Anderson reflects on farm, ranch life in rolling hills
Family to receive award for keeping land for a century.
Picking corn by hand in the dead of winter. Trying to grow corn during bone-dry years. Plowing fields with horses.
These memories and more are part of the life of 87-year-old Wes Anderson, the patriarch of a family that will receive a special award.
Wes and his brood will be honored as a Pioneer Farm Family at the Custer County Fair for keeping land in their family for 100 years.
“If you have pride, you have pride in your land. That’s one thing you do,” Wes said. “If you don’t take care of it by getting rid of musk thistle or leafy spurge or other things, the land is going to be ruined.
“If you don’t have pride in what you do, then why are you there?”
These days, son Gregg and Jackie Anderson live and farm and ranch on the home place.
Their sons Schuyler and Trevor help maintain the cow/calf herd that originated with Charlie Anderson who started it all.
Wes’s children—Britt, Gregg and Lynn—grew up on the land. Britt and Jo Anderson and their son, Brock Anderson, now farm the property and daughter Lynn, a registered nurse, raised her family in Lincoln.
Wes said he’s proud that a fifth generation of Anderson children now work the farm that had its beginning when Charlie—whose parents immigrated from Sweden with their families in 1888—bought a quarter of land and brought bride Hattie Peterson to the property in February of 1911.
Hattie’s parents, Henry and Marie Peterson, were Danish immigrants.
A deed for the land, purchased from John and Agnes Rine for $7,086, was filed on March 3, 1911.
Charlie and Hattie raised their family there—Wes and a twin brother Wally and daughters Opal (Maline) and Delores (Knoedler).
Wes is the only sibling still living.
While growing up on the farm, Wes said they all worked hard.
On Saturdays, the family—like most in the area—would load up and drive to Gothenburg to sell their cream and eggs and buy groceries.
Although they seldom attended movies in town, Wes remembers the ice cream parlor.
Britt recalls hearing stories about farming and ranching during the drought years of the 1930s, particularly 1934.
“The best corn you could find was a foot high and dried up,” he said. “There was no grass so they cut Russian thistles to feed livestock.”
With no feed, the family’s replacement heifers were rounded up and shipped to Omaha where they were sold for three to nine cents a pound.
Crops that grew were decimated by hungry grasshoppers.
Interestingly, rain did fall during some of the dry years but often after crops were too parched to survive.
“Once, 15 inches of rain came after the corn dried up,” Wes said. “In 1935, it never quit raining.”
The Andersons were one of the first families to receive electricity in 1949. Before that, generators were used to produce light.
Wes and Wally graduated from Gothenburg High School in 1941.
About 1944, the Andersons bought land on the table and the south pasture and, in 1951, Wes and bride, Dorris Henderson, took over what had grown into 240 acres. Most was pasture land.
In 1947, Wes said wheat made about 30 bushels to the acre and brought $2 per bushel. With ground valued at $60 an acre, those who bought land that year could pay it off.
He remembers harnessing up horses to plant corn and wheat—the latter planted between the rows of corn.
Oats and some barley were also planted.
Horses were hitched to a rope attached to a sling in the haymow to bring and dump hay in the barn.
Wes recalls installing one of the first irrigation wells in the area in 1954.
For irrigation, the land needed to be leveled which Wes did each spring—when the ground had thawed—with a two-yard scraper and an M tractor.
He’s also proud of the barn his father built on the home place which Wes recently paid to have restored. The structure contains most of the original lumber that, he said, “is as good as the day they put it in.”
Britt, who’s helped present the Pioneer Farm Family Award at the fair, described the honor as special.
“Some families are not actively involved in farming anymore and could have sold the land for value,” he explained. “But it’s more about what the ground can produce for you and not what you sell it for.”