Column: The Ocheyedan Mound, and great gardens
Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared July 21, 2007.
WORTHINGTON — The other day I saw the Ocheyedan Mound for the first time in — oh, I suppose — a couple of years. The thought came to mind another time that the flag pole at the Mound site ought to be placed at the top of the Mound. Ocheyedan could then insist this site, going to the tip of the flag pole, is indeed the highest point in Iowa.
I say this because for a long time — well, 125 years — the Ocheyedan Mound was known through all the world as the Peak of Iowa. It was about 1970 that a technocrat lacking imagination, if not soul as well, determined Iowa’s apex was in a hog lot east of the Mound, north of Sibley. In 1998, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a resolution naming that hog lot site Hawkeye Point (it is not a hog lot any longer).
The trouble is, there is almost nothing at Hawkeye Point that suggests it is an elevated site. Ocheyedan Mound really looks like and really is high ground. We can climb the Mound; climbing is the only way to the top. From that peak there are panoramic views of Iowa in every direction. It is a wonderful place.
Going full circle, I still am saying, put the flag pole at the peak of the Mound and insist this — the top of the pole at the crest of the Mound — is the highest point in the state of Iowa.
The Ocheyedan area is a fascinating area, a place where great glaciers pushed up earth and then melted and left deposits during another time of global warming.
There was a place west of Ocheyedan, a piece of undisturbed prairie along the old Rock Island railroad tracks, where native ground cherries grew in a patch. (Ground cherries, as in “earth cherries,” not as in “ground up cherries.”)
Do you know ground cherries? My Aunt Paulina, for one, used to grow them in her garden and we used to have ground cherry jam.
The best ground cherries are yellow/orange berries the size of a small marble. Each one is inside a husk. I am getting to another point here.
When the whiteskin pioneers arrived in our area, they named the ground cherries “husk tomatoes.” Ground cherries do look like miniature yellow tomatoes. One of the things interesting about this is that those long ago whites, just like you and me, knew what tomatoes were and they were all excited this time of year as a new crop of tomatoes started turning red.
I was reading lately an account by a Minnesota pioneer, Mrs. Jane Sutherland. It was Worthington’s second year, 1873. Mrs. Sutherland was telling about her garden: “The tomatoes were setting on and everything was as fine as could be.” That was when the grasshoppers came, and that was the end of the tomatoes, of course. In that long-ago time Minnesotans and Iowans already were caught up in concern for tomatoes and they watched for the first ones to ripen.
There is another report, this from the University of Minnesota, 1889. Prof. Edward Porter was telling of a new tomato “obtained from Messrs. Northrup, Braslan & Goodwin Seed Co.” This was an upright tomato, or “tree tomato.” The tomato plant stood erect, rather than spreading flat over the ground.
Well, Prof. Porter said, “It was carefully sown and germinated … having at all times the best of care. As a result, we had plants about two feet high of a bush or tree form.” But, “No ripe fruit whatever …”
“We think that, while … this variety of tomato … will result in a new class of tomatoes … its value has been greatly over-estimated.”
I have been seeking reports on the 2007 tomato crop. Jim Cunningham, one of our devoted tomato growers who often has some of the first new tomatoes each year, says some of his earliest tomatoes this season were spoiled by blossom end-rot. This is what happens in a dry year, of course. The same thing is happening with peppers. Ishy.
It’s a disappointment. Last year I let some beautiful tomatoes go to waste. I froze a few and I thought, “That’s enough.” I didn’t think that maybe next year they won’t be so fine.