Same Land, Same Crops For 2000 Years



I think this will blow your mind as much as it did mine. A book I am working on prompted me to wonder who all farmed my land before me. So I looked into the history. The first pioneer I can verify was a rancher, R.N. Taylor, who ran sheep and cattle over his extensive acreage, mostly to keep down brush while the tree stumps were being cleared. Then my great grandfather Charles Rall came from Germany and went to work for Mr. Taylor. The Ralls prospered and eventually purchased most of R.N.’s land and more, turning their holdings into small grain and livestock farms operated by the third and fourth generations.

But what about before that?  Right next to my place is a large Indian mound, or so it has always been considered. Looks like one even though it is not marked on the old archeological map that shows three other small mounds about a mile away. At any rate this was definitely land occupied by the ancient mound-building cultures and plenty of mound-builder artifacts have been found in the area. The mounds, reason archeologists, indicate a stable agriculture because it would take a settled and relatively large population to build the magnificent mounds found all over the eastern half of the U.S.  Evidence indicates that the basis of that agriculture was the “Three Sisters”— corn, beans and squash grown together, a type of farming at least as old as the Aztecs and Mayans of Central America, no doubt brought north as humans migrated. I like to fancy that the mound builders were growing their Three Sisters right on my property.  

The mound builders mysteriously disappeared about 2000 years ago and then more modern tribes settled into this area until the white man drove them out. My little farm lies within what was for awhile the Wyandot Indian reservation before these people were removed to Kansas in 1843 in one of the most hideous examples of injustice in our history. I’ve always wondered whether any of the Wyandots lived and farmed right here on my land. I rummaged through the shelf of old documents which I have acquired over the years but never really examined closely before. To my surprise I found that the government had surveyed the Indian holdings on the reservation and that at least two Wyandot farm homesteads had indeed existed very close to my property, in the same section of land.  One of them was owned by a Wyandot called Warpole, after whom the creek that runs right past the mound and through our farm is named. The other was owned by Bullhead. If these homesteads still stood, they could be seen from the top of the mound if trees did not block the line of sight. Warpole’s place is described in the survey as having a “good spring.” I know where the three good springs in that particular area were located because my ancestors pointed them out to me. So I know about where Warpole’s house stood. Those  springs are dried up now. I know exactly where Bullhead’s place was because I have often noted when that field is in corn the brick fragments and other ruins on the bare ground where the survey indicates his house stood. The survey says the Wyandots often built brick chimneys for their log houses.

Further research revealed that while some of the Wyandots had fairly large farms for the time, with grain and pastures, they all grew in their gardens the Three Sisters. So here I am hoeing in my corn patch in the shadow of the mound and within easy walking distance of Bullhead’s place and what am I growing? Pole beans climb up the cornstalks and in the corn rows where the corn did not come up, I have planted squashes and pumpkins. For all this time the same crops have been grown on the same section of land. Awesome. I cross hoe handles with the ancient moundbuilders and the Wyandots.  I am 2000 years old. Or at least my farm is.


You can check out the website of the Wyandot tribe in Oklahoma, and they have a bunch of interesting information under the tab for “culture” and “history”:

I see Warpole there on the Ohio muster list!

Linda, there are varying opinions about using cat and dog manure for compost. The most prevalent opinion (and mine) is that If you compost it well, all is well. I’ve never heard, however, anyone being wary of animal manure just because the animal eats meat. Don’t think there’s any truth in that. Gene

I just found your site and am busy reading (I already purchased a couple of books) I did not think a book about manure would need to be at the front of my reading list…but I do have a question. I was under the impression that you could only use manure from animals that did not eat meat for use in compost piles. I read you talking about cat and dogs, but can the waste be used in the compost? I guess I need to go ahead on the other book.

How amazing that you were able to go back that far. What an honor to all that have farmed there before you.

Not too far from you, Gene, in southeast Michigan, is my family farm. Our family is the third owner of record. My father bought the farm from the Fix family (pronounced “fee” in Frenchtown township), who were given the land in a grant from the King of France. Before then, I don’t know, although we’re not too far from the town of Wyandotte, so we could have had the same previous inhabitants as you.

Sadly, the farm probably won’t stay in the family. It’s surrounded by “hobby farms” and “country estates” — sod-farmers who spend all weekend on riding mowers where (soy)beans and corn, and perhaps a few squash, used to grow. There’s a charter school across the road, and the constant roar of I-75 traffic. (We used to hear a few trucks an hour at night when I was a kid.) None of my siblings are interested in farming under such conditions, and my parents’ garden gets smaller and smaller every year, while they mumble about getting a house in town before they’re too old to move.

I already morn the loss. The “big barn” was my playpen. It’s timber frame is built without metal of solid walnut beams and pegs, probably 170 years or more old. You have to drill a hole first to put a nail in that stuff. My Dad has maintained the magnificent gambrel standing-seam roof, and the building is sound, but it will probably be pushed into a hole when they’re gone. Or some hobby farmer will salvage the siding for their “faux farm” rec-room.

The seeds are stratifying in my fridge. Mom picked the grapes last year, and saved the seeds for me. Legend (from Bill Fix, the last of his line) is that the cuttings for those vines came over with the Fix family in a sailing ship from France in the early 1800s. A new owner will probably get rid of the vines and plant sod — they’re so inconvenient to mow around. But perhaps a bit of France will live on in British Columbia, via Michigan.

It is equally amazing to me to go to Europe and see land that has been farmed for 1000s of years and it is still abundantly fertile, due to organic practices. It kills me to think in a few generations we are throwing all that into jeopardy with the use of chemicals.

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