Animal and Vegetable

We had a few head of cattle (steers) that were mean to younger children [but] if [we] older ones were around they could be handled easily. Ed and Ann and I were about the same size. One time there was a scale left and we were weighed and Ed weighed 60 pounds, Ann weighed 64 pounds and I 62 pounds. This was about a couple of years before our herd increased to several head and Ed and Ann and I had the job of getting them home. Sometimes only two of us would be getting them in but I had to be one of them because some of the steers would chase them but they would not chase me. One steer once and I knew there was only one thing to do and that was stand my ground. I did momentarily and then moved toward him. That was the last trouble I had with any of them. I am not telling this boastfully. I think being older and being their boss since they were calves and never relinquishing that position was why it worked out that way. The younger ones showed fear of them. I think the reason I was bluffed that one time was because I was mistaken for one of the younger ones. Did I wear the same coat? Was there some other reason? He seemed to show a realization that he was making a mistake.

One time we had herded the cattle near home and for a reason I cannot remember there was a delay and they were scattering some. I had left Ann to round them up when next thing I knew one of the steers was chasing her. I doubt that she ever ran faster before or since. Everyone around ran to her rescue. He made a mistake and was made into beef before the evening was gone. Dad got his 25-20 rifle and shot him.

Before that (about a year) we had another steer that we called the “bluffy calf.” I cannot remember all the details of why he was loose with the rest of the cattle dragging a tether chain. I think it was to restrain him a little so he wouldn't be so dangerous. When we went to get them he was missing. We didn't believe he would separate from the rest but couldn't find him. We covered the area and finally heard a noise in a thicket of small trees where we thought the herd might have been earlier in the day. We found him lying on his side with his head partly under him and his horn stuck in the ground, laboriously breathing because his neck was bent back against his side and partly under him. I think that was the last time an animal was turned loose dragging a chain or rope. The chain had tangled in the thicket, holding him down. We had to get Dad to loosen him. The outside of his horn came off and took a long time to heal.

A little later (possibly a year or a little more) we had a small herd of cattle, one of which was about two years old and we shipped him off to market and he brought $128.86. I do not know why the $128.86 sticks in my memory except that it was a lot of money at that time. Not long before, $30 to $40 for a large cow was about right. Dad was offered $500.00 for five others, about yearlings. He turned the offer down. A year later he sold all five after feeding them that long for $100.00. That year he had an offer of $60,000.00 for the farm and turned it down. Later it was sold for virtually nothing. Most likely Dad would have had to do the same if he had sold it.

When we finally had the frame house built and had moved into it about 1918 we had the residue of the sod house to clean up and haul away. This was done about 1919, maybe 1920 and was dumped on a hillside that had a flattened area that almost made a pond. I had noticed that the ground in that area stayed damp longer than most of the ground around and water stood on it a few inches deep in the spring for a few days; how long depended on how much snow we got in the winter. The next spring I thought that it should be a good place to plant a garden and asked permission to plant a small one there. I didn't understand the reluctance the request met with, but permission was finally granted. I put in a lot of work leveling and working up that sod pile to make a garden about eight by sixteen feet and planted it. After about a week I was down there every day or two to see if it was coming up. I had planted it too early and the soil wasn't warm enough. The dampness of the soil set it back an extra ten days to three weeks. I would guess that it was about thirty days before it started to come up. I was very disappointed that it was so slow. The weather was warming up so when it finally came up it grew very rapidly and it turned out to be a very good garden. The thing I remember most was the potatoes. I never saw potato tops grow like they did. They must have been eight to ten feet long. When I dug them in the fall there was a bounteous crop of large potatoes. The thing that surprised me was that they were like new potatoes. The skin would rub off very easily. It turned out to be such a success that I lost my garden. Dad asked me if they could use it for the rhubarb that was growing by the house and just barely staying alive so it became a rhubarb patch. It was as successful as the garden. It produced so much rhubarb that people from all around the area got rhubarb from it.

Turning back a few years, living on a hill had some advantages and some disadvantages. We were playing around one day and had a barrel to play with. I was persuaded to get in that barrel and it was promptly rolled down the hill. It was quite a while before I could walk. That was the dizziest I had ever been by quite a bit. More than that,

Garden pests were not as varied but it seemed they were just as plenteous. One of the worst, if not the worst, pest was the wireworm. It seemed that all that had to be done was to plant and wire worms would be there to drill holes through any vegetable. They were very tough and certainly appropriately named as they are like a piece of wire about an inch to an inch and an eighth long and about the size of number 9 wire. They are so tough they are hard to kill. They are yellow-orange in color. They are the larvae of the snapping beetle. We did not know this or we would have killed [the beetles] when we saw them—not that it would have made much difference. When we found [a snapping beetle] we would turn it on its back then [it] would snap or click and fly in the air. If [it] landed on [its] back again [it] would click again till [it] landed right side up. We were fascinated by them. The beetles were black.

Richardson's Ground Squirrel, commonly called “gopher”

Image credit: USFWS Image Library

They were really a ground squirrel. One of our most constant jobs was killing them. We tried to get them in the early spring. Every one we could get then was equal to getting three or four later. We snared them, we trapped them, we shot them, we drowned them and poisoned them, but there were always some left. To give some idea of how much we hated them and how determined we were to destroy them, this illustrates. Near our house, about three hundred feet [away], was a gopher hole that was about thirty inches deep. In the summer when the young were migrating and they would come near our house we would chase them and often they would run down that hole. We would then reach down, drag them out by the hind leg and kill them. As time went on the hole got larger, and about half way out they would turn and bite us. This happened to me but I wouldn't let him go even though he kept chewing on the knuckle of my right middle finger. My finger swelled up and took quite a while to heal. That finger after nearly eighty years still shows the mark of that affair though not nearly as much as it did at first.

We usually had chickens around and every spring a hen or two would hatch a setting of eggs. One spring we had two small rabbits, one black and one brown running with the chickens and they got along fine. One hen had been around the rabbits regularly until she left to hatch a setting of eggs. She came back with her brood after about three weeks to feed with chickens and rabbits as usual but decided she didn't want the rabbits around with her chicks so proceeded to try to chase them off. The rabbits determined not to be intimidated so when she would make a run at them they would jump over her and thump her on the back with their hind feet. She was determined to chase them away, but didn't like the thumping she got so went at them with an aerial attack. The rabbits then ran under her. She had no other option so went after them with another ground attack, took another thumping and decided to leave them alone, though she definitely showed her anger. After a few days things settled down to normal.

Most of the fences on our place were for large livestock, not sheep or hogs, and were single strand barbed wire. Dad liked to have the wire tight and would sometimes string it over a low place between two hills and pull it down to tighten it. Often it would be too tight to come all the way down and the posts would pull out of the ground and be swinging in the air. That meant starting over with the wire not quite so tight.