Logo for the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum
Home Exhibits Hoover

Students Educators Laura Ingalls

Laura Ingalls Wilder

De Smet, South Dakota Street Map
Ingalls Claim
Sod House


Return to Ingalls Claim


19th century sod house
A Family in Front of Their Sod House

Sod houses were constructed from the prairie soil. A sod plow was used to cut the soil into three-foot lengths. Cutting had to be done between mid-May and mid-July so that the sod would not rot. A sod house was about fourteen feet by sixteen feet with walls four feet thick. Slabs of sod weighed about fifty pounds and were laid in a staggered pattern like bricks. The roof was made of crisscrossed poles of cottonwood or willow with a layer of sod on top. A sod house lasted about six years.

Sod houses were cool in summer and warm in winter. The ceiling was covered with cloth or paper to keep the dirt from falling into the soddy. Sod houses were damp, dark and musty. Mice and snakes often tunneled through the walls.

sod house today
A Soddy
--Photo courtesy of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, 105 Olivet Ave., Box 426, De Smet, SD 57231 http://www.discoverlaura.org

The Ingalls family lived in a dugout near Plum Creek in Minnesota . The front wall of the dugout was made of sod. Around the door grew morning glory vines. There was a greased-paper window by the door. The earth walls inside the dugout had been whitewashed, and the earth floor was smooth and hard. Grass grew on the roof, and Ma said that anyone could walk over their house and never know it was there.

Almanzo Wilder and his brother, Royal, built sod shanties on their claims north of Silver Lake . When Pa was hunting he found the empty shanties and went to investigate. In one he found an envelope addressed to Almanzo and in the other he found a card with Royal's name written on it.


Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum
P.O. Box 488
210 Parkside Drive
West Branch, IA 52358 | 319-643-5301