“While settlers were claiming land under the Homestead Act south and east of Brown County in the early 1870’s, this area was still virgin prairie with grass waving in the summer winds for miles on end. Buffalo bones from many an Indian hunt bleached among the grasses…” This passage from the Brown County History helps us picture the prairie of north-eastern South Dakota at the beginnings of its farming traditions.
Housed in the historic town hall of Putney, an early farming community, the exhibition employs vintage photographs to examine the area’s transition from tall grass prairie to farming mecca.
Photos depict aspects of settler life from the construction of sod houses, to dug out and tar-paper shanties used to “prove up” on a homestead, scythe-cutting grain in large crews, thrashing with mules and horses, the early days of steam tractors and one of the first local 8-bottom plows.
Small-scale replicas of early farm machinery include a hay-rack wagon with slatted box, a spring wagon buggy complete with tufted seat and red wheels, a small wooden hay bucker, a running gear wagon made for a team of horses, and a bobsled with a wooden seat atop its green wagon box for a snowy ride. Displays also demonstrate a variety of early patterns of barbed wire.
Through quotations that punctuate the images, early homesteaders express in their own words the challenges of converting undomesticated prairie to productive farmland.
Between Land & Sky: Farming in Dakota runs through September 27th, 2015. The Granary Rural Cultural Center is an extension of the Dacotah Prairie Museum of Aberdeen.