A man with great wealth, power, and influence in a specified area of activity." A baron was often a "self-made" man who "pulled himself up by his own bootstraps." How does the word "baron" make you feel about a person when you hear it? What are some of the things done by barons that might give them a bad reputation (e.g., excessive profits; long working hours, poor pay, or unsafe working conditions for employees)? What are some of the things done by barons that were good (e.g., providing jobs; supporting their community; building hospitals and other public buildings)? Were there people in your hometown who could be called "barons?" What did they contribute to your town? What kinds of barons do we read about today (oil, financial, etc.)? When you come to the museum look at the pictures of lumber and mining barons. Who were they? Find out more about them.

Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 08/06/2010

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