I ran across this monument the other day while driving near Rolla, North Dakota.
WE DEDICATE THIS MONUMENT TO THE MEMORY OF THE FINNISH PIONEERS WHO CAME HERE IN 1896 AND AFTER. THEY TILLED THIS SOIL WITH OXEN AND HORSES AND LIVED IN HOUSES OF EARTH SOD. THROUGH THEIR EARLY EFFORTS WE HAVE ACHIEVED OUR PRESENT LIVING STANDARD.
NORTH DAKOTA FINNISH HISTORICAL SOCIETY
ME PYHITAMME TAMAN PATSAAN SUDMALAISTEN ESIRAIVAAJIEN MUISTOLLE JOTKA TULIVAT TAHNE 1896 JA SEN JALKEEN. HE RAKENSIVAT TANNE TURVE ASUNTONSA. HARILLA JA HEVOSILLA HE RAIVASIVAT NAMA MAAT. HEIDAN TYONSA ON LASKENUT PERUSTUKSEN TAMANPAIVAN HYVINVOINNILLE.
POHJOIS — DAKOTAN SHOMALAHLEN HISTORIA SEURA
According to the Internet [http://rolla.nd.utma.com/finn/finn_monument_history.htm], the monument was placed by the Towner County Historical Society, “organized by a Dr. K. Koski, who came from Iron River, Michigan, to practice in Rolla. Dr. Koski interested the [local] Finns into organizing the Society. Their objective was to collect historical facts and information dating back to 1896, when the first Finnish settlers arrived. […] The Society decided to build a memorial monument for Finnish pioneers. […] On Sunday, July 8, 1956, the unveiling and dedication took place.”
I think of our forefathers, our parents’ homes, our grandparents’; and before them, the children of the turn of the century, their parents perhaps being pioneer prairie settlers; what their homes were made of and what they must have been like to be within, while the winds howled and ripped perhaps nearly a hundred miles an hour across the open plain. I imagine the courage it took to bear assurance to a young family of women and children that it would be all right, sleep tight, it would all hold up through the night, and the wind would pass, the dawn would rise, and we’d all be here, still, shining and rested, and we hadn’t blown away.
By God, a sod house.
I live in a brand-new house on the south end of Grand Forks, N.D. As this is a new development in a part of town that until recently was but amid the middle of large swaths of open fields, there are only a few small young trees and nothing to block the wind. And the wind really whips hard, uninhibited whatsoever, from the southwest.
It leads one to consider the construction of his house, as the windows wobble and the siding rattles, the deck chairs shuffle and the howling roars.
We hope the materials, and the people who placed them in construction, are sure, tested, up to the task of holding together through extreme conditions. Surely, one thinks, in this modern world, our home-building technology and knowledge has advanced so far that we needn’t even consider the worry.
When did we start living in modernly constructed, wood-framed houses on the Midwest American prairie?
“In 1862, the U.S. Congress passed the Homestead Act. This law permitted any 21-year-old citizen or immigrant with the intention of becoming a citizen to lay claim to 160 acres of land known as the Great American Prairie. After paying a filing fee, farming the land, and living on it for five years, the ownership of the land passed to the homesteader.
“People came from all over the world to take advantage of this opportunity. By 1900 over 600,000 claims had been filed.” [http://amhistory.si.edu/ourstory/activities/sodhouse/more.html]
At least a few of them, Finnish, it seems.
“[…] Without trees or stone to build with, homesteaders had to rely on the only available building material — prairie sod, jokingly called “Nebraska marble.” Sod is the top layer of earth that includes grass, its roots, and the dirt clinging to the roots.” [ibid.]
Ah yes, good ol’ Nebraska marble. What a prospect!
Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters, 1862-1912, “illustrates through photographs and letters the lives of the Oblinger family, who settled the Great Plains during the latter part of the 19th century. These personal accounts provide information on the joy and sorrows of life on the plains and include love letters and correspondence on financial issues, crop development, religious meetings and the work involved in establishing a home on the Nebraska prairie. Of special interest will be correspondence on the Easter Blizzard of 1873.” [http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/connections/prairie-settlement/file.html]
We’re fortunate to have the homes we’ve got, these days. It took a lot of work for our family to get to living in the luxury of modern construction. Much more than we’re often aware of, in our lifetimes, it seems.
Before this, we lived on Grand Forks’s Cottonwood Street in a 1930s bungalow, of arched doorways and stucco siding. I sometimes would call it a “mud hut”, but in honesty, the construction was already pretty good by then. A far cry from a sod house, for sure.
Before me, my dad’s grandpa’s dad might have lived in just that.
Some other Finnish monuments
“1892 Dedicated to the memory of the early Finnish pioneers who helped to build this community. 1957”
Erected 1957 by the Minnesota Finnish-American Historical Society, Hibbing, Minn.
“In memory of the Finnish pioneers who arrived here in the western part of Carlton County in 1872 and thereafter, and made their homes with courage and perseverance. Erected 1952 by Minnesota Finnish American Historical Society Chapter No. 3. / Muistoksi Suomalaisille esiraivaajille jotka saapuivat tanne lansi osaan Carlton Kauntia vuonna 1872 ja sen jalkeen rohkeasti, sitkeydella kotinsa. Perustivat pystyttanyt 1952 Minnesotan Suomalainen Amerikan Historiallinen Seura Osasto No. 3.”
Erected 1952 by the Minnesota Finnish American Historical Society, near Kettle River, Minn., in Carlton County.