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Plains Folk

Taylor’s Grove


I made the drive to Dickey County on a quest, but when I got on the ground, I was a little puzzled. I had driven through Monango, thence navigating to the old site of Boynton, and from there made various jogs to and fro, bluffed out here and there by water over roads, until I turned onto the west section line bordering the SW/4 S35 T131N R63W. This quarter, I knew from the patent listed with the Bureau of Land Management, was the homestead of Joseph B. Taylor, which he proved up in 1889. A few years later he would patent another nearby quarter as a tree claim.


A tree claim is a piece of land acquired under terms of the Timber Culture Act of 1873, which required the planting and nurturing of groves of trees to complete patent. Taylor was an enthusiastic and successful tree-planter, with his more notable grove being on his homestead quarter.


It was known as Taylor’s Grove, the site of innumerable public events in the early 1900s. In 1908 the Woodmen of the World, a fraternal order, invited President John Worst of North Dakota Agricultural College to speak in the grove. “Everybody invited,” they said, “Bring the children. Bring your lunch. Lemonade, ice cream at 5¢ a cone, light lunches, etc., served at stands on the grounds. The Woodmen have leased the grounds for the day, and will maintain order,” they pledged. “No liquor allowed.”


President Worst fell ill and could not make it, but some two thousand people did and had a great time. James M. Austin, a Woodman from Ellendale, had charge of a literary program of declamations and songs in the grove. People had come by team and wagon or had ridden the Soo line to Boynton, whence they were shuttled. Some ate lunch on logs, others spread blankets on the ground. The hot tamale stand was a particular favorite of the diners.


After lunch there was a ball game, Fullerton versus Forbes, on a field, it was reported by the press, “east of the house in a level slough and the rising ground around afforded a sort of amphitheatre.” After that a tug of war and wrestling matches. In the evening back to the grove, where Heckelsmiller’s orchestra played for dancers, while political candidates gladhanded. They all agreed this was the finest grove in the country, having been set out in 1881.


But where was it, I wondered, as I paced along the section line. Not a tree in sight, nor any remains of the Taylor residence. Finally I located relics and ruins in a rockpile alongside a slough, but I knew this was not the original house site, because it was too close to the water. Scanning the landscape, I concluded the house and grove had to have been in the southwest corner of the quarter, on a rise sloping to the east, where I discerned an ovular depression--the slough site where the ball game had been played in 1908, I was sure.


As I stood there musing, Angie the History Dog announced the approach of Joyce and Russ Grueneich, taking their morning exercise and wondering what the heck I was doing standing around in the middle of nothing. When I replied, Russ got down on one knee and started scratching a map in the dirt road--here the house, here the grove, here the lane leading in that is no more. What a moment, as the ghost grove rose up before me.


Picnics, dances, religious revivals, political rallies, old settler reunions, ball games--for decades Taylor’s Grove was the summer gathering spot, a place with a name, a place with connotations and memories attached to it. Here in 1921 Governor Lynn Frazier addressed a Nonpartisan League rally.


Is there a place where such a grove, so laden with history, still stands? You know I’m going to tell you in my next essay, right?


-Tom Isern

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