Thunder Butte

October 15, 2005

The South Forty

When we lived on the XL ranch, on Thunder Butte Creek, my father had several fields that he tilled for the express purpose of raising food for the family. One of these fields was across the creek from the ranch and was about forty acres, a sort of square plot of land formed by a large bend in Thunder Butte Creek.

One of my earliest memories was helping with the threshing of the bean crop. My father had planted the entire plot in Navy beans. When the beans became ripe, my mother, Cece, and whoever was available would gather the dry bean plants and pile them on blankets and tarps. The tarp would then be folded over the beans and we would run and play on the stack. After a while, we would uncover the pile of plants and beans. We would pick out the major portion of the plants, and then four of us would take the four corners of the tarp and toss the beans into the air. The wind would catch the plant material and, as it was lighter than beans, it would fly away in the wind, leaving nothing but beans in the tarp. We would pour the beans into a sack and begin all over again. One year, it seemed like everybody in the country received a sack of those beans and we still had an adequate winter supply.

On another forty acre plot, in another bend of the creek to the east of the bean field, I remember my parents planting potatoes on the entire plot. My father would plow up the field with a pair of horses and a single plow. I would follow in the furrow made by the plow, with a sack of potatoes over my shoulder and drop a small slice of potato every eight to ten inches in the furrow. My father would then plow a furrow alongside the first furrow, covering the seed potatoes. This progressed until the entire plot was plowed and planted. I don’t remember what happened to the potato plants during the growing season, but I have distinct memories of the harvesting of them in the fall. At harvest time, my father would repeat the same procedure as at planting time, only this time when he plowed a furrow the length of the field he plowed up thousands of potatoes, which we picked out of the fresh dirt and placed in gunny sacks (burlap bags). When we had a half dozen bags full—fifty or sixty pounds—I would bring one of my horses or ponies from the ranch, and we would tie the sacks of potatoes over both sides of the pony and lead him back to the ranch where we would unload the potatoes into a root cellar.

A root cellar was a cave dug in to the side of the hill, equipped with a storm proof door. These cellars were also used to store beer and other perishables because the temperature inside the cellar remained cool and constant throughout the year. I also remember many times running for our lives to get inside the root cellar to avoid a terrible wind and storm. It was always safe, dry and secure in the root cellar, no matter what conditions were like on the outside.

The potato field also was a treasure trove for me. When the drought and depression hit the country, the wind literally blew away any soil that had been plowed or tilled. When the wind blew soil away on the potato field, it left rings of stones where Indians had weighed down the sides of their teepees. Also revealed were the sites of the campfires and work places where the Indians had fashioned arrowheads out of flint. In that area, I found hundreds of arrowheads, mauls, spear heads and other implements. Apparently, that plot of land had been a campsite of major proportions.

When my father planted grain on these plots, the prairie chickens and pheasants used to make themselves at home, nesting and feasting. Of course, they supplied us with many nourishing meals.

--John Crowley
Mike Crowley Saturday, October 15, 2005


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