Elijah Boley Cultivated Calico Corn, 1901
Elijah Boley had a farm just three miles north of Mandan on the west bank of the mighty Missouri River. And on his farm he grew some corn of a variety known as Calico Corn, with a long story behind its name.
This Calico Corn was a kind of Indian corn, grown for centuries by the Arikara tribe along the River. The Arikara, also known as “Sahnish” or “Ree” people, were wonderful farmers, growing corn, beans, and squash as primary crops.
In 1877, when Elijah Boley and his family settled in Morton County, he grew wheat just like everyone else, but in 1880 planted some “Ree Corn” as it was then called. The kernels on this native corn were of many intermixed colors; from white to black – its red, yellow and brownish-red rainbow of kernels as beautiful as the fabled coat of many colors given to Joseph in the Old Testament.
The advantage of this Calico corn was that it grew and matured rapidly, in only seventy days. The disadvantage was its small cobs, about four inches long, with only eight rows of kernels.
Elijah Boley set out to improve the corn, planting the stalks two-and-one-half feet apart in the first year. For subsequent plantings, he chose the largest pure-white kernels from the best part – the middle of each ear of corn. Then, year by painstaking year, Elijah Boley grew ever-bigger ears with larger kernels, eventually getting thirteen rows on each ear rather than eight.
By 1889, Elijah Boley promoted his “Ree Corn,” telling a St. Paul Globe writer that there were “far more nutritive properties in this Ree corn than in any other kind.” Farmers of the Missouri Slope country were jubilant over its prospects, for a farmer could feed the corn to his hogs and produce plenty of pork. Boley’s variety eventually became known as “Pride of Dakota” seed corn.
It was on this date in 1901 that Elijah Boley died from a “complication of diseases” at St. Alexius Hospital in Bismarck, at the age of 74. Mr. Boley was remembered as “one of the most prominent pioneers” of Mandan; as a “successful farmer and ranchman,” and – as developer of North Dakota’s splendid Calico corn.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.
Sources: Death date, “Elijah Boley,” Find A Grave index, ancestry.com; “Elijah Boley (1826-1901),” Mandan Historical Society, www.mandanhistory.org, accessed on January 31, 2017; “Major Boley Dead,” Bismarck Tribune, March 3, 1901, p. 1.
“Missouri Slope Corn,” Bismarck Tribune, March 12, 1902, p. 4.
“Advantage Of Corn Growing,” Bismarck Tribune, August 21, 1909, p. 6.
“Corn In N.D.,” St. Paul Globe, May 30, 1889, p. 8.
“Colonel Lounsberry,” Bismarck Tribune, March 5, 1910, p. 3.