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Hay Meadows


From the hay meadows of Painted Woods lake, near present day Mandan, a Mr. “Hay Baler” sent a joyful greeting to the editor of the Bismarck Tribune in 1874. The name of the letter-writer is likely a pseudonym, but the sentiments were authentic, filled with exuberant and thoughtful description. There must be something in the air when the last golden days of summer leisurely languish that makes a person want to wax poetic.

On August 19th, 134 years ago today, Baler wrote:

“Well, here we are, as jolly, hard-working, earnest a crew of men as ever put a sickle into the long, waving grass, or that ever pitched a ton of hay. Our camp is situated in the middle of the meadows...on the north of us lie the Painted Woods, and Mandan Lake--a lake possessing clear, pure water, abounding in fish. On the west the “Big Muddy” rushes restlessly along...”

Baler further describes his life as an early settler on the plains, enumerating the many animals that did “abound profusely” in the Missouri River Valley, some good for eating. After living too long on woodchuck, he and his fellow settlers longed for meat. Elk or cow would have met their needs, but according to Baler “one of the boys laid low the antlered monarch of this part of God’s domain,” a deer. “To be sure, he was a beauty,” Baler writes, “weighing 600 pounds and carrying a magnificent pair of antlers, fully in velvet...it was a pity to kill the noble denizen of the forest”

In the letter Baler’s poetics continue as he describes his day:

“This season of the year, to one unaccustomed to its healthy, bracing, life-giving properties, would seem a cause for wonderment....I am every night sleeping in the open air, with the canopy of Heaven for a roof, and the bright, twinkling stars scintillating and winking at us in a manner that carries our thoughts....soothing one to sweet balmy, sleep that is only to be broken into by the approach of bright dawn.”

It is not hard to relate to this early settler’s love of the land, especially in the kinder months of the year. Most North Dakotans savor these summer months as best they can, because they are fleeting. All too soon we will once again be trudging through snow, and braving freezing wind, dreaming of the days in the hay meadows.


Bismarck Tribune, August 19th 1874