Sod House Served Family Well Until Prairie Sends Them Packing

Family tries to make a go on South Dakota prairie, living in sod house, but hardship sends them back to Missouri.

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My folks were married in 1884 and went directly to Miller, South Dakota, where they took up land and built a one-room soddy. My sister and I were born with just a midwife to bring us into the world. Our sod house had a floor, but many didn't.

We were 24 miles from town, and Father had to stay overnight each time and leave my mother alone in the soddy. A big Sioux reservation was nearby, and we saw many Indians, but there never was any trouble.

My father was reared in Philadelphia and was not a farmer. Breaking the prairie sod with oxen and old blind horses (the only kind he could afford) was an agonizing experience. However, the soil was very good.

I was less than 1 year old when the blizzard of 1888 came, and I was kept in bed all day. The bed was shared by my parents except when they had to get up to build up the fire or get something to eat. The vicious storm forced its powdered snow through every possible crack. Father tried to reach the stable to feed his stock, but the building was obliterated by the white shroud of snow. When he gave up and turned to go back, he could not find the soddy. It, too, was buried in a drift. Only by the grace of God did he find shelter again.

Some of the neighbors were burned out completely by prairie fires. The summer before my sister was born, Mother was home alone except for me. She saw the fire coming and laboriously carried everything she could down into our little cave. As the blaze swept closer, the wind changed suddenly and that saved the day.

After seven years of heart-breaking hardship, we escaped by prairie schooner. We traded our entire interest in the claim for one horse! Father fitted out another covered wagon and put Mother's high-backed rocking chair up front. She sat there and held the baby all the way back to Missouri!

Mabel M. Sturgis
Boise, Idaho

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.