It was 1912, and the holiday season was under way in the community of Britton, North Dakota. Mr. R. Welch gave a well-attended and festive ‘dancing party’, and the first snow of the season had adorned the rolling countryside of Burleigh County, giving the opportunity for sleigh rides. While May and Elva Doan visited with neighbors, Jewell Doan, along with C.A. Anderson and Herman Olson, ventured out into the newly anointed hills to hunt rabbits. With Christmas dinner only a few evenings away, the hunting party bagged 32 rabbits.
These holiday celebrations may seem like a step back into a pastoral ideal, a time before check-out lines and parking lots. However, Doan family descendents can be found today, on the same land that was homesteaded over 130 years ago.
Today, the “Black Leg Ranch” is a thriving family farm and cattle ranch. Although the town of Britton is now nothing more than a memory and a name, its geographical location is within the Doan ranch.
The 17,000 acre ranch began as a sod house on a 160-acre homestead. It was founded by George Doan in 1882. Hailing from Ontario, Canada, George was one of the earliest homesteaders to break ground in North Dakota. Today the ranch is run by George’s great-great grandson, Jerry Doan, and his family. While carrying on their ancestors’ tradition of hard work, the Doan family has also been exceptional stewards of the land, strong-willed and forward-thinking – championing new soil conservation techniques and grazing systems, building soil health, and protecting the diverse wildlife communities that call their acres home. Agriculture has grown and evolved a great deal since 1882, and the Doan family’s commitment to their land reflects this change. No longer just a piece of property producing commodities, the land is respected and attended to with care.
Jerry Doan and his family were recognized for their efforts in 2016, receiving the first ever North Dakota Leopold Award. The honor is named after the renowned “father of wildlife ecology” Aldo Leopold. In his celebrated book “The Sand County Almanac” Leopold championed the “Land Ethic” concept, saying:
“...that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals…”
This particular time of year, when we celebrate and honor our loved ones, neighbors and friends, perhaps also remember to give thanks for this greater community championed by Leopold, and the Doan family. As Mr. Leopold states, “when we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
Written by Maria Witham
Bismarck daily tribune, December 19, 1912, pg. 10