Finding Time for Pleasure, Even When Building Empire

By Hyman, Ann | The Florida Times Union, April 28, 2000 | Go to article overview

Finding Time for Pleasure, Even When Building Empire


Hyman, Ann, The Florida Times Union


Editor's note: We'd all like to learn more about our ancestors. But Times-Union columnist Ann Hyman knows a good bit about her grandfather, Homer Dye. A journalist who grew up in the pioneer days, Dye wrote his memoirs. During past months, Hyman has explored his life memories. Past articles can be found on jacksonville.com, keyword: Homer Dye.

In my imagination, I see the pioneers in isolation, alone in their sod houses in the middle of a sea of grass, each homestead the point of a compass that draws a 360-degree horizon with no neighbor's chimney, no tree, no outcropping of rock against the sky.

And so it was, at the beginning.

But the beginning did not last long.

The pioneers did not go west to live in isolation. They went west to make something of themselves and of the country. They did not see the great wilderness of prairie, forest, mountain that we so yearn for today as a paradise to preserve. They wanted to plow it under and plant farms, build towns, communities, commonwealth -- and the U.S. government and the railroads wanted them to. The land was claimed and covered almost before they knew it.

The brothers Homer and Trippett Dye were among a few who got to South Dakota ahead of the crowd. They were squatters along Elm Creek before the land was officially open to claim -- something like the folks they called "sooners" in Oklahoma at the time of the land rush. Homer built a 7-by-12-foot shanty; Trippett dug a sod house.

Looked like "a mound of manure with a stove pipe sticking out," said their brother Ellsworth, when he saw it.

In three or four years, civilization had set in.

"By 1884, there was a claim home on nearly every quarter section and cheerfully and eagerly we began the work of building homes and schools and churches, roads and bridges from the raw prairie almost with bare hands," Trippett recalled in a history of Buffalo County assembled early in the 20th century by the Lady Helpers of The First Congregational Church of Gann Valley.

In 1887, Homer and Trippett sent for brother Ellsworth to come on out.

"I accordingly hurried, hitched up my team to the old prairie schooner," he wrote years later. ". . . On March 8, 1887, I reached the land of promise, the boundless prairies of Buffalo County, which were all and more than my fancy had pictured. . . . Practically every quarter section in the county was either filed on or 'covered up' with a homestead, premption [pre-emption] or tree claim filing, and sod and tar paper shacks, dugouts and claim shanties of all sizes, shapes and descriptions dotted the prairie in every direction.

"I found a vacant 80 acres with Elm Creek running through a little corner of it, filed my premption [pre-emption] on it, built me a sod shack with a hay roof and mud plastered over it to keep the wind from blowing it off, with a dirt floor and a hole in the sod in place of a real window. …

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