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Dugout Homes

On the northwestern North Dakota prairie, with few if any trees on a homestead, enterprising homesteaders sometimes dug their dwelling into a hillside. In 1898, Edsell Sikes and Billy Carroll built a dugout twelve miles south of Stanley down in the beautiful coulees. When they dug into the hill for the home site, they discovered lignite coal and a spring. They piped the water to a keg inside (with the overflow to a stock tank outside) and had a supply of coal in the basement!

Dugouts were a bit primitive, but the indwelling home was insulated and sheltered from the weather. Having a roof of prairie grass had its hazards. Some homesteaders had cattle falling through the roof. Snakes, gophers and mice could burrow into the dwelling, along with bugs and worms. But they were built with the idea of being temporary. If it took more than a season to build the permanent house, the sod often had to be repaired.

In the Sikes' case, before Elizabeth married Edsell, he had built a lovely home. Their homestead is pictured below in 1907.

Harold Braaten owned the place when I was growing up, and now Roger Harstad does.

Sikes Township, where I grew up, was named after Edsell Sikes. He was a very successful rancher, and became a state senator in his later life.

Although not ideal, dugouts provided homes for their industrious owners. If a woman had been raised with a painted house back East, I can't imagine the look on her face when she first saw her new home. Dugouts would not have been a pleasant choice for most of us.

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