Dugouts--Ugh

Remains of the Hoglund family dugout one mile west and one-half mile south of Lindsborg, Kansas. Gustav and Maria plus two babies lived there for two years.

Remains of the Hoglund family dugout one mile west and one-half mile south of Lindsborg, Kansas. Gustav and Maria plus two babies lived there for two years.

Gustaf and Maria Hoglund left their beautiful home and all members of their families in 1869, immigrated from Sweden to America, and settled in Kansas's Smoky Valley. Gustaf was 27 years old. Nothing, I mean nothing, but six-foot high prairie grassland, critters of all kinds, and hot July winds greeted them, but they stayed anyway. 

The Homestead Act of 1862 attracted brave people like the Hoglunds to take lands out of the public domain or buy it cheap, provided they cultivated the land. The Hoglunds homesteaded. 

Their first home, a six-foot by twelve-foot dugout, still remains about one mile west of my home in Lindsborg. It is nothing more than a pit dug into the ground, now restored with stone walls, a small stone cutout on the north side for cooking fires, and steps leading to the surface on the east. Pioneers like the Hoglunds put their lives on the line--no information about the land, no language to communciate when they arrived in America, only a few assets--whatever they could carry. They came anyway, and they stayed. 

Along the stone walls, the Hoglunds built benches, used for sitting and sleeping. They made a stone floor and placed their wagon crosswise over the eight-foot-deep hole. From the sides of the wagon, they stretched heavy cloth over the dugout to serve as a roof. It was crowded and dirty, damp and miserable. 

The Hoglunds lived in this dugout for two years before they built a stone house adjoining the dugout, which then became their storage cellar. Some reports say they had two of their eight children before moving to larger quarters. 

Not much imagination is need to consider life in a dugout. Snakes and insects were daily challenges, requiring a shakeout of anything the Hoglunds were ready to sit on or sleep on. Smoke from the cooking fire was an ongoing hazard, especially with Kansas winds. Dampness and mold were inevitable with flooding and accompanying storms. Food, clothing, and a means to make a living all had to be faced immediately. Clearing the land of the prairie grass was back-breaking work. The Hoglunds must have questioned their reasons for immigrating.

Most of Maria's waking hours would have been spent outside the dugout, tending garden and preparing food for the long, cold winters. Gustav raised what crops he could as the land was cleared, sharing and trading labor and tools with his neighbors. Christmases might have consisted of a few Swedish songs and telling the children about traditions back home. Birthdays might have included a skillet-cake and a hand-carved gift. 

Some immigrants eventually realized their American dream. Many others did not. The mortality rate was about 25%, especially among infants and children. Illnesses from the primitive conditions, poor nutrituion, and respiratory diseases claimed many lives. The Hoglunds fared well. Death came to their oldest child only, Gustav. The youngest of their eight, Alma, died in 1975. None of the children married. The dugout and the land around it were deeded to the Smoky Valley Historical Assocation. 

This story has more good news. The Hoglunds eventually owned several parcels of land around Lindsborg, which produced large amounts of oil. They built a wood-framed home within one mile of the dugout. Outbuildings on that farm still stand. 

Hoglunds built-up dugout may have looked something like this. They extended the stone walls upward, installed a ridge pole to anchor the roof, and sodded the slopes to keep out the rain and snow.

Hoglunds built-up dugout may have looked something like this. They extended the stone walls upward, installed a ridge pole to anchor the roof, and sodded the slopes to keep out the rain and snow.

Although the Hoglund family left no descendants, they did make way for a rich legacy of understanding pioneer life in the Smoky Valley. Signs point the way for tourists to visit the dugout site, and members of the Historical Association conduct school tours in the fall and spring. Their survival represents hopefulness when all seemed impossible. Their story hushes complaining about things not being comfortable enough, and they left a visible, tangible sign of a straight-forward, focused kind of life.