Little House on the Prairie

Photo From Wikapedia

The sod house or "soddy" was popular during frontier settlement of the United States prairie. There was little wood on the prairie, but sod from prairie grass was everywhere. Patches of sod were cut out in rectangles and made into walls.


The first home of my great great grandfather Lewis Harlan was made of hay, straw and mud, described below:

"Lewis Harlan owns a farm of 120 acres. The first house on it was built of hay, straw and mud. He helped to organize the township and voted at the first election and was elected assessor." He had been assessor in Illinois, too, one note says. "He enlisted in Co. D, 34th Iowa Infantry in August, 1862, and was promoted to Sergeant, January 5, 1863. He served till May 20, 1863, when he was discharged for injuries received in the line of duty. He was in the battles of Haines Bluff and Arkansas Post."

Unfortunately we do not have a photo of that home.

My grandmother Pearl Harlan Hullinger
My grandmother Pearl Harlan Hullinger writes below, telling about her experience homesteading in western South Dakota.

'We came back to South Dakota in the fall of 1908 with an immigrant car loaded with fence posts and furniture. The claim was completely bare of improvement except the original shack. After a well was dug by hand in the creek bottom there was plenty of hard bitter water, clean and cold. People were leaving fast by then, so Marion, my father bought another shack and attached it to the first one. He also dug a cellar in that hard shale. The pick marks stayed in the walls for years showing how hard the digging had been. "

"Post holes had to be dug by hand and there was the sod to break. He had one good big team and a trotting-bred mare and a little bronc saddle horse. It was hard grueling work for the horses and he took the best care of them he could. He was a horse lover and couldn't bear to work a horse with sore shoulders or one that was too thin. I remember hearing him say about breaking up the land, "Horses will never do it." He planted 40 acres. of wheat and it was very nice until it was hailed out. He also took a job of breaking sod and I went along to drop seed corn in the furrow every third round. It would be covered the next time around. I enjoyed that, as the weather was nice and Marion joked and we had fun."

As the years went by they added another shack or two to the house. Minnie was always papering, patching and papering again, so that it was comfortable and didn't look too bad inside. It had much tarpaper and banking up with dirt on the outside. There were some crops and some very good gardens, also chickens and eggs. We milked a few cows and sold cream.

My relatives in Front of a More Substantial Log House in Iowa

Photo From South Dakota State Historical Society

Dug Out homes