Where I live in Wichita County in North Texas the land is rolling hills, arid, and for the most part, barren. I can’t imagine what the early settlers must’ve thought when they first laid eyes on it. It doesn’t even remotely look like a fertile place in which to make a home. There’s just not much to recommend it so I have no idea what the attraction was.
Other than a few trees that grew along the streams and rivers, wood was a scarce commodity. So when pioneers came west and settled here, they had nothing except dirt from which to make a home. They grabbed a shovel and set to work. The early settlers carved dugouts into the sides of hills around here. Also, the dugouts were actually warmer in winter and cooler in summer than other types of houses.
But they were nothing to write home about. They were dark inside with only a door to allow light and the floors in most all of them was nothing but dirt. Can you imagine trying to keep things clean?
Or keep the creepy crawly things out.
Or for the pioneer woman to see to do the sewing, cooking or reading.
It must’ve been miserable even though they were lucky to have the shelter.
According to the Wichita Falls Museum of North Texas History here, one of the early families to make friends with the Wichita Indians and set up housekeeping on the tall grass prairie was the W. T. Bunton family. He carved a dugout from a hill that is near our present day downtown area and lived in it with his wife and two boys. Several more children were born to them there. I’m sure cramped wasn’t the word for the tight quarters.
Another family to settle here was Monroe Dodson with his wife and children. He too carved a dugout from a bluff.
Here’s an excerpt from a young adult nonfiction book titled “In the Land of the Wichitas” by Dorothy Crowder that describes the Dodson dugout:
“Other than a few cowboys from the Samuel Burk Burnett 6666 Ranch, there were no other white neighbors of the Dodson family. Let us go near the dugout which serves as the family home. It is carved from the red earth of the river’s bluff. It is 14 x 14 and houses the entire family and the hunting dog. Mr. Dodson has carved a fireplace into the south side of the dugout. The chimney does not draw well, and the tiny room is filled with smoke…. The children are tumbled in piles of fur, which form their beds….”
Oh, lovely! The pioneers paid a handsome price for adventure, cheap land, and wide open spaces.
The book doesn’t mention what kind of fuel the Dodson’s used in their fireplace but I’m sure it was mostly dried buffalo chips or something like that. Thousands of buffalo roamed this area until the buffalo hunters killed them all off.
The museum has an exhibit currently on display called “A Texas Christmas on the Frontier.” The exhibit features a replica of the Dodson dugout and I loved getting a feel of what life must’ve been like living in one. One of the striking things about the display is how cramped the dugout actually was and how dark and dreary it was inside.
At Christmas the pioneers brought in a tumbleweed if they wanted to celebrate the holiday since a tree wasn’t to be had, not even mesquite until the cattle drives got in full swing. This one in the dugout exhibit is decorated with a single string of popcorn.
Sort of reminds me of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
Do you think you would’ve been desperate enough to drag in a tumbleweed and try to make it look festive? To what lengths do you go to celebrate the holidays? Do you go all out or keep things simple and to a minimum?