The Woodward News

December 8, 2013

Sod House Museum features pioneering spirit in open house

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Talk to Aline Sod House Museum Curator Renee Trindle for just a few moments and she will take you on a journey through time that will help you experience what a real turn-of-the-century Christmas in a sod house was like.

Or, just visit the “soddy” on State Highway 8, southeast of Aline and feel the history that represents the truth about how Oklahoma was settled, Trindle says.

On Dec. 14, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Sod House Museum will feature a free open house.

The event is more than just a walk through and an historic tour, it is a Christmas celebration in the way settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s experienced it - if they were lucky, Trindle says.

The day will include Christmas music by fiddler Darrel Long and guitar players Duane Condreay Delmer Bowman. Visitors can also enjoy spiced apple cider and Christmas cookies, compliments of Sod House Friends.

The Sod House Museum was built in 1894 by homesteader Marshal McCully.

According to Trindle, McCully lived in the soddy for 15 years before building a new home in 1909. Even then, he continued to use the soddy on his farming operation.

While this year’s sod house Christmas celebration seems simple, it is a representation of how rich and meaningful the season was to the settlers, Trindle says.

That’s because much of the rest of the year they didn’t get to spend time together as a result of the distance they lived from each other.

“That is what the pioneer people did,” Trindle says. “It is amazing really. They had dinner with each other and had small gift exchanges, but their real preparation was planning a big meal months ahead of time. For them, just the fact of getting together and sharing the music and the time, well that was quite an ordeal.”

So when she began putting together a Christmas display for the Sod House about four years ago, she wanted it to be representative of what pioneers experienced.

“When we started, we weren't sure we could make this look good since we were used to the modern Christmas decorations,” she says. “But here at the museum we try to stay with that mood of how it was then. We have had fun making some of that stuff but we were wondering how it would turn out and we just shook our heads and were just amazed at how beautiful it all turned out.”

Trindle said after doing her research, she learned that everything from popcorn, handkerchiefs, candy canes, berries and gingerbread cookies were used to decorate a tree,” she says.

When the subject of the tree is brought up, it doesn't refer to a large, filled out spruce like most think of now.  Here in the Oklahoma plains of the 1800s, it was quite different.

“It was a little twig of a thing that was going to be planted in the spring,” she says.

Often, to protect the roots, the tiny twig tree roots were wrapped in strips of flour sacks or burlap and kept alive for the later planting, she says.

“No one had that much. Even boys would carve toys that would be decorations and those toys would be gifts too,” Trindle says.

For Trindle, today’s modern Christmas, with too much of everything and not enough happiness is a sad substitute for what used to be a real and deeply felt sense of community and togetherness.

It is Trindle’s hope that by sharing the traditions of the pioneers who settled Oklahoma, that families might take a step back and remember what Christmas meant when people didn’t have much at all but was truly joyful.

“This is down to the true facts of our pioneers. This is what they lived. Their lives were surviving day to day,” Trindle said. “If you can experience that feeling, it is priceless.”