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Harvest Tales - Ellis County

Harvest stories submitted by Kansans for the online exhibit, Wheat People.
Submit your own at KansasMuseum@kshs.org.

Elma Bamberg

I Wanted to Know What the Boys Did

I wanted to know what the boys did as their part in the harvest fields. So one year I got my wish and permission to ride in a header box and help pitch wheat. I found that it was an exciting job; also that one had to be alert or get buried in wheat. A header box had to have two to operate it; one to drive the team and one to spread the fast coming wheat. Wheat heads had beards that pricked and stabbed. The header or wheat cutter took four horses to pull and cut. It kept the driver of these four horses busy guiding and driving. . . .

There were some irritating things to contend with while riding in the header box and trying to keep from being buried in wheat. There were grasshoppers by the thousands, even in the years they were not considered to be a plague. I learned why the harvesters tied bandana handkerchiefs around their necks. It was to keep wheat beards and grasshoppers from getting down their necks. They got into my sunbonnet and down my neck and crawled up my legs. The men got grasshoppers up their overall legs and would dance till they could capture the pests and squeeze them hard, then shake the dead things out of their pant legs.

After turning my attention from the wheat cutting, I was back to a girl's real duties. Back into Aunt Lottie's kitchen, or out in the garden. The first potatoes dug in harvest time were not fully matured and it took a lot of time to prepare them. It took the best of one forenoon to harvest enough small potatoes and peas for one huge vegetable dish. The housewife usually was baking bread, making pies and cakes. . . .

At meal time the men were fed first; the children and the cooks had to wait. Someone had to wait on the table and keep water glasses filled and plenty of bread and butter on the table. Pies had to be cut and served. . . . How the food did disappear: We, the cooks and the children wondered if we would have anything left for our hungry stomachs.

"Harvest Tales" is part of the online exhibit, Wheat People:  Celebrating Kansas Harvest.