Cows Got Into the Wheat Field

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, May 18, 1912:  What a doleful calamity. I had to watch the cows this morning, I mean this afternoon. I’m afraid that this is only the beginning. They got into the wheat for me.

Photo source: Kimball’s Dairy Farmer Magazine (June 1, 1912)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I bet that Grandma’s father was upset with her for allowing the cows to get into the wheat field. The cows could have done a lot of damage as they tramped through the field and nibbled the lush green wheat plants.

The previous summer Grandma also complained in the diary about needing to watch the cows—and how they sometimes got into the corn field, orchard, and other places they weren’t supposed to be.

I continue to be befuddled. It seems like the cows should have been safely enclosed in a field surround by barbed wire fence.

16 Responses

  1. …”doleful calamity” … what a delightful expression!

  2. I just wanted to respond about cows—having grown up on a farm in Idaho. Many old fences weren’t very strong and people much later used “hot” wires to keep cows in. (They got a little electrical shock when they touched the fence) Occasionally you might have herded the cows to a field where they could graze for a few hours, but there wouldn’t be a fence between that & the wheat or corn fields–so you’d have to keep the cows from going there. Cows are fairly placid, but they’re huge and can lean against fences, knock them over and just wander where they like.

    • Your comment brings back memories of the electric fences we had when I was a child. You’re right the cows would break the fence with maddening frequency.

  3. I LOVE the way your Grandmother talks! So descript…with emotion!
    Love it!

    • I like the way that I can get such a wonderful sense of what she was like, even though she only wrote a few words on most days.

  4. I wonder if the use of barbed wire was widespread in the east back in 1911.

    • According to Wikipedia the first patent for barbed wire was issued in 1867 and there were many advertisements for it in agricultural magazines published in the early 1900s. I can vaguely remember high school history classes (or maybe it was from the play Oklahoma) where they talked about issues in the western US between the farmers and the ranchers when the farmers started fencing the land–but maybe fencing came later in the east.

  5. Back then, a lot of adult responsibilities were put on childrens’ shoulders. No wonder Grandma was sad when school days were over. Summer was no vacation!

    • You’re right, summer was not vacation back then. But I must admit that I have mixed feelings about whether or not having children do extensive farm work was good or bad.

      Growing up on a farm, I learned the value of work. When I was raising my children in the suburbs, I used to think that my children didn’t have enough to do. There were several weekly free newspapers in our neighborhood and I strongly encouraged each of them to have a newspaper route which they did for many years. If I’d ask them now, I wonder how they felt about the newspaper delivery.

  6. Oh dear, poor Helena. Her “doleful calamity” must have been dreadful for her (love that phrase!)

  7. Those cows certainly gave Helena a headache or two, over a long period of time, too.

  8. [...] another post about watching the cows. Sounds like a boring job—especially when a friend comes to visit.  Miss Carrie referred to [...]

  9. I hope that Helena dinna have to watch cows as an adult — did she too live on a farm when she married??

  10. [...] I bet that Grandma and her sister Ruth were really relieved when they found them. I wonder which sister was supposed to be watching them.  (See previous posts about the need to watch the cows to ensure that they stayed in the pasture and didn’t wonder off—see for example, June 22 and May 18). [...]

  11. [...] Ruth was at home to help watch the cows. During previous summers Grandma often mentioned needing to watch the cows so that they didn’t escape from the pasture and get into the [...]

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