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 Aug. 4, 2007.
WORTHINGTON — My Grampa said he would rather farm when there was not enough rain than when there was too much rain. He said we don’t need rain as much as we think we do. Was he wise? I don’t know. That is what Grampa said. I was remembering that Grampa would believe to date this summer things are better the way they are than if we were having mud and flooding and washouts and threeinch gully-washers.
What did the old people know?
I was interested — 1878. Worthington was half-a-dozen years old.
The American Philosophical Society (for “promoting useful knowledge”) had its annual meeting at Philadelphia. The Philosophers focused on the American prairies that were opening and that seemed always to need rain. The problem, the Philosophers said, is that there aren’t enough trees:
“The cause of the absence of trees seems to have been the frequent fires that swept over the prairies …” the Annual Report stated. “The prairies need trees the more to induce … rain, and to protect the soil, springs and streams from evaporation, by reason of the immense extent of wheat and corn crops now grown in continuous fields … exposing bare ground to sun for more than half the year …
“Heavy belts of growing timber are wanted …”
A man working for the Philosophical Society reported what he learned on the Minnesota frontier:
“In Nobles County an association has been organized and the children in each school are being organized into Centennial bands of little foresters with promises of badges and more valuable prizes for planting trees.” Pioneers in Redwood County said they wanted “forests on the prairie” with “one to 20 acres of trees per quarter section.”
By this 21st century, those wise men of the 19th century may seem foolish. They didn’t know that drought on the prairie is caused by sun spots.
Or else it is caused by El Nino.
Or else it is caused by global warming.
Or else (so it was said this week) it is caused by evaporation from corn plants.
Those old men were thinking trees. They didn’t have science.
I was reading a selection about Gov. Hjalmer Petersen of Minnesota (1936). Minnesota was locked in drought. Gov. Petersen and five other governors of the Midwest went to Des Moines for a drought conference with Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Something had to be done about drought.
Gov. Petersen went to the conference table without his matches. He asked FDR for a match. Petersen then lit a cigarette for FDR and for the governor on his right. Joking about the bad luck of three on a match, Petersen borrowed another match from FDR to light his own cigarette.
Oh — what did they decide about the drought?
Well, they said more rain is needed.
They weren’t sure what caused drought — this was only the 20th century. Everyone at the conference went home once again, resolved to do whatever they could.
Minnesota experienced a severe drought in 1900. The University of Minnesota reported in an annual statement that the University was trying to determine which crops respond best to short rainfall but, “ … in the spring of 1900, the drought was so severe that many experiments were ruined by the seeds failing to germinate…” Too dry.
In 1879, The New England Medical Gazette attempted to counsel people with “consumption” about whether they should go to Minnesota for their health. “We were told Minnesota has a very dry climate,” the Medical Gazette said, “and so it did have when this story was told.” Trouble was, Minnesota at that time was experiencing a drought. The drought ended. “Consumptives were sent to Minnesota by the hundreds, only to die.”
I saw Gene Kelly on television the other night, singing in the rain. We always have rain on our minds, haven’t we?
We used to sing, “It rained all night the day I left, the weather it was dry." We sang, “Oh, it ain’t gonna rain no more, no more, it ain’t gonna rain no more. How in the heck can I wash my neck if it ain’t gonna rain no more?” “Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head ” … Sure. Drought will go away. “Somewhere over the rainbow …” Don’t worry. “I’m gonna love you like nobody’s loved you, come rain or come shine …”