What if I told you I’m alive because a man married a cattleman’s daughter and got several cows in return?
Most people would cringe at such an archaic practice, but it’s true. I have quite the history behind my existence.
But it’s a history that is actually pretty cool, if you think about it.
North Dakotans are known for celebrating history. After all, we hosted explorers searching for the Pacific Ocean, inspired a president who attributed his success to the Badlands and raised one of the greatest coaches in NBA history (I’m talking about former Los Angeles Lakers coach and New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, who graduated from Williston High School and the University of North Dakota).
Last year, North Dakota celebrated 125 years of statehood. Several cities, including Beulah and Killdeer, celebrated their centennials. Those are very special indeed. I got to cover Hazen’s when I was the editor of the Hazen Star, and I know from experience that people in North Dakota take pride in their history, and they know how to throw a party.
This year, I found out that I too am part of a legacy. When I originally wrote this column, I was getting ready for a special event that marked another centennial. But this next weekend marks another year gone by on how it all began, and I thought it would be fun to look back on the 101 years of cattle history, and how I came to be.
On Sept. 4, 1914, a Hereford cow named Polly was the first in her owner’s herd to be registered in North Dakota. The owner, Ben G. Hans, had a daughter named Gertrude, who married a farmer in the Red River Valley name Richard Baumgarten.
Ben was my great-great grandfather and, as a dowry, he gave Richard several cattle. And no, it wasn’t a bribe for Great-Grandpa Richard to take great-grandma off of Ben’s hands. A dowry is an old custom in which the bride’s family gives wealth to the husband to ensure the daughter is well settled. Then again, I wasn’t alive 101 years ago, so I have no idea if Richard needed a little push to take Gertrude. (Just kidding, Great-Grandma. From the pictures, I know you were a catch.)
Back to the history lesson: Richard and Gertrude Baumgarten continued to raise cattle in the Casselton, N.D., area. That’s where my Grandpa Hilbert and his family raised and showed cattle. It’s funny to look at the pictures of them showing cattle. The cattle were so big, and when the showmen posed for photos, they would kneel on the ground, I assume to make them look bigger. Those bulls must have been pretty tame. Then again, they were Herefords.
My dad also showed cattle with his three sisters. I’ve only seen a few pictures of him showing, but I have to say that his ’70s glasses and long hair under that trucker hat made him look pretty rad.
Clear across the state in Belfield, N.D., another family was also raising registered Hereford cattle. Theodore and Rose Fischer taught their five daughters that it was important to promote the beef industry, and they would often take several head of cattle to fairs across the state. It just so happened that one of those daughters met and fell in love with the tall Red River Valley boy while showing cattle.
That’s how the world got me, and so I was destined to grow up on a farm in western North Dakota surrounded by bellowing cattle, manure and situations that may make some consider calling child protective services if they saw what I was doing.
Raising Herefords has contributed to who I am today, but I never knew that I had such interesting history. I’m sure that I could write a book about it, but my readers and editor would slap me. Plus, I have to save my energy for other tasks.
By the time you read this, the Baumgarten Cattle Co.’s 12th annual Production Sale will have come and gone. Friends and customers will have flocked to the family ranch near Belfield, where they hopefully enjoyed a semi-warm day along with the cattle we produce. In fact, the 13th sale is likely in the works, and I’m sure cattlemen are eagerly awaiting that catalog, just itching to see how they can improve their herd.
Like the bulls that walked through the barn on Friday, a legacy isn’t built overnight. It takes years, a lot of hard work, more dedication than anyone believes, and perhaps a little bit of luck, to make something great. I couldn’t be happier to celebrate another event with 101 years behind it, but the greatest part is knowing that I was a part of it, that I made history and I know what has made me into the person I am today.
Everyone has a past, and there is always something in the history books waiting to be discovered.
What’s your story?