{ Butter in the Well by Linda K. Hubalek }


I ordered this book last week, and when it arrived in the mail, the first thing that caught my eye, was the simple book cover.  Simple, pretty, to the point but yet effective.

For as long as I remember, I have been fascinated by eras gone by, especially when it comes to wagon trails, homesteading, and biographies, or journals from people who actually lived it.

In Butter in the Well, we learn about the life of a Scandinavian Woman named Kajsa.  Born in Sweden, married to Carl and with a 3 month old little girl named Anna Christina, the family make the trip from their home country to the prairies of Kansas, where they start a homestead.

This book follows 20 years of their life, the joys, the struggles and everything in between.  The land they settled in eventually becomes the Smoky Valley region of Saline County, Kansas. (if you click on the Smoky Valley link, you will be taken to the Smoky Valley Historical Association, where you can find a ton of information about the area)

From The Prairie Ecologist "Situated along the boundary between mixed-grass and shortgrass prairie, the Smoky Valley Ranch contains 16,800 acres of grassland – including a wide variety of prairie types – along with bison, lesser prairie chickens, prairie dogs, and even black-footed ferrets."
Funny enough, in one of the first journal entries, Kajsa talks about the Bison they encounter, and how they would collect Bison chips for fire.
As I read through her entries, and mind you, these are written by the book author who interviewed relatives and neighbors who knew this family and remember the stories they would tell about their life on the prairie.  So it's not exactly Kajsa's own journal entries but it is a fictionalized account based on her stories.
The Svenssons had 80 acres of land.  I look around at my 3 acres and feel it's so much already, so I can't even imagine 80 acres of my own land to take care of.
The reason I'm sharing this book with you, aside from thinking that many of you will enjoy it as well, is that I find that when I read books like this, I end up learning so much.  Things I didn't even know about, never looked into and find so interesting.
Like dugouts.
Early on, when first arriving at their land, they are basically living in their wagon, which quickly becomes uncomfortable and not exactly the best place for a young child to thrive in.  So they need to build themselves a home, but lack the equipment and of course the funds to buy the equipment.
So they build a dugout.  I had no idea this was even a thing, so had to go and look it up.  I found a few pictures at the Smoky Valley Historical Association, so I'm gonna share them with you, but make sure to go over there, and read up on the dugouts, and the Hoglund family who actually lived in this very same dugout, below. 

I mean, how amazing is that?  So many families lived for months in these dugouts, while slowly building their new homes around them.  These dugouts became root cellars, after the main home was ready to be lived in.

April 18
Today we start digging our home.  I hate to live in the ground, burrowed in like a gopher, but we can't afford the lumber it takes to build a house.  What lumber we did find money for will be used sparingly.
People say being in the ground protects you from the heat of the summer day and the freezing cold of winter.  It will only be about 10 by 12 feet in size, just enough for our bodies and belongings.  I'll continue to cook outside on an open fire.  We've scoured the creek for rocks to reinforce our walls.  For our dugout to be a legal homestead house, we must have one window in it.  We bought a small pane of glass in Salina that Carl will frame and put next to the door.

May 1
I'm ready to move back to Illinois, or back to Sweden.  Besides the three of us in bed, we have the company of a multitude of bedbugs that have hatched out of my "prairie feather" mattress.  Fleas jump all over the floor (we have no dog to blame), a toad somewhere in the sod roof croaks all night, and crickets, spiders and mosquitoes are everywhere.  Carl keeps telling me that conditions will get better in time.

Can you just imagine the hardships these families went through?  The daily battle to stay healthy, to make a home, to take care of their animals, to farm the land, all in hopes of living a good life?

It's one of the other reasons why I read books like these, and love them so much.  They keep me in check.  They remind me that nothing I possibly go through now, could have been as difficult as what our ancestors went through.  

Farming the land wasn't exactly easy, not then and not now.

May 25
We got the corn planted.  Now we pray that the rains come at the right time so we get a good stand.  We need corn for the horse and for our cornmeal.  We are so dependent on our land this year.
Carl saw three Kaw Indians near the river today.  They haven't bothered us yet and I hope they keep their distance.

And again, I know a lot of Native American Tribes, but I wasn't quite familiar with the Kaw or Kansa/Kanza.  They are a federally recognized tribe in Oklahoma and parts of Kansas.  

Did you know that the name of the State of Kansas was actually derived from this tribe?  And that the name of Topeka which is the capital of Kansas, is the Kaw's word Tó Ppí Kˀé which means "a good place to grow potatoes"?  How neat is that?
This is what I mean by reading a book but actually learning so much from it.  I try to do that with every book I read, even if it's a fictional fantasy book.  There's always something to learn, to research, to find, and since I love learning, it's so much fun for me going online and researching all these places and people.  It puts you right in the middle, feeling like you're actually there.

June 26
We have seen quite a few buffalo this year.  In fact, two ended up as buffalo robes for us to use this winter.  The meat is strong tasting and stringy, but it makes good stew.   Mr. Lapsley had been to Salina and was told that a herd 30 miles long was seen 10 miles south of us.  When the herd got to the Smoky Hill River, it almost drank the river dry.

I'm not yet done reading this book, but I am loving every minute of it.  Every page I turn teaches me something new, and takes me back a step further into what life was like on the Prairie in the 1800s.

If this is a topic you find interesting, be sure to check out Linda K. Hubaleks' book series.

I know this may not be the type of post everyone enjoys, but I enjoy it and thought some of you may too.


  1. I enjoyed this post! And I too enjoy learning things when I read. I like the old days stuff like this and Little House on the Prairie, but I really really like much older times like medieval times.

  2. My dad's family is from Kansas and I still have a cousin there. I knew some of the Indian and prairie history, but can only imagine the true hardships of homemaking in that era!

  3. Wow what an interesting post and book. My Mom was a big fan of this type of books. She would have loved it. Love the title and cover of the book.


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