In the nineteenth century Minnesota was a growing western outpost. Fort Snelling, built in 1819, was a lively meeting place for the Dakotah, Ojibway, fur traders and the increasing number of pioneer settlers. Saint Paul, once known as "Pig’s Eye" was a rapidly growing town and many people from the crowded eastern cities were looking for a place to call their own. Minnesota became a territory in 1849 and Saint Paul was named the capital. Many pioneers flocked to the new region.
At first, the pioneers hesitated to settle on the Great Plains, a land that was considered impractical to farm because of its tough sod and arid conditions. However, new farm machinery was developed, especially John Deere's steel plow, that made cultivation of the prairie lands practical. In 1862 the Homestead Act enabled settlers to acquire, for the cost of the recording fee, parcels of 80 or 160 acres of land, providing they lived on it and cultivated it.
The homesteaders took up their claims in a land where there was almost no timber. With very little wood available, pioneers often chose to dig their houses out of the ground. If the home could be situated against a small hill, the major portion of it would be dug into the hill, like a cave. This type of dwelling was called a dugout; the sod house, a soddy.
The common building material was sod—blocks of turf that could be stacked up to form a wall. If stones were available, the settler used these as building material. Where there were no stones and no turf, rough lumber had to be purchased at the nearest railway town.
Life in a soddy was a challenge. It was warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Although the roof was stable, the heavy rains of the summer would cause the roof and walls to drip mud onto anything in the soddy. The soddy was furnished with just the basics. There was a stove with a barrel chimney, a small bed, and a few family possessions.
Water was hauled at first from the nearest stream, while the homesteader drilled a well. There was often no wood for fuel, so buffalo chips and cow chips were burned, as were cornstalks and corncobs. When no other fuel was available, dry prairie grass was twisted into bundles and burned.
Another change from woodland-frontier life was the diet. Wheat grew well on the plains, and wheat flour replaced cornmeal as the main breadstuff. Cattle were more plentiful, and beef became a common meat.
The sod-house frontier was of short duration. More railways were built, more towns sprang up along them, and more markets were opened up to the plains farmer. Within a decade or two, most homesteaders had a frame house and barn, and were part of a well-settled rural community.
The Worland Family in America and Beyond
I began my life in the Puget Sound area of Washington State, on an island filled with forests and wild rhododendrons. I was separated from my Worland family there at an early age. Recently, I was reunited with my family and learned of my heritage. And so, this journey to know my ancestors began. The Worlands, Gideons, Newtons, Conards... they were the colonists, the settlers, the pioneers. They fought in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War. This is their story, and the story of a nation. -Deci Worland MacKinnon