An Account of Starting a South Dakota Homestead

John and Lillian Sherk staked a claim for a South Dakota homestead and did the best with what they were given.

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Why would my parents claim land? My mother's answer was, "Why not?" She and my father were young; they wanted to get ahead. Adventure itself was a lure. And my father had a longing for land, a longing that was to stay with him all of his life. He was destined for a South Dakota homestead.

So they filed on land near Nolan, South Dakota, in 1907, and set forth with their two children to live their adventure.

Some years later my mother wrote about their arrival at the claim:

"In our hired wagon we set out from Pierre and we drove for miles over the hills without seeing a sign of human life. The hills were not enormous, but just rolling, rolling green land.

"To file a claim it was necessary to sign a contract with the government to take 160 acres and make them 'home.' A house must be built, a well dug, a certain number of acres plowed and a certain number of acres fenced in. We had two choices in obtaining the final deed: We could stay eight months and then pay some cash; or we could stay two years and pay no cash. We planned to stay the shorter time.

"Across the lonely land we drove, for hours and hours, and then suddenly there was our home!

"It had been built to order and we had not seen it before. Compared to other homesteaders' shacks (all houses were called shacks), it was large. Our house measured 12 by 16 feet.

"Bright, new, unpainted, it stood. A short distance away was a bright new unpainted outhouse. There was nothing else in any direction.

"The house was built against a hill, with a door facing the east. It had one window, this on the south wall. We didn't need more windows. If there had been one in the back, it would have faced nothing but the side of the hill.

"Inside the walls were unfinished, with two-by-fours raw against the rose-colored building paper that lined the siding.

"We spread out our furnishings: a full-size bed, and a second spring and mattress which John hinged so that in the daytime it hung against the wall. There was a dresser, a kitchen safe, a table and chairs, a rocker, my sewing machine, a stove, and enough green lightweight carpeting to cover half the floor."

This was home! And thus began the John and Lillian Sherk adventure in homesteading. 

Lucile Houser
Tyler, Texas

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.