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Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
  • RUSSELL HIVELY: Indian farming

  • I walked in the rain the other morning.
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  • I walked in the rain the other morning. Getting rained on by a drought breaker was wonderful. As I walked along Wildcat Boulevard, I was thinking about Frederick Manfred’s Conquering Horse, a book that I have been reading. It is a story about a young Dakota man who is struggling to earn his name in the days prior to the white man’s arrival on the North American continent.
    I have always been interested in the early American Indian culture. The other day I was digging in some old files and found an old Farm Journal article about “The First American Farmers.” I reread this article and found it fascinating. The American Indian has had a great influence on American farming today and yesterday.
    Most school children have been taught the story of how Squanto taught the Pilgrims to grow corn back in 1621. Using fish as fertilizer and Squanto’s expertise, they planted 20 acres of maize (corn) with some other field crops and were able to survive the next winter.
    The article I read continued by telling how ancient Indians cultivated a wild grass called teosinte, as far back as 5000 B.C. Over the years, they continued to select the seeds they wanted for future plantings. When the Europeans settled in America, Native Americans had developed our present commercial corn types —dent, flint, flour, pop, and sweet.
    Today’s seed corn companies continue to modify and select better and better corn types. Right now, with the dry years we have been having, they are working to find corn crops that need less and less water to grow and mature.
    Besides corn, early Indian farmers also cultivated potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, various beans, tobacco, and squash. When I was teaching school, I sometimes used squash as an example of a word that was shortened for the convenience of the language user. Squash is the abbreviated form of the original Indian word isquoutersquash.
    According to the article, the early American Indians did not live solely by hunting as many think. Overall, horticulture was estimated to provide 65-75 percent of the food supply of the early American Indians. Through experience, the early American Indians learned surplus farm products, especially corn, were excellent for trading and bartering. Usually six acres of crops were expected to provide the cultivated food for one family’s yearly needs.
    Take a walk, learn about and respect our earliest American settlers, use those signal lights, beware of pedestrians on these dark mornings, and see what you notice while passing along Wildcat Boulevard.
    Russell Hively writes a weekly column for the Daily News.
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