Wednesday, January 30, 2013


By Charlene Raddon

I’ve blogged quite a bit lately about dugouts, in promoting my new e-release, To Have And To Hold, because the heroine in my book lived in a dugout. But today I’m going to talk about the other typical first home for a frontier settler—the sod house.

Timber was scarce on the Great Plains. Early settlers built their first shelters from what was available, and for many that meant thick prairie sod. A typical “soddy” was about fourteen feet by sixteen feet in size with a seven-and-one-half-foot high wall, a low-pitched roof, a central side door, and one or two windows. Interior walls were often finished with plaster or covered with newspapers. Canvas, suspended from the ceiling, made the room lighter and helped keep down the dust. Furnishings were sparse and simple, although prized lace curtains or an heirloom piece of furniture were not uncommon.

Not all soddies were small

To build a soddy the homesteader first chose a construction site, squared the interior dimensions of the house, and dampened and packed the floor area. Then an acre or so of unbroken ground was selected and a breaking plow used to cut the sod into long strips about twelve to eighteen inches wide and three to four inches thick. These were then cut with a sharp spade into two- to three-foot-long blocks and hauled to the house site on a wagon or sled. Only enough sod was broken and cut for use that day because the sod blocks were easier to handle when the moisture content was high.

Prairie soddie

Walls were constructed two to three staggered blocks deep (providing a wall depth of two or three feet), with the sod blocks grassy side down. Once the third or fourth layer of blocks were in place, a crosswise layer was installed to add strength to the wall. Wood-plank frames were propped in place at the desired locations for the door and windows, and the wall construction continued until it reached about half its final height. Completed walls were scraped on the inside for a smoother, more attractive surface. This also helped to insure a finished wall that was as vertical as possible. 

After the walls were finished, support poles were placed at each end of the soddy, and the ridgepole place across them. Then either planks or poles were attached to form rafters, and poles or brush, sometimes tar paper or canvas, was applied. On top of all this, layers (the number of layers varied) of sod blocks were positioned either with the grassy side down and coated with a thin plaster. Sometimes the grassy side was left up, and vegetation was allowed to grow. Finally, the gabble ends were filled with sod blocks, and a plank door was hung.

Unusually shaped sod house

Windows were the most expensive part of a sod house and were difficult to install. After setting the frame into the wall, the builder continued to lay rows of sod around it. When the bricks reached the top of the window frame settlers left off two layers of brick and laid cedar poles over the gap. The resulting space, stuffed with grass or rags, protected the windows from breaking.

Window and interior
Note beam over window at roof

Dirt floors were found in the majority of the early sod homes. More prosperous families might fasten carpets to the dirt floor. In some cases, rough or planed split logs were used for flooring. But only a few could afford the luxury of wide, rough-cut planks from the sawmill. Many women detested the continual war with dirt, bugs, snakes, leaky roofs and poor lighting. Nothing ever seemed to be clean. Others took the conditions in stride.


A woman without a prayer…

A widow with two children, Tempest Whitney had to mortgage everything to repay the money her husband had stolen. But even as she struggles to hold onto her Utah homestead, a scheming rancher buys up her debts, demanding she either get off his land or marry him. Then a dark-haired stranger shows up, claiming to be her dead husband…

A man without a past….

Buck Maddux spent two years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Now a death bed promise has brought him to Tempest’s dugout. A man without roots, he doesn’t plan to stay—or to feel so fiercely protective of this feisty beauty he saves from a forced marriage. Suddenly, Buck yearns for a home, a family, a lasting love. But what can he offer Tempest? The surprising answer lies in the forbidden canyons of an ancient Anasazi tribe, where fortune and danger await—along with a passion more precious than gold…



Charlene Raddon began her writing life at an early age, often penning stories where she cast herself as the heroine. It was after college when she dug out her old college typewriter and started her first novel, which came from a spirited dream she'd had the previous night.

While that book never sold, her second novel did. Tender Touch became a Golden Heart finalist and earned her an agent who signed the book, and two others, in a three book contract with Kensington Publishing. Kensington went onto publish five of Charlene's western historical romances: TAMING JENNA (1994); TENDER TOUCH (1994 Golden Heart Finalist); FOREVER MINE (1996 Romantic Times Magazine Reviewer's Choice Award Nominee and Affaire de Coeur Reader/Writer Poll finalist); TO HAVE AND T HOLD (1997); and as Rachel Summers, THE SCENT OF ROSES (1999).

Charlene took a break from publishing, but not from writing. A KISS AND A DARE is Charlene's first paranormal romance.

DIVINE GAMBLE is Charlene's latest work and won first place in the western historical category of the 2010 Romance Through The Ages contest.

When Charlene isn't writing, she loves to travel, do genealogy, digital scrapbooking and dyes eggs in the Ukrainian style. And she enjoys camping and fishing with her husband in the Utah wilderness. 

Photos supplied by the author

Thanks for stopping by!


Caroline Clemmons said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Charlene. Best wishes for continued success with your books.

Anonymous said...

Caroline, please change the photos to the correct ones. I don't want to promote this blog until they're right. As you said, we don't want to be sued.