Corn breads were popular foods for the pioneers . . . cheaper than wheat flour, and flexible in what it could be used for (bread, Johnny cakes, breading for fish, corn mush, fried corn mush, etc.), corn meal was both an economical, as well as practical, choice. Because you could cook it over an open fire as well as bake with it, it was often the emigrant's choice when traveling, too.
A good, large, well-seasoned cast iron skillet (or an 'Iron Spider,' which is a cast iron skillet with little legs) was often the go-to pan of choice when either baking OR cooking on direct heat.
Some pioneers liked their bread a little sweeter (adding sugar to the mix or pouring syrup or honey over it after cooking), or a little more savory by leaving out the sweeteners and relying on bacon grease and cracklings (the brown bits of the skin of pork left over when the fat was rendered out for lard). Whichever you choose, corn breads are YUMMY!
Pa stated in 'Little House on the Prairie' that 'he did not ask any other sweetening, when Ma put the prints of her hands on the loaves.' Either he liked his cornbread on the savory side, sugar was just too expensive to sweeten common cornbread with, or he was just a gushy old romantic . . . I believe the latter!
It's important to note that not all ingredients were consistently available to pioneers . . . especially the liquid ones. Chickens stop laying in the winter, for example . . . and a cow might be dry or nowhere to be found on the trail. Adjustments and substitutions to the 'ideal' recipes were often more typical . . . prairie hen's eggs might be used on the trail, for example. If no buttermilk was available, plain milk might be used. If the family had no cow and no way to trade for some milk, water might be the only option. And flavor usually suffered.
Butter Milk Cornbread
Mix all ingredients, except butter/bacon grease, in medium bowl.
Melt the butter or bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, swirling to cover the bottom AND sides of the skillet.
Pour the hot batter into the skillet and place in a preheated oven, baking until golden brown (start checking at about 25 minutes.)
Serve with butter or syrup or gravy.