In her letter to her mother, Anna describes her new home: My home is what they call a “soddy.” It is small, about the same size as your dining room and kitchen, Mamma. Most of the homesteaders live in sod homes like mine. There are few trees on the prairie, so we make do. The sod houses are actually warm in the winter and cool in the summer, I’m told. I know first-hand that the dirt floors are muddy in the spring!
Sod homes were usually the first dwellings for homesteaders. As Anna explained, there weren’t a lot of trees for lumber on the prairie, so homesteaders made do with what they had: the thick, tough prairie sod. These one-room soddies were small, usually 10’x10 or a little larger. Furnishings included a wood stove, a bed, kitchen table and chair(s), and a few necessities.
Often times these pioneers would paper over the interior walls, or even white wash them. The rough-cut windows might be covered in parchment paper to keep out the weather, with calico curtains to brighten up the inside. But inhabitants had to be wary of bugs and worms falling from the ceilings or crawling out of the walls!
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Woolsey Burton Dugout on the Frawley Ranch just outside of Spearfish, SD. The dugout provides a glimpse into how those first-time homeowners lived in the late 1800s. The Woolsey Burton Dugout is actually a bit “uptown” with brick walls and framed windows and door — but those improvements probably came later. Built into the side of hill, the one-room home was a good use of natural resources.
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