Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dugout...No Diamond

I think the resourcefulness and ruggedness of the pioneer people that came to Oklahoma Territory is remarkable.   It must have been both frightening and exhilarating for families to pack up what they could and move on to an unknown, undeveloped place in hopes of claiming land and building a life.   Louisa Fair's journal  (http://okhistory.org/community/fic/page/4/) describes a cold, windy day when Michael helps Harvey dig a "dugout" somewhere on the prairie near the towns of Sentinel and Rocky.  This comment made me think about what it must have been like to make  a dugout a home. 


After traveling weeks or months, these pioneers arrived in the Territory by foot, by mule, by horseback, or by wagon.  There was little construction quality wood available on the western plains, so most people relied on alternatives to the wooden house they may have lived in before they came.  Some folks tried living in tents or converting their covered wagons to   instant housing, but  these were subject to frequent damage from wind and weather.   Most people in western Oklahoma chose to build a dugout or half dugout when they were first settling in.  


Look at a Picture of Oklahoma Dugout homes





My father  described his mother's move to Oklahoma Territory:

     "They moved to a farm about eight miles northwest of Cheyenne, Roger Mills County,    
     Oklahoma.  It was a farm consisting of about 160 acres of sandy loam and hilly pasture
     land, about half used for cultivation.  The time was about 1898.  No building supplies were 
     available and it was necessary for the family to live in a half dugout.  This consisted of a roof,
     three walls dug into a hill and a cover in order to conserve materials.  I'm not sure how long 
     they had to live in this crude home until they were able to build a house.  The well water was
     saturated with gypsum and quite foul to drink."


These "homes" were room-sized holes dug into the ground, usually into the side of hill slopes, so that three sides were earth.  The front wall was either wooden or made of sod or adobe "bricks".  Roofs were usually thatch or sod as well, and often had grasses growing on them to keep the soil in place.  Evidently, they were not at all water proof in a good rain.   These "underground" rooms were cool in summer and stayed warm in winter when the stove was heated.  Some tried to decorate or plaster the walls, but insects and vermin could burrow right in.  One account I read describes repeated troubles with snakes in their dugout home.  The floor was usually   "swept "  hardened earth. 


As a "dugout dweller", my grandmother remembered rolling down hills, riding horses, playing hopscotch, marbles and top spinning, and going to pie suppers and square dances in the neighbor's living room.  There is so much more I would like to learn about  her  now...



1 comment:

Kathy said...

The strength of our ancesters never ceases to amaze me. What a woman she was. To leave the conforts of everything you have and know, in search of more... and sometimes finding far less. They never gave up. You have every right to be bursting with pride for them.