Mary Dodge Woodward

Mary Dodge Woodward

Portrait of Mary Dodge Woodward from North Dakota Studies website

Mary Dodge Woodward is a woman who lived and worked on a bonanza farm in Cass County from 1884-1888. Bonanza farms cropped up largely in the Dakota territory after the Northern Pacific Railroad sold huge acreages of land to their investors for extremely low prices to cover their debts. These farms covered thousands of acres and produced a large number of wheat crops. The land owners hired managers to run the farms, as was the case of the Woodwards. The farms were highly profitable until around 1890 when the land became exhausted from overuse. Mary moved from Kingston, Wisconsin, to the farm with her three youngest children, Walter, Fred, and Katie, in 1882. Walter was asked by Mary’s cousin to manage the relatively small fifteen hundred-acre farm. With her husband gone, Mary relied on her children, her dog Roxy, and her diary for company. Mary and her family eventually moved back home to Wisconsin in the spring of 1889 where she died on December 25th, 1890. Her diary, “The Checkered Years” was later published and gives a great insight into the lives of women on the prairie in the late 1800s.

– Brenna Adams, Digital History, 2012

See Minnesota Historical Society website for more information.

Oliver Dalrymple

Oliver Dalrymple poses for a formal portrait wearing a dark suit and tie. 1880s
[sh2012P039: North Dakota State University]

One of the most well-known Bonanza farmers in the area during the late nineteenth century is Oliver Dalrymple. Dalrymple owned his own land and managed large-scale farms in the area. He is known as one of the most successful wheat farm growers of the area. He established the first large-scale farm in the Red River Valley. He helped draw population into Fargo as his farms required laborers.

In order to sell the land in large quantities and to maximize profits, the railroad advertised land to people of great wealth. General George W. Cass and Benjamin P. Cheney purchased land in 1874 approximately twenty miles west of Fargo.[1] There were ten sections purchased with their bonds ($110) that resulted in 11,520 acres.[2] After establishing the first large-scale land ownership in the Red River Valley, a successful wheat grower was needed to make the area one of success.[3] Oliver Dalrymple was selected to manage Cass-Chaney Bonanza.

After a successful bout of farming and when the “capital investment was returned from profits” the farm land was divided 50-50. Cass, Cheney, Grandin, and Dalrymple owned 69,000 acres of land near Fargo.[4] Dalrymple’s bonanza farm attracted many immigrants, laborers and workers to the area, and Oliver decided to rapidly expand his enterprise beyond the initial acreage.

Successful bonanza farms, like Dalrymple’s, often absorbed smaller farms around them as time went on. A typical bonanza farm included many workers, cooks, managers, and more. A typical workers chart is as follows: April, 150 men, seeding. May1 – July15th 20-50 men, Preparation. July15 – 30, 100 men, Haying. August1 – September 15, 250 men Harvest. September 15 – November 1, 75 men, Plowing. November 1 – April 1, 10 men, Maintenance.[5]

His specific bonanza farm consisted of at least three managers plus himself to run his bonanza farm business successfully.[6] Dalrymple was a successful bonanza farmer here after and it is noted that he even received a visit from President Hayes in 1879 during one of the finest harvests.[7]

-Jenna Clawson, Digital History 2012


[1] Dalrymple, John S. “Setting for Dalrymple’s Bonanza”,  Oliver Dalrymple and His Bonanza 1984 , p. 7.

[2] Coulter, NDSHS, Collections, Vol. III p. 570.

[3] Dalrymple, John S. “Setting for Dalrymple’s Bonanza”,  Oliver Dalrymple and His Bonanza 1984 , p. 8.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dalrymple, John S. “Life of a Bonanza Laborer”, Oliver Dalrymple and His Bonanza 1984 , p.139.

[6]  Dalrymple, John Stewart. Oliver Dalrymple, Bonanza Farmer ,  Minneapolis 1960, p.46.

[7] Ibid, p. 44.

Bonanza Farming West of Fargo

Dalrymple Farm: 1870s crew and house.
Twenty-six men, two women, and one child in front of a one and a half story, wood frame house. Agriculture, work life on a typical Bonanza Farm.
[rs005651: North Dakota State University Archives]

Wood frame houses in the rural area are most prominently known to have existed on large-scale bonanza farms. Beginning in 1875, these farms were acquired through railroad bonds

One of the most widely known bonanza farmers in the area during the late 1800s was Oliver Dalrymple, who owned his land and also managed other large-scale farms in the area. He is known as one of the most successful wheat farm growers of the area. He established the first large-scale farm in the Red River Valley and was highly successful.

When Dalrymple moved to North Dakota with his family, there was no available housing. His family survived in makeshift housing, and he eventually built a wood frame house. After Dalrymple was financially stable and ready to permanently settle in the area, he built another wood frame house. “Various additions of dubious architectural value” were added to the sturdy wooden frame house over the years.[1]

Accessible water was one of Dalrymple’s goals for the rural house. He sunk 30-foot wells around the house and drinking water was available. The Dalrymple household relied on rainwater barrels and coulees for water supply in the wetter seasons.[2]

Farm Hands, Dalrymple Farm
Between 1877-1889
Group of field workers posing for this picture in front of a barn at the Dalrymple Farm.
[shA4263 : North Dakota State University Archives]

In the photograph, a harvest group is shown in front of a wooden barn at Dalrymple farm in the late 1800s. The hired help stayed in barracks, but these would often be overrun with bedbugs. Often a better choice for the men was often to bunk in the barns.

Dalrymple had at least three managers plus himself to run his bonanza farm business successfully.[3] His success even brought him a visit from President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879 during one of the finest harvests.[4]

-Jenna Clawson, Digital History 2012

 

More than twelve self-binder harvesting machines each pulled by four horses at the Dalrymple bonanza farm in the 1877 harvest. Bundles of wheat lay in field behind the horse-drawn binders. Two men standing to left side of print, and another on horseback watching.
[rs000989: North Dakota State University Archives]

 

[1] Dalrymple, John Stewart. Oliver Dalrymple, Bonanza Farmer ,  Minneapolis 1960, p.24.

[2] Ibid.

[3]  Ibid, p.46.

[4] Ibid, p. 44.