Column: We were once the Saudi Arabia of hayThis is the time we have waited for and we are getting impatient. It is spring. It is time to plant. Only one thing stands in the way. Winter.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — This is the time we have waited for and we are getting impatient. It is spring. It is time to plant. Only one thing stands in the way. Winter.
Now and again I have heard people saying how great it would be if only there could be a harvest without a planting — walk to the field and begin to reap.
In truth, there was such a time. There were farmers in days gone by who had an easier lot. These farmers never planted, they never cultivated. Their only chore was to bring in the sheaves. These were the farmers who reaped wild hay — prairie grass — and shipped hay to eastern markets. The wonder is there weren’t more of them.
I have watched for reports through years, and I have dug into old newspaper files. There was a large hay industry centered on Worthington, but the records of it are largely lost. It would be quite a story.
One of these recent columns cited Jackson County’s Vic Fleace. Fleace remembered, “When I came here that whole section to the north was all wild hay. The Thompson land people in Windom owned it. People used to cut so many acres of hay and then stack it.”
Elmer Hart, a Chandler-area pioneer, said, “I can remember cutting hay on the section to the north. Wild hay. There were just eighty acres open in that section.”
Henry Bultmann had a similar story of harvesting hay in the Pfingsten community.
I told lately of a conversation with Achsah Christensen at Slayton when she was 91. Mrs. Christensen recalled chores from the time she was 10 and 11 years old:
“As soon as I was old enough I raked hay with a team. Pappa rented some prairie land; it was all wild hay.
“Then — when I was still older — I mowed the hay and raked it, too. With a team.”
Still one more recent column was an account of N.A. Call, the Org pioneer who was murdered in Alaska during a gold rush. While he still was in Nobles County, N.A. Call erected (1886) a large hay barn or warehouse on the Org site. He harvested wild hay across several sections of unbroken land in west and northwest Nobles County.
It was in this era that Second Avenue at Worthington was known to many as Hay Street. There were (seemingly — reports are sketchy) hay barns all along the way. Many men found work filling the hay barns and then loading hay into boxcars as it was sold.
There is a Worthington newspaper account from 1908 of three Second Avenue hay barns burning. That fire took the life of Albert Leistico.
Hay was a wonder crop. It sprouted and grew on its own, spring by spring. It was left for harvesters to cut it, let it dry and haul it to market. Worthington papers kept close watch on haying.
November, 1884: “John Hansberger has moved his hay press to town and for some days past has been pressing and shipping hay at the rate of nearly a car load a day.” December, 1884: “Col. R.H. Matson arrived a few days ago from Peoria and is pushing the work on his hay press…so far he had shipped about 20 cars …”
The Worthington Advance campaigned for a hay industry. The newspaper said, “Hay can be pressed and put on track at Worthington at a cost of $1 a ton or $1.25 at the outside.” Then: “In the New York, Boston and Baltimore markets, good timothy hay will bring $17 and $18 a ton and long rye straw will bring as much. … Our grass and our straw … can all be turned into money … our grass, both wild and tame, can be pressed and shipped … and leave a handsome margin to the shipper.”
By 1889, only four Minnesota counties produced more hay than Nobles County. Nobles County shipped 50,000 tons of wild hay that season. In 1887, Jackson County and Nobles County each shipped 54,000 tons of wild hay.
Our local prairie was — oh, Saudi Arabia. This was where energy was produced that fueled the nation. That is, here is where horses got their power and in Minnesota alone (1887) there were (estimated) 363,000 horses.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.