Dugout or Cabin
Article published in the Smith County Pioneer – July 9, 2015
DUGOUT OR CABIN
BY El Dean Holthus
In researching the Home on the Range history some writers mentioned Dr. Higley living in dugout and others had written he was living in a Cabin when he penned the words to, “My Western Home”. To those wanting to find fault with what had been written, those who wanted to disclaim Dr. Higley as the ultimate author of “Home on the Range used such assumed contradictions to challenge the authenticity of what had been written, this picture should prove them wrong.
Orin Friesen along with Ken Spurgeon and our own Sharon Black have worked very hard with many hours of research to insure the HOR documentary will be as factual as possible. This dugout/cabin question has bothered Orin because he is sure, as everyone else involved, the Cabin as restored is authentic.
This 1878 drawing provides an indication of how, more likely than not, Dr. Higley originally built his Cabin by removing the soil from the creek bank on the north side and west ends and laying up limestone blocks on the wall and the ends and laying up cottonwood logs for the south wall. The north eave would have been at ground level with the original slope of the creek bank determining the height of soil at the ends.
We would remember that the creek south and west of the Cabin was 6’ lower than at the present time and the north bank at least 4’ higher than present. North of the Cabin was leveled for the White house in 1888 and traffic over the years has worn that surface down. We have evidence (buried 6’ post) of at least 6’ of silt in the area south and west of the Cabin.
The north wall was rebuilt in 1947 and continuing soil pressure had caused it to be curved in 2009.
Drainage was a problem along the north wall.
The corners on the original cabin were not “tied together” because they were supported by the soil backing.
There were no ceiling joists in the original construction; again strength coming from the earth walls.
The earliest picture we have was 62 years after original construction still showing a steep bank north of the Cabin.
Dr. Higley filed his Homestead claim in 1871, returning to spend the winter of 1871 sharing a dug out in Gaylord.
He built the Cabin in 1872 so would have had no need for a “dug out” for living purposes on his claim. In addition no evidence of a separate dug out has ever been recorded on the HOR site.
In summary, there is no conflict in the historical writings concerning the Cabin. Dr. Higley dug out the north bank of West Beaver Creek in which he built his Cabin. He actually used construction still used today when houses are built with soil on 3 sides; one is on the north side of Glade I believe. He used Natures terrain and didn’t have to haul in soil.