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Old Pictures of Farming in North Dakota in the early 1900s

My mother has told me so many wonderful stories about our rich family history. There is much to learn by reviewing the past.

My great uncle's tractor (probably a late 1920s version?)

My great uncle's tractor (probably a late 1920s version?)


My great aunt and great uncle used to own and run a large farming operation near Mapes, North Dakota. The numerous photos that I have included in this post tell a story of their own.

My mother was not quite 5 years of age when she got to visit the farm in 1930. It had been in operation for many years prior to her visit. Thus these pictures represent farming in that part of the country dating back to the early 1900s.

Here is some history of that area and time.

  • In 1870 that part of the country only had a population of around 2,400 people.
  • Indians and buffalo roamed the prairie lands.
  • Large scale farming began in 1875 near the Red River Valley and was primarily brought about because of the westward expansion of the railroad.
  • Generous land grants also encouraged people to travel west and settle in that region.
  • North Dakota joined the United States by becoming it's 39th State on November 2, 1889.
  • By 1930 the total population had expanded to 680,000+ individuals calling North Dakota their home.
My great uncle's car

My great uncle's car

How my great aunt and uncle came to farm that land I can only now speculate. But just knowing how farms were passed along from father to son, I would guess that my great uncle's parents probably secured the land from one of those land grants.

My great uncle had siblings in the area who also farmed. When one of his brothers died leaving a rather large family behind he and my great aunt helped to rear that batch of children in order to help his widowed sister-in-law. They did not have children of their own so they just took on that self assigned task as the natural thing to do.

Old Tractors

Mapes, North Dakota

Mapes is located in the northeast part of North Dakota west of Grand Forks. It can be found on a map by locating Grand Forks on Interstate 29 and then following highway 2 west. Elevation is at 1505 feet. The area is flat and one can see unobstructed views for miles.

If one sees a cluster of trees (or a grove of trees as my great aunt called them), the grouping is either growing naturally by a riverbed or was planted purposely to surround a house as a windbreak and for much needed shade.

Look at that flat North Dakota horizon!

Look at that flat North Dakota horizon!

According to one link I found, Mapes now has a population of about 159 people. Another link lists it as a ghost town with fewer people in residence.

Some puppies amidst corn husks

Some puppies amidst corn husks

My great aunt and uncle had a large operation and employed at least one man full time and perhaps more. In addition their relatives and neighbors would have helped each other for large events such as harvesting the crops and threshing times.

Working together was common back then for major events.

How things used to be done...

During harvest time the women would do the cooking and transport the food to the fields to feed the men. This was a monumental project in and of itself as the hungry men who were laboring needed the sustenance and calories to fuel them to keep going after the food breaks.

The "cook house" which was on wheels would be hitched up to the large plough horses and transport the cooked food to wherever the men happened to be working.

Old Cook House Photo

The women would prepare meals and the food would be transported to the men in the field during threshing time. This building called a "cook house" was on wheels and the horses would pull it.

The women would prepare meals and the food would be transported to the men in the field during threshing time. This building called a "cook house" was on wheels and the horses would pull it.

Other times of the year just feeding the chickens, the turkeys, the pigs, the horses, and the cows would have kept anyone on a tight schedule in addition to the farming that was done.

Feeding chickens

Feeding chickens

Women's Chores

Chores typically performed by women back then would have included some of the following:

1. Cooking and cleaning of the house

2. Canning and preserving of food

3. Keeping clothes clean and ironed

4. Mending and sewing

5. Gathering eggs and feeding the animals was also done.

This does not even take into account the myriad little things that make a house a home. Nor does it account the rearing of children and the caring for family members and/or neighbors who might be ill or needing some extra type of care.

My great aunt and uncle had many out buildings to house equipment, animals and the like on their large acreage.

My uncle was a master farmer who not only did a great job farming with what he had been given by way of inheritance and learning, but he kept abreast of the latest trends. He harvested the best seeds for planting the next year. He planted not only wheat and corn, but flax and soybeans. He was way ahead of the curve on planting flax and soybeans and was rewarded economically for his efforts.

Many farmers back in those days only raised one or two crops. If pestilence or weather intervened to cause crop failures they had little reserve to call upon to help them out of their predicament. History shows that not only the Great Depression but the drought that occurred in the 1930s devastated many farmers.

My great aunt and uncle survived and went on to farm for many years. This is a testament to their hardiness and smart farming techniques.

Many of their turkeys were sold at Thanksgiving time to a large distributing company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They were very proud of this fact because that company only accepted the best of poultry.

When I was born, my great aunt and uncle were already retired and had sold their farm. So I never got to see it. I am just happy to have all of these photos and to have heard a little about their part in history with respect to farming in North Dakota in the early 20th century.

 Resting after a days work on the farm and visiting.

Resting after a days work on the farm and visiting.

Location of Mapes, North Dakota

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

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