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mosquito bar / netting

mosquito. A small insect, of several different species, of the genus Culex, having a sharp pointed proboscis, by means of which it punctures the skins of animals and sucks their blood, the minute wounds thus made being often attended with swelling and a considerable degree of pain. The larvaes are developed in water. The common mosquito of the United States is C. mosquito, and there are various species that abound in marshes and low lands, and whose stings are peculiarly painful. — Webster, 1882
bar. Any obstacle which obstructs, hinders, or defends; an obstruction; a barrier. — Webster, 1882

Wilmarth & Bros. have just received a large stock of lawn and mosquito netting. – June 1885, Kingsbury County Independent

Rainy, warm spring weather – or living next to a large, shallow, stationary body of water like the Big Slough – meant mosquitoes. When railroad surveyors came through the De Smet townsite area in July 1879, they reported that mosquitoes came by the millions at dusk, and both men and horses would be covered with them. It was agony to hear the horses being bitten, and the men got no rest because they sat up all night and “slapped.” The next summer, when Charles Ingalls built a shanty on his homestead adjoining the slough, the Ingalls family was similarly plagued by mosquitoes. Both near the slough and the surrounding grassland were covered with mosquitoes. The Watertown Independent (June 1879) described it humorously: “The mosquito troupe has billed the town for free concerts during the summer, and the citizens furnish them free lunch.”

Pa burned piles of damp grass so the horses and cow could stand in the smoke and find relief from the biting insects. For people, the solution to keeping flying pests out of the house was to screen all windows and doors that were to be left open. Woven wire metal screens were available in brass, copper, or galvanized metal or plain wire that rusted, and Pa could have bought them to order at the lumberyard, made his own from scratch, or made them from a kit that came with wire cloth and cast-iron corners and uprights to cut to length. Instead, Pa went the cheaper route: he built a wooden frame for the door and bought “yards of pink mosquito-netting” to tack over the door frame and window openings (although Ma seems to done the windows).

Mosquito bar was a natural-fiber fabric woven with vertical warp and multiple horizontal weft, forming a distinctive honey-comb pattern. This bobbinet tulle (named for the looms on which it was made) – or more traditionally woven square-mesh mosquito net – wasn’t very durable or weather resistant. In Little Town on the Prairie (Chapter 6, “The Month of Roses”), drunken Bill O’Dowd easily kicks through the mosquito-netting on Mr. Harthorn’s and Mr. Bradley’s screen doors.

Mosquito bar (meant to bar mosquitoes from entering) was also used to cover a bed while a person slept, either gathered on a ring and hung from the ceiling or attached to elaborate folding frames. To keep it from blowing away from the bed, the netting had to be tucked under the mattress or weighted/shaped by sewing wire at the bottom edge. There were countless patents given for such contraptions, and they are still sold today, as a visit to an outdoor outfitters will easily show.

Skeeter Net vs. Mosquito Bar. Years ago, in fact before the days of bric-a-brac, apollinaris water, green and red horses, bituminous coal grates, lavatoirs, hand-painted soap dishes, and other evidences or post-bellum taste, many square-fronted, low-ceiled Southern houses had, in addition to the inevitable mohair parlor furniture, old-fashioned bedsteads and “skeeter nets.” These bedsteads lifted on high their carved columns supporting testers and with their white drapery presented the appearance of royal Assyrian tents or canopies.

Once inside of one of these domestic castles you were safe from many of the minor ills of life. There were no skeeters to bite you under the soles of your feet nor on your knuckles, nor to set fire to the palms of your hands. No, indeed. They could only bump around on the outside and find fault in a minor key, which lulled you with its weird music and locked you up in pleasant dreams.

This was in the days of skeeter nets.

But unfortunately there came a time when people began to be very particular in the choice of words. After much discussion and many exciting episodes society arrived at the conclusion that “skeeter net” was crackerish. A net, said the critics, was primarily for the purpose of catching something. A skeeter net is erected to bar out, not to bring in skeeters; hence, “skeeter net” is incorrect. It should be “skeeter bar.”

And presently a new wave of innovations swept over the land, carrying away, along with the old furniture, square houses, green blinds and mohair furniture, the “skeeter,” leaving with a host of new things the mosquito. The mosquito was not an improvement on the skeeter.

But herein lies the mystery. No sooner had the mosquito bar taken the place of the skeeter net than an interesting change was noted. It was observes that the mosquito would light on the structure, cross his long legs under his coat-tails, fly-fashion, and fall through an aperture without let or hindrance or the loss of a note from his melody. If he was an extra large member of the breed he would push a couple of juniors through, and they in turn would pull him in. They all got there, though, something the ‘skeeter could not do, and at daybreak could be found sticking in the nooks and corners sleeping of their night’s debauch.

As long as the skeeter net was not a net it was a bar, but ever since it became a bar it has never been a bar, but a net. The class in unnatural philosophy ought to take this under consideration. –Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, August 19, 1885, page 2.



Sacks for Christmas sweets. Bobbinet tulle came in a variety of colors – in addition to pink, it was sold in white, green, yellow, red, and blue – and was often used in sewing and other crafts. Bobbinet was used as the ground for embroidery work, such as the piece of lace given to Laura as a wedding gift by Ida Wright. It was used for insertion pieces in lightweight summer dresses or baby clothing, and as veiling for hats. In both Walnut Grove and De Smet, the Ingallses use mosquito bar (or cheesecloth) to wrap Christmas candy. The December 19, 1887, Cleveland Plain Dealer described what the Ingallses had been doing for years, suggesting that there ought to be bags or baskets of sweetmeats for everyone, hanging on the Christmas tree… “Pretty bags can be made of tarletan [a thin, starched open-weave muslin] or mosquito netting. Make some like mealbags and others like old-fashioned money purses [miser’s purse] with rings in the middle.”

You can still purchase cotton bobbinet tulle, but at $40 per yard (in plain white, not dyed), it’s cheaper to substitute nylon bridal tulle or pink net (about $1 per yard), or look for pink mosquito netting where camping supplies are sold. You can sew a little open bag to tie at the top, or simply place your candy in the center of a piece of tulle and gather it at the top with your hands. Tie with string or a ribbon. The candy bag here contains glass candy Christmas ornaments.

Picture frame covering. In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura notices that Mrs. Nelson’s picture frames are covered in pink mosquito netting, to keep away flies. What Mrs. Nelson was protecting from was fly specks (feces), which flies leave at random. A picture or painting would be a treasured item and might have an elaborately carved wooden frame or one covered with painted-plaster decorations. Fly specks are ugly brown spots that are hard to remove; if the fly couldn’t get to the frame itself, the specks would be on the netting, which could be replaced or washed. From a distance, the netting could hardly be seen, and was also used to cover mirrors, chandeliers, and display shelves. It was often referred to as “hot-weather upholstery.” It looks like the flies got to this picture frame before it was covered!


mosquito (LHP 9, 15; SSL 31-32; PG) – Note: In her Pioneer Girl manuscript, Wilder spells mosquitoes as misquotoes!
     mosquito bar / mosquito-bar (BPC 31; SSL 31-32; THGY 17; PG)
     mosquito netting / mosquito-netting (BPC 27; LTP 6; THGY 25)
     sacks for Christmas treats (BPC 31; THGY 17)
     covering for picture frame to keep away flies (BPC 27; PG)