Wayne County Is Timothy Seed
Capitol of America
The headline above was in Times Republican dated August 11, 1938 proclaiming Wayne county farmers planted more timothy than any other county in America. In 1937 Wayne County produced 130,480 bushels of timothy seed according to government statistics. Iowa produced a total of 782,880 bushels that year, while the national production in 1937 was 1,565,760 bushels. This means that Iowa produced over one half of the national crop. According to 1937 figures, Wayne County produced almost nine percent of the national crop for the year.
The eight principal timothy seed producing counties in Iowa were Wayne, Ringgold, Decatur, Clark, Appanoose, Davis, Lucas, and Iowa counties. Most of these counties are the rolling hills of southern Iowa where even today there are more hay fields and pastures than row crops.
The history of timothy in Wayne County was parallel to the history of the county. It was thought that as early as 1844 timothy was grown in the area. M.T. Kirk and Lewis Miles were both early pioneers; Kirk arrived in Wayne county in 1844 and Miles in 1852. Each had a 1-acre patch of timothy, such a rare crop that visitors from nearby communities came to view the small fields. William Kirk, son of M.T. made box-traps to catch prairie chickens that invaded the fields, some days catching nearly 100 birds.
An Englishman, Timothy Hurd, is responsible for the name applied to the grass called timothy that is harvested for hay. He is reported to have introduced the crop for farm use. Seed was eventually brought from England to the United States.
Probably the first timothy seed was harvested by hand. Later came mowing machines and then the harvester to cut the timothy hay which was later threshed with the old-fashioned horse operated threshers. By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s mid-summer found a “threshing crew” traveling from farm to farm with a steam engine and threshing machine to thresh or separate the seed from the straw. Generally in each neighborhood one farmer might own a steam engine and threshing machine which he took from farm to farm. The “crew” was made of the local farmers helping one another to harvest the crop.
Prior to the threshing crew arriving the timothy, and earlier, oats had been cut down and wrapped in bundles ready for separating the seed from straw. Below are some memories of threshing time written by Kathryn Hammond from the Seymour area.
“Threshing was a hot, dirty time but we made the best of it. There were two men on the crew for the steamer and separator, and sometimes they stayed overnight with us. We usually had them two or three days for the oats and again later for the timothy. You furnished your own stacker for the straw.
It took six or seven bundle wagons, which were loaded and pulled to the separator, one on each side. The men liked to set the separator so that there was no dirty side, but this wasn’t always possible. There would be three or four field pitchers to load the bundle wagons. It took many men on a crew.
Each family furnished their own water boy. My brother, Ralph Shoultz, usually followed the crew as water boy in our neighborhood. He was a good one, kept the water fresh, once around the crew and back to the well to get fresh water. He had a wooden barrel type jug and the glass jugs were wrapped in a sack and sewed on jug. By keeping the sack wet it helped keep the water cool. He carried two jugs on his pony.
It kept us busy cooking all the food. We needed a lot of food- farm men had good appetites! Aunt Orpha Stamps helped us cook the dinner. We usually made the pies, or at least the crusts, the afternoon before. There were usually two tables. Everyone ate so much food and drank so much ice tea, it’s a wonder we weren’t sick.
As there was no electricity for refrigeration, Dad had to go every day to Seymour for the ice. It was wrapped in newspaper, a comfort and a small rug. It was placed in a washtub and put in the cellar when we got home.
James & Cameron Gibbs threshing crew are seen working near Cambria in 1897. There are 16 men and 5 children in this photo.
Although Wayne County is no longer considered the timothy capital it is still primarily a farming community where neighbor helps neighbor just as the early pioneers did.