Archive for February, 2012

Digging your own Home

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog, Butter in the Well book series

Buffalo hunter's home on the Kansas Pacific Railway, Sheridan, Kansas. 1870Our family doesn’t have a photo of the original dugout dug in 1868 that was on the “Butter in the Well” farm, so here’s a photo from Kansas Memory to give you a visual view to contemplate while reading a passage from my book Butter in the Well. Young Swedish immigrant Kajsa Svensson comments on the building of their first “home”…

April 8, 1868
 I’m so hot and sweaty today. But I need my long-sleeved dress to protect me from the sun’s burning rays and the insects. We’ve been digging on the well for days. Carl fills the bucket up with dirt from the bottom of the hole, then I pull it up by a rope, dump the bucket and send it back down to him. He is very discouraged. First we almost get flooded out by the creek, and now we can’t find any water.  

 April 9th
“I give up,” Carl said as he slumped at the bottom of the hole. “There’s no water here. We’re going to have to move to a different site.” We’re both tired, sunburned and disillusioned with our first week on our land. Tonight Carl took a walk to the river and shot a turkey for our supper. He needed a walk to cool down and I needing time to sit and rest my weary back and arms. We have so much digging ahead. I’m going to have to get used to doing hard physical work again. Life in Jacksonville softened my body. Christina is getting tired of being in the wagon but that’s the way it will have to be. If she wanders away in this tall grass, we could lose her forever.”

April 15th
The creek runs through our land, across the south and up the west side until it empties into the river on the next section to the north of us. We moved our little camp into the middle of our farm on the far east edge since we know the creek can surprise us with a flood. Again we started the process of digging the well, one scoop at a time. Today we were rewarded with water.

April 18th
Today we start digging our home. I hate to live in the ground, burrowed in like a gopher, but we can’t afford the lumber it takes to build a house. What lumber we did find money for will be used sparingly. People say being in the ground protects you from the heat of the summer day and the freezing cold of winter. It will only be about 10 by 12 feet in size, just enough for our bodies and belongings. I’ll continue to cook outside on an open fire. We’ve scoured the creek for rocks to reinforce our walls. For our dugout to be a legal homestead house, we must have one window in it. We bought a small pane of glass in Salina that Carl will frame and put next to the door.  

April 23rd
Carl left ledges along the inside walls of the dugout to use for sitting and sleeping. He dug two additional recesses, one for a safe spot to sit a candle and another to hide our food away from the vermin.We cut strips of sod, about 12 by 18 by 2 inches, and laid them around the edge of our hole to build walls 3 feet high. This will give us the extra height to stand the door upright on the south end. Carl chopped down one tall straight tree by the river for the ridgepole. Fallen timber from the river and a few boards make up the roof rafters that were to nailed the ridgepole. We had a wagonload of tree limbs that we weaved in among the Next, dry grass, from around the house was layered on, then sod blocks on the roof. We threw dirt back on the roof from the hole that was dug. Just another day or two and we’ll move in.  

April 25th
We saved the hard layer of sand from when we dug the well. This sand, and clay from the river bank, were mixed with water to plaster the walls of the dugout. It’s very crude, but it will have to do for our first winter. The dirt floor will get packed down in time. I’ll sprinkle my dishwater on it to help it harden. I wish we had rugs to cover the floor. It would make it warmer and easier to keep clean. I talked Carl into cutting up one board for a door. At least I’ll feel a little safer at night with it closed. The hungry howling of the wolves scares me.  

April 28th
 Our sparse belongings from the wagon have filled the dugout in a hurry. Carl made two chairs out of a log he sawed up. Another board was fashioned into a table. The crate that held our supplies will be my cupboard. A lean-to bed is braced on the right side of the dugout, half on the ledge for support. Christina’s cradle fits under our bed when the cradle is not being used. A crude mattress was fashioned out of ticking filled with “prairie feathers.” I’m glad we brought along the bedding from our house in Jacksonville.
Carl found some old buffalo horns when he was out walking. He nailed them up to the wall to hang our clothes on.  

April 29th
 We hung the wagon sheet up as our ceiling for the dugout today. Last night there was a rattlesnake dangling from the rafters above Christina! Lord give me strength. I cannot get used to those things. Fear runs down my spine every time I see one. I’m tired of the snakes, mice and insects that drop down on us by surprise during a meal or during the night. Now that the weather has warmed up, the snakes are everywhere. I’m petrified one of us will get bitten and die on the spot. We were down at the creek yesterday for a few hours and came home to six vipers sunning themselves on the south side of the dugout. We’ve trampled down the grass around our “home,” but it does not seem to deter the snakes. I must carry a big stick wherever I go, so I can beat them out of our path. I can’t let Christina out of my sight now that she’s starting to walk.

We also have at least one pack rat that is stealing everything that I leave out. If I ever see it, I’m going to shoot it. I am almost as good a shot as Carl and I won’t hesitate at the trigger for the rat that stole my thimble.”

(Excerpt from Butter in the Well, © by Linda K. Hubalek)

Be sure to come back to this site next week as I’ll post the first photo of the homestead I have, taken in 1881, that features the Svensson’s new wood-frame home. I’ll post an excerpt from my book, Butter in the Well that goes with it too.

(And look back at that dugout photo again and enjoy your current modern home!)

Details in Pioneer Photos

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog

Mead family dugout, Ford Co., Kansas

Mead family dugout, Ford Co., Kansas

I post pioneer photos on my Facebook page once a week, and it’s fun for people to look at the photos in detail and comment on what they see.

Last week I posted the outside and inside of a dugout home in Ford Co., Kansas that I found in www.KansasMemory.com, part of our Kansas State Historical Society website. I printed off the photos and went over them in detail with a magnifying glass too.

Interior of the Mead family dugout, Ford Co., Kansas

Interior of the Mead family dugout, Ford Co., Kansas

Readers saw that the man had a bandaged finger, commented on how tight all the furniture was inside the dugout…and wondering how long they lived in the dugout before building a home, or going back to where they came from.

One Facebook fan from England then asked about the Benders, a famous Kansas family who in 1873 killed travelers at their inn, and then buried them in their orchard.

I knew of the family’s crime since I do history research, and put their name in a Google search. Oh my, for the links and information that popped up…

There were reports in the New York Times, photos taken at the scene of the crime, just all sensationalized as things are today. It was not instant news like the one we have now, but people were still interested in the story that happened in the middle of the Kansas prairie when they did hear about it.

If you’d like to join in the fun of looking back on pioneer times, please check out my author’s fan page on Facebook.

How Valuable is that Quilt?

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog, Butter in the Well book series, quilts and quilting

Isn’t it funny how we used “old bedding” when we were growing up, and now realize how valuable these antique quilts are due to the work and love put into each of them?

This fall I moved my parents from the farm they had called home for 65 years to a smaller home in town.

Because my parents didn’t have room for two trunks of quilts, I was lucky to inherit them. Inside these wooden chests were the handmade quilts, made by my great grandmother and grandmother, which we had used on our own beds when I was young.

My childhood years in the 1960s were spent in a wood frame house built back in 1870. This house was featured in my Butter in the Well book series. The only heat for my upstairs bedroom came from a floor vent, which let a little warmth drift up from the room below. Therefore, during the winter months, there were “blanket sheets” on my bed, plus three or four quilts on top.

Then I grew up, left home, and started using the light modern blankets on my bed.

Looking through the inherited quilts again brought back many memories. Not only of the quilts, but other flashes—like tucking my feet up inside the flowered flannel nightgown I wore to bed, pink sponge curlers, and having only my nose sticking out from under the pile of bedding.

Now I think of how I treated those quilts that we had used for everyday bedding, and am amazed that they survived.

Pink quilt used by author Linda Hubalek while growing up in the "Butter in the Well" house.(Pink quilt used by Linda Hubalek while growing up in the “Butter in the Well” house)

I marvel at the thousands of tiny handmade stitches and the variety and colors of the fabric—all scraps from past clothing of my ancestors.

How many hours did the quilters spend cutting out the block pieces, and then sewing them together?

Who sat around the quilting frame to quilt them?

What was the conversation those days back in the late 1800s and early 1900s?

Did these women ever consider their handwork would keep their decedents warm after they were gone? Or that I would treasure these quilts and the memories of the quilters a century later?

Just think, whether it was a hundred years ago—or present time—a quilt made by someone’s hand, is keeping another person warm.

How valuable is that? Priceless…

(This post is currently featured on The Quilting Gallery, so be sure to read it to see more photos and enter in the contest to win an ebook copy of Butter in the Well  for your Kindle.)

The Loss of a Friend

Written by lindahubalek on . Posted in Blog, Planting Dreams book series

One of my grade school classmates died suddenly this week from some yet-unknown health issue. Eventually, after the autopsy is finished, family and friends will know what struck down the man liked by so many, but now all we can do is just wonder—and remember.

He was the class clown, often times the start of mischief in our boisterous large class of almost thirty students (all in one room those days).

In his adult life people knew him as a family man, auctioneer, their kid’s softball coach, and church leader who almost always had a smile on his face and a greeting on his lips.

At first, few in our community knew of his death because he did not live locally, then the news spread through phone calls, Facebook, etc.

While researching pioneers’ lives I’m come across situations like this where no one knows why a person died, or when it happened.

Unless it was an accident, or a known disease that was plaguing the community, an autopsy wasn’t performed on a deceased a century ago. The body was prepared for viewing at home, and then buried in a local cemetery. I found out it happened more than once to my ancestors while researching my Planting Dreams book series.

Can you imagine it happening to you along a wagon trail in the mid-1800s, with no time to stop and mourn, and knowing you would never visit that grave again?

Can you imagine receiving a black-edged envelope in the mail telling to you that your child or grandchild who immigrated to America, died months ago?

Sorrow for the one lost and the memories shared are the same whether a person died generations ago, or just recently.

It is just a sad fact of life…but at least today I can remember my friend’s smile…