I’ve been looking through some books and photographs of the Dust Bowl.
My great uncle died earlier this year, in February. He lived to the age of 101. Before his death, I interviewed him in-depth multiple times about his life and what he remembered.
He taught me a bunch, indulging what corn cribs are, the storms of the Dust Bowl, and a slew of humorous stories, his particular talent, which I wish had been documented in some way.
While living in Seattle, from 1939 to 1941, he was recorded in the phone book, which are quite hefty to lug around. He lived with the Neilson family, who came from the same South Dakota town as him, Lake Preston.
Nineteen forty-one was a pivotal year. Everett married his longtime girlfriend, his father died from cancer, and the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting America’s entry into the Second World War.
The death of his father, George Hay, impelled him and his newlywed wife to return to South Dakota, where he took over operation of the family farm, until doctor’s orders made him give it up in 1953, the year they returned to the Pacific Northwest, moving to a berry farm in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
By the Numbers
Six bushels of Irish potatoes. Are Russet potatoes Irish potatoes? That’s what I am assuming.
Two hundred pounds of butter! He and Caroline, who I am sure did most, if not all of the churning, had 200 lbs. of butter on hand?!
Ten tons of hay. That’s a lotta hay. And their granddaughter Geneva, my great grandmother, would go on to marry a man named Hay.
Forty gallons of molasses. What’s that for, cooking & baking?
Eight pounds of beeswax. Candles? Soap?
Ezra had 180 acres of land, 40 of which were deemed “improved” and 140 considered “unimproved.” What these mean beyond the basic, fundamental understandings I don’t know. The cash value of the farm was recorded as $1440.
One working ox. Or given that it reads oxen, is that two?
And one “other cattle.” What’s the purpose of this one? Why a separate listing?
Twelve pigs. Or swine. Man, how I love bacon.
The value of the livestock was listed at $238.
There were 60 bushels of wheat and 300 bushels of Indian corn on hand.
It’s quite the list. Everything was tabulated on June 12, 1860 on his farm in Lime Creek Township, Washington County, Iowa.
There is a precipitous decline in these numbers on the 1870 ag census. Why? It is unclear. But did Ezra focus on other endeavors, such as the post office?
Google Books is a terrific resource. Today, I learned a few more details about my great-great grandparents, John Conner and Ellen Lint.
I didn’t know that my great-great grandfather lived in Missouri before marrying Ellen and that he came to Iowa in 1873, the year of a
financial panic and the beginning of a depression. And he was still farming at the age of 66.
A corporate food producer plans on building a big egg farm near Lake Preston, South Dakota, hometown of my grandmother and great grandparents. The place will house three million cage-free egg-laying hens. It sounds like it will be quite the operation.
I visited my great grandparents farmstead a few years back, during a family reunion. It was fun. I was there with my nephews and lots o’ cousins.
I don’t have many memories of the place, though cousins have told me that we did visit the homestead as kids. I do recall my great grandmother’s funeral, which must have been at the now-shuttered Methodist church in town. My younger brother was crying, having been scared by seeing her laying in an open casket.
There’s a museum in town with items related to the family, including a lot of her father’s items from his dentistry practice.
I spent quite a bit of time in South Dakota that summer and just scratched the surface doing research on the family. In Watertown, my mom’s hometown, I pored through microfilm of old newspapers for a few days and only got through a year or two.
I also learned that I had lived there for the first two years of my life, which I didn’t realize, as I was born in Iowa. I really need to get back there to explore some more. Maybe I should just pick up and go for a bit this summer.
Warren Hay, my great-great-great grandfather, was born into a family of farmers. He had a farm in Hanover Township, Ashland County, Ohio. On August 20th, 1860 the federal government conducted an agriculture survey of the area.
Warren had 44 acres of land, 34 that had been “improved,” and ten that hadn’t. The cash value of the farm was $1200, and he had equipment worth $300.
He had five horses, three milch cows, three cattle, forty-two sheep, ten pigs, with the total value of the livestock amounting to $450. He had one hundred bushels of Indian corn, fifty bushels of oats, and sixty lbs. of wool.
Sadly, Warren died four years later, in 1864 at the age of 42.