Old Sod Shanty

Little Old Sod Shanty

The old standard, "Little Old Sod Shanty on the Claim," is sung all over the North American plains. The song has hynnodic antecedents as to melody, but the immediate ancestor of the plains folksong was "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane," by Will Hays. Continually adapted and localized, "Little Old Sod Shanty" has many reputed authors, including ones I have run across in Selden, Kansas, and Grafton, North Dakota.

The text here presented, however, is one I made up myself, inspired by architectural field work my wife and I did in Bowman County, North Dakota, in 1997. There we came across several sod houses recently occupied, various people who had lived in them, and indeed, one woman still living in one. This led me to ask why, when other people built new wood-frame houses, these folk stayed in their soddies--and led me to put a rather different spin on the old song.

Little Old Sod Shanty
Copyright 1997 Tom Isern
Now the prairie sod is turned, and our homestead's proven up,
And our fences make the landscape rather tame.
Our barn is full of fodder, and our granaries so full
Stand around our old sod shanty on the claim.
Our neighbors all are hauling piles of lumber out from town
And are building big frame houses on the plain,
And they wonder why we hesitate to join the building boom
And to leave our old sod shanty on the claim.
Oh the window-wells are deep, for the walls are two feet thick,
So the howling blizzard cannot do us harm.
In the summertime it's cooler than the willows by the crick
In our little old sod shanty on the farm.
So we bought a square of wood shakes and a little keg of nails
And we made our hip roof tight against the rain,
Then we laid a new wood floor, and we bought some window glass
For our little old sod shanty on the claim.
We hauled sand up from the river and some cement out from town
And our dirty walls white stucco soon became.
But the hardest part was plastering those inside soddy walls
Of our little old sod shanty on the claim.

One cold December evening we sat up to tend the fire,
In the weather that gives North Dakota fame.
It was thirty below zero and the wind was blowing hard
Round our little old sod shanty on the claim.
At ten o'clock we heard a knock and opened up our door,
And into our soddy all the neighbors came.
They were freezing in their houses, so they came to warm themselves
In our little old sod shanty on the claim!