Dakota Sod House

Pioneer Homes in Marshall County

The establishment of a home by pioneers in this country is an entirely different affair compared with the pioneer settlement of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. Here the immigrant ships his stock and household goods to the nearest railway station, where he desires to locate. If the land is not surveyed he becomes a “squatter” and files when the land comes in market. If already surveyed he makes his filing or settles and then files. Settlers generally build according to their means. Houses built of sod are comfortable and cheaply built, but require so much labor that but few are built except great distances from the railroad. Many settlers’ homes are cheap but comfortable frame houses, sometimes sodded up on the outside; others have large and expensive dwellings that would do credit to any eastern old settled country. Usually the settler puts up a cheap building which answers all purposes until he can build a better one, which is now being done by most of our settlers.

Many claims were taken by single men and young women who put up a cheap shack, broke a few acres, and at the expiration of six months made final proof, borrowed all the money they could on their claims and then bade adieu to Dakota, while others secured homesteads, preemptions and tree-claims. We are, however, pleased to state that all of our actual settlers are improving their farms and making comfortable homes. It is a common sight to see oxen and horses hitched to a breaking plow turning over the sod, while harvesting, mowing, and even threshing has been clone with oxen. In the fall the sod is again turned over and called back-setting; the next spring this is sown to wheat, oats, etc. The settler can raise a paying crop of flax on the sod the fast year, which frequently yields fifteen bushels per acre. Thus in two years the Dakota settler can make a better farm than a life time will make in the timbered regions of the eastern states. In less than two years all the choice claims in Marshall county were taken, and since then the hills have gradually been settled, until now there is not a vacant piece of government land fit for agriculture in the county.

In the fall of 1882 the writer traveled from Mr. Hammond‘s, just over the line in Day county, to Ft. Sisseton, without seeing a single shack or human being, the entire distance of twenty miles, and predicted that the hills would not be settled in twenty years and afford fine range for stock. Today it is all settled to the reservation, and many are anxiously looking for the opening of the military reservation.

Farm hands generally receive $20 per month, while laborers during harvesting and threshing receive $2 per day. Servant girls command from $3 to 8 per week and are scarce. The cutting of grain is all done with twine binders, requiring nearly two pounds per acre, and twine worth from 12c to 15c. per pound. Threshing is done with steam threshers, using straw burners, and thresh from 1,000 to 1,500 bushels per clay. Many threshers furnish their own crew and board them, carrying a tent with them, and thresh for 8c per bushel; the above way looks like a circus.

Stock-raising is already receiving considerable attention throughout the county. S. A. King, of Lowell Township, is one of the largest, and is satisfied that our grass and water produces the choicest of butter and unsurpassed beef, and that cattle can be as cheaply raised here as in Iowa; in fact cheaper, because the value of land is less. Mr. Linse, of White township, has, on a small scale, manufactured some excellent cheese, and finds a ready and good market. Thomas Appleby, in Pleasant Valley, has a herd of two hundred head, the most of which belong to settlers, and are brought there to herd; they are in splendid condition. Cattle are taken in the herd May 15, and the herd breaks up October 15. Many settlers have pastures, and stock-raising will eventually take the lead. More horses are raised each year, and it is well worth a day’s journey to see Greenhalgh & Brunskill’s horse ranch; for description see Waverly. Hogs fatted on ground barley and oats make the finest pork in the world, and farmers are generally raising their own pork.

Stock appears to stand the dry cold winter weather all right and keep in good condition.


Hickman, George; History of Marshall County, Dakota: Its Topography and Natural History, and Sketches of Pioneer Settlers, with the Names of Actual Settlers where They are From, and where They Live; Also the Military and Sisseton Reservations; J.W. Banbury, 1886.

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