Pioneer Camera
Sod Houses

Sod house, 7k Home Sweet Home
Full Page 27k | Hultstrand 78, 79 |

The exterior of Elling Ohnstad's sod house, in Fairdale, North Dakota, on June 24, 1932, leaves a lot to be desired. However, the wooden pole supporting one wall and the makeshift wooden shed are somewhat deceptive, since sod could make a very "homey" dwelling.

Ohnstad was born in Norway and came to America with his father and seven siblings in 1882 at the age of 12. Inside, the windows adorned with curtains, the patch-work quilt on the metal framed bed, and the round table complete with tablecloth, all demonstrate some of the warm comforts contained within a sod house. Pictures and a calendar hanging on the wall complete the scene.

Whether it be from an interior or exterior view, sod houses provided not only shelter, but a home to many North Dakotans during their early years on the prairie.

Sod house family, 7k Leaving the Sod Behind
Full Page 27k | Hultstrand 102 |

The Joseph Burkholder family pose for the last time, in front of their sod and tarpaper shack, located in Towner County, five miles east of Rock Lake, North Dakota. The family was moving on this day in 1901 to a larger square two-story house, one half mile away. Their stoic faces are deceiving, as moving to a larger house meant that they had passed yet another milestone in their long and lonely homesteading venture.

Joseph and Annie (Reed) Burkholder came here from Iowa, in hopes of achieving a better life on the plains of North Dakota.

Sod house family, 7k Putting on Sunday's Best for the Photographer
Full Page 27k | Hultstrand 46 |

A homesteading family stands proudly with all of their possessions, in this case three chairs, in front of their sod house, near Rock Lake, North Dakota, in 1905.

It was customary for people to take all of their possessions out in front of their home whenever a traveling photographer came around. Children were also outfitted in their Sunday best, which did not necessarily include shoes, as they were considered to be a great luxury during this time.

Sod house, 5k A Sod and Wood Creation
Full Page 31k | Hult. 58 |

Several families are posing in front of a sod house, built in 1884 on the homestead site of Ole I. Gjevre, in Osnabrock Township, Cavalier County, Dakota Territory.

Lumber encloses the sod walls, with an entire wooden addition visible on the back of the house. It was common for homesteaders to "improve" their relatively simple homes to accommodate additions to their families or to show modicums of success on the North Dakota prairies.

Homesteaders, 6k Commemorating Homesteaders and Norwegian Immigrants
Full Page 30k | Hultstrand 61, 240, 240a |

A Milton, North Dakota, photographer took this picture of John and Marget Bakken and their two children, Tilda and Eddie, in front of their sod house in Milton in 1898. John Bakken was the son of Norwegian immigrants, who homesteaded and built a sod house in Milton in 1896. This sod house was used as the basis for the design of the Homestead Act Commemorative Stamp in 1962.

Since living persons cannot be represented on US stamps, the children were blocked out by a haystack. Ironically however, John Bakken was still alive at age 92 when the stamp was issued.

This photograph was also used by Norway on its postage stamp in 1975, to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Norwegian emigration to America. The children were left in the picture for this stamp, rendering a more accurate image of the original photograph.

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Institute for Regional Studies
North Dakota State University Libraries
Fargo, North Dakota, 58105
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