Cedar and Vernon County Genealogical hears about snakes, wolves and Indians in sod houses

Posted May 2, 2013 at 10:04 am

by Neoma Foreman

The Cedar and Vernon County Genealogy Society met April 16 in the Church of Christ in El Dorado Springs with Valo Jones, president, presiding.

Kay Sewell presented a program based on the book, “Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier” by Joanna Stratton. In the 1920s, Stratton’s great grandmother gathered 800 original memoirs of pioneer women to record the legacy of frontier women, but never published the materials. Stratton edited and published the memoirs which give great insight into the hardships and daily lives of pioneer women. A copy of the book is in the Genealogy Dept. at the Nevada Library.

The Homestead Act of the 1850s allowed 160 acres to a person who would live on the land for five years. Most of the stories were from that era. Different types of homes during this period were discussed. A dug-out was a hole dug in the ground with a wooden roof which had strips of sod laid on it. It provided a cooler place in the summer and warmer in the winter, but leaked when it rained—and sometime snakes dropped through. Sod houses were merely strips of sod piled on the ground to form walls, rafters across the top with more sod. Animal hides covered the doors. The better cabins were build where logs were available, but were usually only 12 by 16 feet at the largest. Indians and wolves tried to get into the houses, and the people faced all kinds of elements in the weather in Kansas.

There were three waves of immigrants-Before the Civil War, After the Civil War, and from about 1875 to 1890. It was said that about one-third of those who went to Kansas starved out. There was a 15-month period with no measurable rain. Swarms of grasshoppers were so bad they stopped trains. Mary Roberts wrote “they struck the ground so hard it sounded like hail.”

Frontier women often made their own yarns and cloth to make their clothes, grew the food, cared for a family and faced the starkness of the wilderness with unflinching courage.

However, Mary Lyon wrote about a summer picnic. “A gathering in Kansas was then, as now, a failure without food.”

Darlene Lukenbill shared that she found an old book, “The Little Church Around the Corner,” which contained information about a building in New York built by her ancestors.

The group voted to replace a roll of microfilm at a cost of $75 which was stolen from the Nevada Library.

The next meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 21, in the Nevada Library Meeting Room. Following the business meeting, we will tour the Bushwhacker Museum and view the special Civil War Exhibit. Cost will be $5 per person or free to members of the Vernon County Historical Society. After lunch on your own, the group will work at the library. The public is invited to all meetings.