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Plains Folk

Allen’s Grove


The groves of trees planted by settlers to meet the requirements of the Timber Culture Act of 1873--they did not fulfill the hopes of those who figured that tree-planting would modify the climate of the Great Plains. They did, however, have a positive effect on the cultural environment of the prairies. The groves became named landmarks and the summertime sites for all sorts of community activities. They were essential features of the settlement landscape.


Where to have the end-of-school-term exercises? The Sunday school picnic? A political rally? A religious revival? A gathering of old settlers, or lodge brothers, or a big family? A baseball game? A 4th of July celebration? Go to the grove.


And the grove had a name. In just Dickey County, using newspaper references, I have identified Taylor’s Grove, Puffer Grove, Olmstead’s Grove, Maddock Grove, Hoyback’s Grove, Allen’s Grove, Gebhardt Grove, Nels Hanson Grove, Willow Grove, Wagner’s Grove, Sweet Grove, August Larson’s Grove, Farel’s Grove, Brown’s Grove, Adamson’s Grove, Rasmussen Grove, Stokes’ Grove, Scaggs’ Grove, Anderson’s Grove, Streeter Grove, and Alin Grove--and I have researched this only casually so far. These sites can be located on the ground following identification in the Bureau of Land Management patent index.


Are any of these old groves, dating perhaps from the 1880s, still standing? A week or so ago I recounted my search for Taylor’s Grove, near Monango, which turns out to be a ghost grove. From there, however, I headed down the Jim River to Ludden, in search of Allen’s Grove, a storied stand of trees.


The planter of the grove in the 1880s, and successful timber claimant in 1895, was William B. Allen--an interesting character about whom little is known, despite the fact he served in North Dakota’s first legislature and as speaker of the House. He was a land capitalist in several states who for a few years called Ludden home. His timber claim along the river, southwest of town, was one of his many properties.


Community activities at Allen’s Grove commenced in 1894 with a Farmer’s Harvest Picnic and a church service in August. Then on September 20 convened a political debate, with Republican former Governor John Miller taking on Rev. W. E. Gifford, speaking for the Populists, and Rev. D. C. Planette, speaking for the Prohibitionists. 


Of the many events celebrated at Allen’s Grove during succeeding decades, the most celebrated was the baseball game matching clubs from Oakes and Hecla on 21 June 1895. This was written up in the Oakes Weekly Republican and illustrated with multiple line drawings, or I should say, caricatures of the players--such as the one captioned, “Brown takes a lead off,” with one foot on first base, the other planted halfway to second, the distance spanned by his rubberized legs. Oakes won, 8-1.


A recurring event at Allen’s Grove was the annual Hoosier Picnic, a gathering of old settlers from Indiana for a family picnic lunch.


And--I found the grove. At first, driving the section lines and lanes, I did not espy it, but then a young farmer parked his rig by my pickup, and in the course of our conversation shouted over the engine noise of his tractor, indicated where I should look. The old grove had been screened from my view by more recent green ash shelterbelts. But--there it was, about fifty aged cottonwoods, some ninety feet high, some four feet in diameter, with an understory of boxelder, all laid out in a horseshoe opening to the east. My mind’s eye saw the enclosure as a field of dreams wherein the uniformed boys from Oakes and Hecla contended.

-Tom Isern

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