Haven’t we all wondered about our pioneer ancestors who settled in Kansas over 100 years ago?
Whenever I see an old picture of a long dead relative, I wonder what their life was like. Could I have lived the way they did? Withstood all the hardships they dealt with?
What a determined, courageous group they must have been. Leaving not only familiar surroundings, but also family and friends to start a new way of life. After an arduous journey, they arrived here on the plains of Kansas. There were no houses waiting for them, no highways, only miles and miles of tall grass.
Their first undertaking upon arriving was to build a shelter from the elements. Finding a location for their new home was important. Water was a priority, so they needed to build as close to a stream as possible. Now what to build a shelter from? There were very few trees among the rolling hills and across the flat prairie.
So our ancestors used the vast prairie to their advantage to carve dugouts. A dugout was a shelter hollowed out of the ground or hillside. Spade full by spade full, they dug into the side of a hill or underground, forming a cave. Not as easy as it sounds. Many hours of labor went into its construction. The earth formed the back, sides and roof of their new home. Sometimes the roof was semi-recessed and was made with wood or sod. The front of the dugout was constructed with either stones, any wooden material they could find, or sod. They left an opening for a door, maybe even a window. Until they could construct a door that kept out the wind, rain and snow, they used whatever materials they had available. Maybe a buffalo hide, perhaps small wood poles tied together or even a heavy blanket.
Imagine our Kansas wind blowing through on a cold night! When they were finished they had a house that had been inexpensive to build. By pioneer standards it was cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Unfortunately it was also dark, the floor was hard packed dirt and during heavy rains, wet.
Now for the fun part! Name as many insects as you can. Now imagine living in a dugout with them. Crawling across the floor, hanging on the walls and dropping down from the ceiling. Not to mention the snakes that could slither in or drop down from the ceiling!
Most often these dugouts were used as only temporary shelter until a sod or wood house could be built. Though sometimes families continued to live in the dugout for some years. Eventually when the family did build another house the dugout was used for livestock or storage.
Those brave pioneer men, women and children that made their homes on the Kansas prairie were of strong character. As their descendants, we should be proud of our Kansas heritage and the many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds that formed the history of our state.