When settlers headed west, they had little time for building fancy houses. They usually traveled west during the spring and when the weather was good.
If they were lucky, they reached their destination with just a few weeks of summer left. They had to plant crops and quickly find shelter.
- The first shelters were usually lean-tos, made from bark and branches set against an earthen bank. The branches were covered with mud or animal skins. A fire burned near the lean-to’s front door opening, offering light, heat, and protection from animals.
- When pioneers moved to the Midwest, they discovered a problem – no trees anywhere. Building a house of wood was not an option; instead, they cut large blocks of sod from the ground—chunks of dirt and grass—and used them as bricks, stacking them together. These houses, called soddies, stayed cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but they had their problems too. They were dark, smelly, and dirty. Rain entered through the roof, along with snakes, mice, gophers, and insects. Soddies were sometimes built into a hillside. The roof, part of the hill, was covered with grass and flowers. If you didn’t know the house was there, you’d think it was just a hill.
- In forests, pioneers built wood cabins. Building them was slow, hard work and most cabins were just one room. The trees had to be cut down, cut into equal lengths, and notched to fit together. The children stuffed moss, twigs and mud into the holes between the logs. The roofs were usually made from bunches of grass, thatch, tied into bundles.
- In the Southwest, pioneers learned to make adobe houses like the native people who lived there. They mixed straw and mud to make bricks, which were baked in the hot sun until they were hard.
Questions and Answers
Question: Did the pioneers have beds or other furniture?
Answer: The early pioneers slept on animal skins and sat on tree stumps. Later beds might be a cloth sack filled with straw, grass, or cattails.
Watch a video about sod houses.
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Tobin, Declan. (2020). Pioneer Houses - American History For Kids. American History for Kids. Retrieved from https://www.americanhistoryforkids.com/pioneer-houses/