Soapweed Provided Heating Fuel on Nebraska Homesteads

Nebraska homesteads were fortunate to have soapweed, a naturally occuring heating fuel.

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We pioneer people called the prairie yucca "soapweed." I was grown before I knew soapweed was not a word found in a dictionary.

Fuel was scarce on the treeless prairie. On the flats and rolling range country, "prairie coal" kept the houses warm and the food cooking, but in the sand hills country, where the soapweed was a pest and had to be dug out before the plow could do much good, it was often used for fuel.

We sometimes visited friends on a homestead close to the sandhills where we saw huge stacks of soapweed piled for winter fuel. They had a drum-type heater which they could stoke with whole soapweed. What a roaring fire those weeds could make!

I remember being there for dinner when the hostess cut slices of bread from huge loaves she had baked in an outdoor oven. It was made of sod and plastered on the outside. On bake days soapweeds were burned in the oven, then the glowing ashes were raked even, and the big pans of bread placed on the hot ashes.

We from the "prairie coal" area almost envied these folks who had clean fuel that burned like oil and perfumed their yard with a kind of prairie fragrance. 

Mrs. Louise Brumfield
Jetmore, Kansas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.