Researching for the books I write leads me down interesting trails. I have to admit I'm guilty of meandering off the topic. I can’t resist learning more about the Old West. Today I’ve been looking at home photos for another book. I needed a nice one to put on Pinterest, but came across intriguing information on sod houses.
|Victorian home in Pacific Grove, California|
from Deposit Photo
Some things about modern houses are consistent: indoor plumbing, electricity, air-conditioning, central heating, windows, and doors that seal. This list is of things that are important to me and probably to you. Consider the pioneers moving west and making their home from whatever the land offered them. They were so eager for a fresh start and their own land that they endured many hardships. Entire families crowded into homes the size of a room. How hopeful of the future they must have been.
Paintings usually show early settlers living in a log cabin. That wasn't necessarily accurate. Where I mostly lived growing up was Lubbock in West Texas. There were no trees. Well, now there are trees because residents have planted them, but the land was pretty bare when Anglos arrived—except in the canyons where there was water.
The first Anglos to settle in America’s massive Great Plains would have had to live in tents, covered wagons, or sod houses. I’ve seen sod houses, or soddies, in museums, but I’ve never seen one in which someone was living. They could be dug into a hill (called a "dugout"). Another style was partly dug and then built up from about three or feet (see photo above). This makes me think there would be trouble when it rained. One style was where the home was completely dug and then a roof was added as in the photo below. Another style was built on top of the ground from cut sod. From what I’ve researched, there were numerous problems with all of them.
Imagine eating dinner in a soddie and having a snake drop onto the table. Euww! I read of this happening while someone was visiting a family in a soddie. The matriarch speared the snake, dispatched, and continued the meal as if nothing had happened. I suppose she was used to this happening, but the visitor was shocked.
Some soddies were lined with cheesecloth to prevent that sort of uninvited guest. I’ve read tales of people watching bugs crawl inside the cheesecloth. Euww again!
Folks occasionally whitewashed the inside of the soddie to
limit falling dust and brighten the interior. Unfortunately, the whitewash was
made primarily of slaked lime and chalk. Many people were allergic to the
|Soddie in Kansas|
There are six in the photo and
another sod home in the background. I wonder
how many live in that tiny house.
I suspect people with allergies didn’t last long in that environment. One of the stories from my ancestors includes that of a boy whose asthma turned into pneumonia and the family had to move him into a tent outside the sod house. He survived and the family eventually was able to afford a typical frame home.
|Sod home taking advantage of the rolling prairie|
The elaborateness of the sod home varied due to the builders. Some were made of sod formed into bricks and constructed into a fairly stable structure. Most were simple and—to my mind—unsatisfactory. However, I have read accounts stating they were cool in summer and snug in winter. Compared to the later hastily thrown up wooden homes, perhaps they were better.
In our family is the story of one of my relatives and his brother staying in a boarding house one winter. They weren’t that far from home but had stopped due to strong wind and a coming snowstorm in which they were afraid to travel at night. The sturdy female owner brought them the thickest duvet they’d ever seen. The brothers told her they really didn’t need that because of the blankets. The woman told them they would before morning. Sure enough, when they woke the next morning, they were dusted with snow that had blown through the cracks in the walls and around the windows. There was even snow on their eyelashes. Hmmm, maybe a soddie would have been warmer. ☺
|Dugout on the Oklahoma PrairieDo you suppose all six and the baby live in that home?|
(courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society)
A friend told of her great-grandmother Jane living in a soddie. While Jane’s sons and husband were working in the field out of sight, two bulls got into a fight on the roof. Dust drifted down into the home and she feared the animals would fall through. They didn’t but that must have been a terrifying event for a lone woman with two small girls to protect. In fact, being an early settler must have been an ordeal that required grit and resourcefulness every day.
|Apparently, the sod bricks were durable|
I don’t know how you feel, but I’m grateful for my mid-twentieth-century-built brick home. The weather outside is hot, but here at the computer in my little pink writing cave, I’m cool and comfortable. Electricity provides for the climate controlled interior, the computer, and the music playing while I write. Hero has brought me my favorite beverage, a Cherry Dr Pepper, in my favorite glass (you see why I call him Hero).
I positively love writing and reading about the Old West, but I’m so glad I live today instead of then!
Coming July 15 is SNARE HIS HEART, book 5 of the Loving A Rancher series for Debra Holland’s Montana Sky Series at Kindle World.
Check out her Amazon author page and her website at http://www.carolineclemmons.com. Sign up for her newsletter and receive a FREE novella, HAPPY IS THE BRIDE.