Cabin Conundrum

What Do You Call a Cabin?




The Original Beckwourth Cabin

The Original Beckwourth Cabin


On a recent road trip, I had the opportunity to expose myself to that great American knowledge base known as Talk Radio. I perked up when the topic shifted to “What is your definition of a cabin?” It seemed like a simple enough question, but as it turned out, opinions on the proper definition of a cabin are as numerous as lakes in Wisconsin (which brought up its own sub topic: What is the difference between a cabin and a lake house?) It seems that one’s earliest exposure to a cabin as a vacation destination permanently ingrains the qualities that a proper cabin must possess.

Purists seem to adhere to the log variety when referring to a cabin. There is an example of just such an authentic cabin a few miles from My Front Porch in nearby Portola. It is the original Jim Beckwourth Cabin, built and occupied by James P. Beckwourth himself in 1852.  This cabin adheres to the Abe Lincoln iconic style that is always called a cabin.  James P. Beckwourth, a former slave, was a larger than life character in the history of the opening of The American West.  He was adopted by the Crow Indian tribe as an honorary chief, and was know for his fireside manner in the telling of tales glorifying, and perhaps exaggerating, his prowess as a hunter, tracker and all around adventure seeker.  One such tale puts Jim at an impasse with a Grizzly Bear who had the nerve to disturb Jim’s midnight repose at camp one night.  Jim leaped out of his bedroll, stark naked and pursued the beast back to the its cave lair. He entered the cave bearing just a Bowie knife and emerged, fully clothed…in bear skin.


Of Jim Beckwourth’s many accomplishments, the one undisputed fact is that he discovered a new easier passage through the Sierra that opened up the western route from Nevada into California now known as The Beckwourth Pass.  You will see the marker at the 5000-foot peak of the pass on Highway 70, just west of Hallelujah Junction. This passage descended into the immense Sierra Valley where Mr. Beckwourth settled followed closely by farmers and prospectors alike, the ancestors of our current population here in Plumas County.

But the cabin controversy only starts at this earliest version.  Some people insist that a structure is deemed a cabin solely by its location stipulated as follows:

Cabin or Lake House?

Cabin or Lake House?


  • It must be remote, or if not in a total wilderness, must at least be out of seeing or hearing distance from its nearest neighbor.
  • It must be in a wooded area. Although since that creepy movie came out awhile back, people hesitate to call it “A Cabin in the Woods”.
  • You have to drive a long way (at least 100 miles) from your principal residence to get to it. A cabin is NEVER a principal residence, unless it’s really remote and then we just start to get creepy again.
  • Supplies must be brought in.  There are no corner grocery stores in a neighborhood of cabins.  There are no cabin neighborhoods.

Some adamantly assign cabin value by architectural style, allowing for more modern building materials than rough hewn logs, but still adhering to austere and strict qualifications:

Well you gotta have TV!

Well you gotta have TV!


  • A cabin has to be small, no larger than say 900 square feet.
  • It has to be one room, no wall partitions allowed.  Privacy can only be afforded by draping sheets over a length of clothesline.
  • It has no indoor “facility”.  A small water pump in the kitchen is allowed, but the outdoor privy is the rule.
  • It has no central heating.  Heat is supplied by a wood stove or fireplace.

Here we get into the real controversy.  Is a cabin allowed to be comfortable?  The majority seem to agree that a cabin can be just about any structure in any semi rural area with at lease one golf course, miniature golf, hiking, boating, fishing, water skiing, horseback riding, a variety of restaurants, occasional wildlife sightings and just general all around proximity to fun and relaxation.  And that brings us right back to Leah’s Front Porch in Graeagle, California, the well planned evolution of that respite from reality that Jim Beckwourth conceived back in 1852.

If you’d like to view the full array of mountain vacation home/cabin options available, check out my website:

Raise your hand (or “Like”) if your original cabin experience involved Knotty Pine.



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