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Oklahoma Prairie Country

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      Prairie Sod Houses

      Prairie Vistas

Prairie Sod Houses

   When the pioneers moved to the prairies of the west many were faced with a housing dilemma. There was a scarcity of trees and to import lumber was financially impossible. They saw some of the Native Americans, notably the Osage, Pawnee, and Hidatsa, making homes out of sod blocks and they adapted the method for their own use. Settlers were sometimes referred to as "sodbusters."

   To build a sod house one needs grass that has densely packed roots. Buffalo grass, big and little blue stem, wiregrass, prairie cord grass, Indian grass, and wheat grass were ideal for this purpose. Originally the process was to cut sod bricks using a spade, which a difficult and laborious task. In the mid-1880s, a plow was invented that improved the process tremendously. It was called a "breaking" or "grasshopper" plow and cut the sod into strips one foot wide and 4-inches thick. A sod house required about an acre of sod.

   Sod slabs were usually one foot wide and two or three feet long. The sod was usually laid with the grass side down. The bricks were placed alternately lengthwise and crosswise to increase the strength of the wall. Sod houses generally consisted of one room with divisions made by hanging blankets. If windows were desired, they were made of a wood frame with wood pegs driven into the sod wall. Roofs were made of thatch, or sod held up by poles. Common materials used for roofs were poles of cedar or cottonwood, rafters of willow, cedar, or other wood, brush from wild plum and chokecherry, prairie grass atop the brush and sod over the prairie grass.

Image of a Sod Hoouse

   The "soddie" had some beneficial aspects. It provided excellent insulation so that it was easy to keep warm in the winter and cool in summer. Also it served as an effective haven during those prairie wild fires. It was not unusual for the settlers to take in the cattle, horses, and pets during the threat of wild fires.

   The negative aspects were perhaps obvious. The floor was usually dirt, the ceiling was constantly leaking muddy water during the torrential rains and snakes, mice, and bugs were everyday coinhabitants. It was common for the woman of the house to have a canopy over the cook stove to prevent the above from falling into the stew.

   Oklahoma has a Sod House Museum in Aline, west of Enid. Its purpose is to preserve and exhibit an original sod house built in 1894 by Marshal McCullyl. If you want to "experience" life in a sod house, there is the Minor Family Sod House, Bed and Breakfast, at Brewster, Kansas.

   Part of a song of pioneer times goes:
"Soon we landed in Nebraska where they had much land to spare,
But most ever since we've been here, we've been mad enough to swear,
First we built a 'sod house' and we tried to raise some trees,
But the land was full of Coyotes and our sod house full of fleas."

Sources:
A.  http://www.nebraskastudies.org
B.  http://newton.dep.anl.gov/natbltn/600-699/nb620/htm
C.  Museum of Westward Expansion
D.  http://nebraskahistory.org)
E.  Picture of the Sod House: Library of Congress, Prints ∓ Photographs Division, FSA/OWI     Collection, LC-USF34-034113-D


Prairie Vistas


Image of Butterfly Milkweed

Image of Field of Clasping Leaf Coneflowers

Image of Field of Lemon Mint


















    The rolling hills of the Oklahoma prairie come alive with color in May and June. There is a profusion of many different wildflowers in all shades of the spectrum. In the first weeks of June one sees magnificent patches of vibrant orangy-red of the Butterfly Milkweed. The name is appropriate because they are often covered with beautiful butterflies drinking its nectar. There are also huge patches of yellow Clasping-leaved Coneflowers and later in the month will transform into brilliant yellow patches of Black-eyed Susan. Then there are smaller patches of purple and pink Lemon Mint (also known as Horse Mint). The prairie affords magical moments for the eye to behold.





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Copyright 2004 by Van Vives.
Photos by Van Vives, except where noted. Request permission before using.