Pioneer Shelter


Sod Homes

As pioneers completed their westward journeys and settled into the great plains they found themselves in need of immediate protection from the hash conditions in a vast and treeless land. Using their ingenuity and determination they developed a style of house construction common to the American frontier. The “soddies” as they were called, were small sod homes with walls of stacked layers of cut turf.

They would cut sod bricks, about three feet long and four inches thick from the earth. These “bricks” in turn where stacked and interlocked to form the walls of their new home.

Sod was cut with axes and shovels, or sometimes by utilizing special plows called “grasshoppers“. When stacked properly, with the intricate root system still intact and facing down, the roots would attach to other blocks, thus locking the entire structure together. What little wood or timber was available was used for the roofs, which was covered with more sod. If timber was not available (which was often the case), roofs were built up with twigs, branches, bushes and straw. This construction method would create an inexpensive and virtually indestructible structure that was cool in the summer and easy to heat in the winter.

The design of sod homes varied as much as the rugged individuals that constructed them. However, most were one room structures that would act as kitchen, dinning room and bedroom for an entire family. This room could contain as many as six beds for family members of different generations. There were no partitions to divide the rooms for privacy, so women had to learn to dress and undress under their bed sheets.

There were many obstacles to living on the prairie in sod homes. When it rained, a “soddie” would leak continuously, sometimes for days after the storm had passed. Women reportedly held umbrellas over their stoves while cooking. Tarps were hung on the ceiling to catch particles of dirt that fell. Pioneers also had to contend with the many living creatures that ‘shared’ their home as well. Snakes, mice, and bugs were everyday inhabitants of a prairie the sod house.

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