Sod House Was Way of Life for Hoxie, Kansas Settlers

Mary Dickinson's family, plains settlers, ended up in a sod house nine miles south of Hoxie, Kansas.

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My two older brothers came first, in 1899, with my uncle to his homestead in Sheridan County, Kansas, and in January of 1900 my father followed. He loaded a railroad car with livestock and machinery and left his home in Adair County, Iowa. When he had built a nice sod house on his homestead, a 160-acre farm nine miles south of Hoxie, Kansas, Mother and the four younger children came by train to Selden, Kansas, where he met us and took us to our new home. I was six months old.

I will try to describe the house Father built. It was made of sod and had three rooms with a pantry off the kitchen. Our kitchen had two windows, one on the west and one on the south, and on the east Father hung the outside door with a four-pane window in it. Mother had a nice coal range, a long drop leaf table, a cupboard with a glass door, a jelly cupboard with a screen door, and at the west window a big Morris chair.

Our kitchen, pantry, and bedroom had wooden floors, but our middle room had a dirt floor. It was spread with straw and covered with paper, and over that she laid a rag carpet tacked to l-by-4s fitted around the walls. The carpet was taken up every spring, put on the clothesline, and beat to get all the dust out. Then new straw and papers were put down and the carpet was re-laid.

The middle room had a window on the east wall and a double window on the west, and Mother had beautiful plants in all the windows. My folks slept in this room. Besides the bed, the room held Mother's dresser, an organ, two rocking chairs, and a little table. In the winter a two-lid topsy stove sat in the middle of the room; Mother did lots of cooking on it to save fuel.

The bedroom was divided by a rug tacked to make a "wall" thru the middle. My brothers slept on one side, we girls on the other. There were no closets, and all our clothes hung on the walls.

The barn was dug in a bank and faced the south so that end was made of lumber. The north side was built up about three feet higher than ground level, and big doors on leather hinges covered the openings there where hay was dropped to the horses. There were stalls for about 12 horses.

We had an open shed dug in the bank and covered with old hay. Father had a granary built of lumber; it had three big bins. He raised lots of chickens and kept them in two large sod henhouses.

East of the house Father dug a cave. We milked quite a few cows and kept the milk cool in the cave. Mother skimmed the cream from crocks and she churned and sold butter. The milk was fed to the calves and pigs.

In the fall my father would buy several bushels of apples as well as potatoes and cabbage for kraut, and these were kept in the cave. The cave smelled so good when I went down there in the winter.

When fall came, my father fixed side boards on the wagon and took all of us to the pasture to pick up cow chips. He would haul in two big loads and store the chips in part of one henhouse so they would stay dry. The chips and a big load of coal were our winter's fuel.

We had a deep well, 240 feet, that wouldn't pump dry. It filled the 100-gallon round wooden tank from which we irrigated the garden as well as the shallow pond where the ducks paddled. Everyone on the way to Hoxie watered tired horses at our well and treated himself to a cold drink. And, of course, he visited awhile if we were at home. No one was ever turned away from my father's house. Most peddlers, it seemed, arrived at noon or at evening, and many stayed all night.

We went visiting on Sundays, and I never knew my father to go to the fields or to work on that day. We had church in the schoolhouse on Sunday, literary meetings there, usually on Friday nights, and once each winter a box supper.

We children walked two miles to school, although when it was stormy, someone might take us in the wagon. Every day, at noon, two of the pupils walked a quarter mile to fetch fresh drinking water for the teacher and the children. 

Mary Dickinson
Fulton, 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.