Look at the house above. It is made out of
lumps or sods of earth.
The family who proudly pose for this
photograph have built this home themselves with hardly any building
These people were known as the homesteaders
and their homes called sodhouses.
Many thousands of them moved west from the
1850s onwards to begin new lives. They came from the east and from
Europe - mainly England, Germany and Sweden, to escape poverty and
over-crowding and sometimes to escape religious persecution.
Many more people went west after the US
Civil War ended in 1865. Thousands of freed black slaves became
Why did they go to the Plains?
Land in the far west - California and
Oregon - was too expensive by 1860 for most settlers. Farming on the
Great Plains was the only option.
The government encouraged this settling of
the Plains -
1862 Homestead Act - each family given 160 acres of land as
long as they farmed it for five years
1873 Timber Culture Act - a further 160 acres of land was
given as long as 40 acres was planted with trees
1877 Desert Land Act - 640 acres of very cheap land was made
available in areas with low rainfall
Railroad companies sold huge tracts of land along their
railway lines to homesteaders to encourage use of their trains
What were the problems and solutions of
farming on the Plains?
|Ploughing and sowing -
Very hard work, the grassland was tough to break up
and cast iron ploughs regularly broke
machinery - Industrial revolution in the East made
better farm machinery such as John Deere's sodbuster
water - Irrigation was no use due to the shortage
of lakes and rivers. Wells were also expensive to dig and no
guarantee of success.
Dry farming - Farmers
preserved moisture in the soil by ploughing after rain or snow,
trapping in the water.
Wind pumps - Halliday's
windmill could keep going all day and night, pumping up water from
wells deep down, no matter which way the wind blew.
Ordinary crops like maize (corn) and spring wheat
didn't grow well in the harsh weather conditions.
Wheat - Introduced by Russian immigrants
accidentally thrived on the Plains as it was similar to the
Russian Steppes where they came from. The famous western
tumbleweed also arrived this way.
Wood was scarce and expensive so fences couldn't
protect crop fields from cattle or dodgy neighbours!
wire - Invented by Joseph Glidden in 1874 - this
was a cheap and effective solution for the homesteaders.