What? No trees? by Carla Olson Gade


In my new novella, “Proving Up”, in The Homestead Brides Collection from Barbour Publishing, my story is about the struggle to survive and thrive on the open prairie. The great expanse of the Nebraska plains harkened not the faint of heart. With golden fields ripe for homesteading, the land beckoned those to who had the gumption to stake a claim, cultivate the land, and create a community, such as the Swedish settlement of Swedeberg, Nebraska. Earning a government land grant of 160 acres was no easy task as the settler’s endured drought, prairie fires, and grasshopper plagues as they cultivated the land they resided on in order to “prove up.”

But when the homesteaders first arrived on their claims in the Great Plains there was nary a tree in sight. Some trees grew by the moist riverbeds, but the prairie was dry and treeless. What trees were available soon became exhausted and people were known to travel over fifty miles to obtain the lumber they so desperately needed.

Without the availability of trees, homesteaders had to rely on alternativechips means for supplying them with fuel and lumber. In the absence of firewood, cow and buffalo chips became a precious commodity for providing fuel to cook by and heat homes. This “prairie coal” burned well and surprisingly produced an odorless flame. Some people owned a hay burner stove, that was outfitted with a firebox and cylinders that were filled with twisted hay. The hay was quickly consumed and required constant tending.

The lack of lumber meant that there was no wood for building dwellings, so earth was used instead. Sod from the ground was cut into large bricks and stacked to create houses. They were often lined with plaster or newspaper to prevent bugs from getting in. These “soddies” became one of the most common dwellings on the western frontier. But lumber was also needed for furniture and wooden fences.

nebraska-sod-houseIf only there were more trees. Or any trees at all.

To encourage the growth of trees on the Great Plains, Congress passed The Timber Culture Act in 1873. Naturalists believed that the growth of trees would produce rainfall and transform the prairie by bringing moisture to the dry land. The trees would not only provide needed lumber, but would also provide a windbreak or shelterbelt that would reduce the force of the wind, direct the movement of snow, and provide much needed shade. It also provided shelter from the elements and a natural fence for the livestock.

“This country’s going to be covered with trees,” Pa said. “Don’t forget that Uncle Sam’s tending to that. There’s a tree claim on every section, and settlers have got to plant ten acres of trees on every tree claim. In four or five years, you’ll see trees every way you look.”

~ By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Homesteaders could add another 160 acres of land to the 160 acres they obtimberclaimtained from the Homestead Act of 1862 in exchange for planting one quarter (40 acres) of the property with trees. Once they proved that they had a successful crop of trees the government would issue them the title to the land. Initially the regulations required one quarter of the 160 acres to be planted with trees and cultivated over a period of ten years. In 1878 this was reduced to ten acres over an eight year period due to the extreme hardships on the Great Plains such as prairie fires, grasshopper plagues, and drought. On each of the 10 acres 2,700 trees (27,000 total) were to be planted with a stipulation that 675 (6,750) of them would thrive. About 20% of homtimber1aesteaders filed a tree claim. But many were abandoned as people used the land free of rent and taxes for years and then moved on. There were other abuses such as land speculation and fraud. In 1891 The Timber Culture Act was repealed. Nevertheless, millions of trees were planted and although it did not result in great forestation, the Great Plains was transformed into a landscape that is now dotted with trees.

I’m giving away a copy of The Homestead Brides Collection autographed by all nine authors who contributed to the book!


The Homestead Brides Collection (Barbour, February 2015)Homestead Brides Cover400

Through nine historical romance adventures, readers will journey along with individuals who are ready to stake a claim and plant their dreams on a piece of the great American plains. While fighting land disputes, helping neighbors, and tackling the challenges of nature the homesteaders are placed in the path of other dreamers with whom romance sparks. And God has His hand in orchestrating each unique meeting.

Proving Up novella by Carla Olson Gade

Elsa Lindquist applies her scientific theories to growing trees on the Nebraska plains, intruding on a handsome homesteader’s hard work and experience. Will their dreams come to ruin, or will love prove their success?


Pinterest story board for “Proving Up.” http://tinyurl.com/provingsb

Available for purchase at  Amazon.com.

+ posts

36 thoughts on “What? No trees? by Carla Olson Gade”

  1. Having lived in Wisconsin all my life surrounded by trees, I cannot imagine a land with no trees. But then I’ve read books like the Little House on the Prairie books about De Smet, SD and it has amazed me. That period of history is fascinating.

  2. welcome,this post was so interesting,,didnt realize that trees were so scarce in some areas,,I guess we take for granted the beautiful trees we have now,,Its hard to imagine a place to live with no trees,,I bet the heat was terrible too,,thanks for sharing

  3. My family has grown up on the Nebraska prairies & I would love to read how these authors portray it.. I really don’t like it when I see tree’s cut down to make more farm ground.. I’d love to win an autographed copy 🙂 Enjoyed reading the blog today…
    dkstevensneAToutlookD OtCoM

  4. Such interesting history! I had no idea Congress passed a timber act to encourage the growth of trees on the Great Plains. Thank you for sharing a great post and giveaway, Carla!

  5. Fascinating. I had no idea they tried (and I guess somewhat succeeded) to grow trees. Living in PA I can’t even imagine living in an area without lots of trees (although it would be nice not having to rake leaves lol).

  6. Great post, I can’t imagine living in a place with no trees because I was raised in the country with trees all around. I live in town now bet we still have trees. Thanks for sharing such a great post with us.

  7. I became fascinated with The Timber Culture Act when I came across it in my research. I’d never heard about it before and like many of you, never imagined that there were so few trees in the west. How resourceful and long suffering these homesteaders were!

  8. What a great post, I enjoyed reading it. I cannot imagine not having trees. I have incredible respect for our early hardworking homesteaders.

  9. Good job, Carla! I hope you are staying warm and migraine-free! I’ve been around trees my whole life! I can’t imagine living without them!

  10. Hi Carla. Your post was interesting. I still don’t see how the earth stayed together for them to make blocks to build their homes. These people had to be strong and also good thinks to have managed like this in the new lands of the West. I love stories from that era and would be so happy if I can be your winner of your book. Thanks for this chance. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

    • It is an interesting concept for sure, Maxi. When the sod dried it became like huge bricks. Some people built their walls at a slight angle to help support the weight of them, but I don’t understand the physics of that because I’d think they’d all fall in!

  11. Brave people trying to make a living off the unforgiving land. These settlers had to build a structure to live in, provide food for the family, and buy and plant all the promised trees along with their crops. WOW! Hardy souls!

    I’ve heard of the devastation of the grasshopper plaques. It’s amazing anyone stayed on.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of our county’s history. I wondered how sod houses became so popular.

  12. This was such an interesting post and I learned a lot- kind of a history lesson. These people all those years ago worked with what they had and didn’t give up-such a tribute to those folks.

  13. I can imagine how difficult it would be to get those trees to thrive in harsh weather conditions. Thanks for the history lesson. 🙂

  14. I can’t imagine not having trees….I also gad no idea about getting a bigger homestead if they planted trees:) that’s cool to know

  15. Hi Carla, I apologize for not getting over here yesterday. Welcome to P&P and for bringing such an interesting blog. Here in the Panhandle of Texas trees were are as scarce as hen’s teeth until after it settled and people planted them. It seems almost everyone loves the beauty and shade that trees bring to a land. I lost a big tree in my front yard during the last big storm when we received a foot of snow. It just fell right over and now I hate the bareness. Breaks my heart to look at it.

    Congratulations on your newest release! Your story sounds great. I love ones that show the depth of spirit and heart and determination of these settlers who often carved something from nothing.

    • Thank you, Linda! Can you imagine what those fierce snow storms did too early crops of trees? It took quite a while to grow the trees that were planted on these barren lands. I never realized and no appreciate them all the more. Thank you for having me here at P & P!

  16. I really enjoy reading about homesteading and the way folks dealt with the many differences between their old life and the new. Most of the trees around our home had to be removed because they were not healthy. Oh I miss the shade so much! I know I would enjoy reading this book and would be most happy to win a copy! Thanks.

  17. Trees are so very important that it makes me sad to see all the trees being torn out for progress. There used to be twice as many trees in the square mile that we live in. Our home place still has lots of trees but the rest of the section has none. Your post was very interesting with facts that I had not known. Thank you.

  18. I have lived where there are a lot of trees and also where there are few trees. I do love trees but there is something about those wide open spaces—
    Thank you for the chance to win what sounds like a very interesting book!

  19. I had never heard of the Timber Culture Act. It was a good idea in some ways, but did interfere with the way Nature had shaped the land. This anthology should be interesting in many ways. In addition to good stories by some of my favorite authors, there will be interesting little historical tidbits about the area. That is one of the things I enjoy about historical fiction.

    I hope you have had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.

  20. i love stories about the settling of our great country, especially the plains and west. I grew up in western Texas, where the trees were mesquites and scrub brush. I never felt I was missing anything, though, till I moved to Michigan and saw the gorgeous colors of trees in the fall. Looking forward to reading this collection of stories.

  21. I do like and appreciate trees but also like the wide open spaces we have in central Kansas. I feel a bit claustrophobic when I’m in an area with many trees. I like a balance of trees and open spaces.
    I’d love to win this book. Thanks for the chance.

  22. I wish everyone could have won a copy of my book, but we did have one winner, Judy. I hope you’ll all take the opportunity to order the book, and if you like it, please recommend it to others. Blessings to all!

Comments are closed.