Sod houses and white prairie dogs are both rare. But at Prairie Homestead in South Dakota, an original, sod house, dating back to 1909, is still intact, and an entire colony of white prairie dogs live on the property.
What is a sod house?
The successor to log cabins, sod houses were common in the Great Plains during the time the area was settled, from the mid-18th century to the early 19th century. Thick prairie sod covered the roof, and walls were constructed of sod blocks, creating a well-insulated but damp home. Prairie rains washed away most sod houses over the years. The sod house at Prairie Homestead is one of the few that remain standing.
Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862 to encourage Western migration. Under the Act, homesteaders could purchase 160 acres of land for $18. The caveats to ownership were that the homesteader had to be at least 21 years old to file for the land, build a house, grow crops on a small acreage, and keep a residence on the property for five years.
In 1909, Edgar and Alice Brown, along with their son Charles, purchased a tract of land from a previous homesteader and built a sod home near what is now the Badlands National Park. Edgar was already 55 years old when the family moved there, at a time when life expectancy for a man was under 50 years old.
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Over the next several years, the family built a root cellar, outhouse, chicken coop and barn. They also moved an existing claim shack to the property as an addition to the sod house. Floors in most of the buildings were dirt.
It’s hard to imagine living in a sod house on the harsh Plains, but early pioneers made the best of it. The house at Prairie Homestead is decorated as it may have been back then, with feminine touches like frilly curtains, checkered tablecloth and patchwork quilts transforming the rustic house into a home.
White prairie dogs
The most surprising animals that I saw were white prairie dogs, popping up from holes here and there around the property, reminding me of the Whac-A-Mole arcade game. The prairie dogs were moved to the site with the cooperation of the local Oglala Sioux Native American tribe and are a highlight of the attraction.
Be sure to watch the short orientation film in the visitor center. The visitor center includes a gift shop and snack bar. You can also dress in pioneer costumes while you tour the property, making for great photo ops.
The seasonal attraction (open May to October) is located a half-mile north of the east entrance to Badlands National Park at 21070 SD Highway 240 in Philip, South Dakota. Check the website for hours, admission rates and other details.
Accommodations: I stayed in a cabin at the Frontier Cabins Motel during my visit to Badlands National Park. Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.
Disclosures: My visit to South Dakota was hosted by the South Dakota Department of Tourism, and my admission to Prairie Homestead was complimentary. However, all opinions in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link, which means that if you book a room using this link, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
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