Homestead Act: The Challenges of Living on the Plains
15 of 29

What’s for Lunch?

Mag Me! Select the magnifying glass
for an extreme close-up.
The Perry Brothers
Detail from Bachelor house of Perry brothers, near Merna, Custer County, Nebraska, 1886.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2608-1094

Watermelons were a delicacy for Nebraska settlers. When the watermelons were in season and ripe, they were a summer treat and a standard for the ten o’clock and three o’clock lunch. Some pioneer families even claimed to keep melons through the winter by stuffing them in haystacks.

Mag Me! Select the magnifying glass
for an extreme close-up.
Omer Madison Kem sod house
Detail from the Omer Madison Kem sod house. Broken Bow, Nebraska, 1886. Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2608-200

In photographs of sod house families, watermelons are often seen as symbols of the bounty of the land. The Kem family posed for this photograph with their watermelons in the 1880s. Many years of good crops brought confidence to the settlers, and although many hard years followed, the settlers remembered "the remarkable crop of watermelons they raised that first Nebraska summer" for the rest of their lives.

When Mrs. W. L. Downing wrote to the Nebraska Farmer in the 1970s, she reminisced about her first year living with her new husband in a sod house north of Stapleton, Nebraska. While her husband planted corn, Mrs. Downing "planted watermelons with a hand planter...Oh, those melons!" She remembered, "We had melons for everyone in the neighborhood."

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