An Interview with Mary Dodge Woodward
The interview with Mary Dodge Woodward comes from her diary published as The Checkered Years, 1937.
Life on a Bonanza Farm
Mary Dodge Woodward, a widow and Vermonter by birth, and her three youngest children live on the bonanza farm owned by her cousin Daniel Dodge. The farm is a few miles southwest of Fargo in Cass County and is small in comparison to other bonanza farms—two sections (1,280 acres).
What’s going on at the Dodge farm right now?
Harvest has started. Now there will be no rest for man, woman, or beast until frost which comes, thank heaven, early here. I was nearly beside myself getting dinner for thirteen men, besides carpenters and tinners, with Katie sick in bed and Elsie washing. I baked seventeen loaves of bread today, making seventy-four loaves since last Sunday, not to mention twenty-one pies, and puddings, cakes, and doughnuts.
The men cut one hundred acres today. All four of our harvesters are being used as well as three which were hired to cut by the acre. Things look like business with seven self-binders at work on this home section. The twine to bind our grain will cost three hundred dollars this year.
What is spring like in the Valley?
Watching for spring here is so very different from that in any other country in which I have ever lived. There are no trees. I cannot look for buds on lilacs or maples. At this time of year the country is dreary indeed. One sees a vast expanse of snow which is never so heavy, until it becomes mud that the wind will not take it up and whirl it about.
Would you describe what your country looks like during the summer?
Nobody can imagine how beautiful the wheat fields look, whole sections without a break waving in the breeze. What would the old Vermonters say of it? I wish they could see Cass County now, just as it stands, one vast ocean of wheat.
Is there any bird life around your farm?
I have been out listening to the melodious song of a meadowlark as he sits on the ridge pole of the machine shed. Oh, how sweetly he does sing! It almost brings tears to my eyes. Song birds are scarce here. I have seen very few robins, none yet this spring, but the meadowlark never fails us. There is one bird that whistles, and very large flocks of the little brown ones with silver breasts which fly over the prairie.
Has your farm suffered loss due to bad weather?
One day about four o’clock the sky looked fearful, we heard a distant roar, and soon the storm was upon us. The hailstones were as large as nutmegs and oh, how they did kill things! I was frightened nearly out of my wits. The peonies that I brought from home were budded for the first time, but they were cut off, tough though they be. Our wheat that looked so green has disappeared and the fields are bare.
How has your area changed in the last few years?
I can see fully a hundred farmhouses with the telescope, besides the towns. Who would believe that seven years ago there was not a cabin on the prairie; and five years before that, only three white men lived along the line of the Northern Pacific Railroad between the Red River and Bismarck!
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council