As has often been remarked, internet “publishing” creates and fosters active communities of interest and brings together people from all over the world. Even an arcane blog like this one has attracted active contribution in the form of comments from over a hundred people, among them historians, geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, librarians, artists, poets, ranchers, cowboys, and of course friends and family. So, in spite of the unstoppable putrid spam which oozes through our filters, we’ve kept the comments door open. (Please keep on commenting. Ignore the error message that may greet your comment and imply erroneously that it has not been received.) The following correspondence, lightly annotated [in italics], illustrates the way a comment can open a new path of discovery which leads back to a place already visited and people already known.
The place is Haystack Butte, one of several western landforms with that name, located about 50 miles west of Great Falls, Montana. The people are Meriwether Lewis (who passed Haystack Butte 199 years ago and called it Shishequaw) and several members of the Clary family to whom I am related by marriage, who celebrated both of the weddings in our Wedding Bales essay, and who once ranched on the land surrounding -- Haystack Butte.
Comment posted by Joseph Mussulman at June 29, 2005 09:54 AM
Can anyone tell me why cone-shaped mountains in the Rockies are often labeled "Haystack Butte"? Is that term used elsewhere in the world? I notice that Martin Heade's haystacks are consistently conical in shape, and I know Claude Monet painted some 30 conical haystacks. Can anyone tell me how or why the conical stack came to be? Seems to me that wind and gravity conspire to define the shape (especially in the western U.S.).
Thanks so much for your comment and question, which, I'm inferring, stem from an interest in toponyms of the Lewis and Clark routes. (Joe’s email address is email@example.com.)
When you have the time, you may wish to explore more thoroughly the vast iconography of haystacks, haycobs, haycocks, etc., that populate my database of over 4,500 images. The ID numbers in the following message refer to the numbers in the database. The conical shape which you mention is almost certainly the oldest form of hay pile. It appears, for example, on Trajan's column in Rome, part of the sculpted narrative commemorating the invasion of Dacia (present day Romania), and repeatedly thereafter.
Note that the first of the three images above is from 1772, and both the second and third are from 1888. The last one, however, depicts a farm scene from New South Wales, 12,000 miles from the others!
In Sotriffer's wonderful study of the art and architecture of hay in the Austrian Tyrol, northern Italy, and the Balkans, there is a fascinating taxonomy of forms, compiled by Hans Soeders, depicting more subtle variations on our basic cone.
As a nice example of cultural persistence, you can still see the ancient Dacian stacks in the Romanian Carpathians today. They have been throughly documented by the fine photographer Kathleen Laraia McLaughlin, one of whose images is shown at right.
Ironically, the most famous "haystacks" in art, the 30 or so "meules" of Monet, to which you refer, are not hay but wheat. For a handy visual comparison of Monet's few haystacks (meules de foin) and many (justly celebrated) grainstacks (meules de grain), see my "Missed stacks and mistakes."
The cone form certainly survived, until the American West was explored and its landmarks named. I've included only one such feature in my collection: Haystack Rock , actually BEYOND the west, in the Pacific off Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast. [An Oregon painter named Richard Gorsuch is creating a different painting of Haystack Rock, every day for a year, making Monet's meules seem a relatively minor obsession].
One final note, the granitic "Hay Tor" on Dartmoor, Devon, UK, rounded by exfoliation, looks less like a tidy conical haystack, than a pile of bundles or bales! The picture at right shows the Tor on the horizon. The more sharply weathered chunk of granite jutting from the heather and gorse in the foreground, admittedly in miniaturized scale, has something in common with the Montanan Haystack Butte.
Email from Joe Mussulman to Alan Ritch (July 24, 2005)
Many thanks for taking the time to respond to my query concerning
haystacks. As things have turned out, it now appears to me that
Meriwether Lewis's name, Shishequaw (actually his phonetic
version of an Ojibway term for rattle), and the later American name
"Haystack Butte" for the same landmark, have no connection at all.
That is, I had assumed from the photos I've seen of Haystack Butte
that the feature looked the same from all sides, which raised the
paradox of the two names. Then I drove over there -- only about 100
miles from my home -- and checked it out. You can see what I saw, and
my conclusions, at http://www.lewis-clark.org/content/content-article.asp?ArticleID=2289
[The three photographs at right, taken by J Agee and borrowed from Joe Mussulman's website, illustrate respectively: the angle from which Meriwether Lewis first viewed the Butte; the view from the north; and another view which more closely resembles a nineteenth century haystack ]
Should you have any comments or criticisms, I'd welcome them, at your
Thanks especially for your "Missed Stacks and Mistakes." For many
years I've been fond of Monet's works -- My first view of his
waterlilies at the Chicago Art Institute is indelibly etched in my
mind -- and your remarks deepen my interest in him.
I am also glad to have been introduced to Heade's paintings. Your
presentation is tremendously exciting.
Email from Alan Ritch to Joe Mussulman (September 12, 2005)
I'm sorry our paths didn't cross on my own recent journey up to your state, especially since I made a few more delightful discoveries of coincidences surrounding Haystack Butte. I vaguely remembered seeing this pyramid, on my annual drives up US 287 to Augusta and Choteau. I always stop at the Milford Colony to chat with the old Hutterites and buy their fine veggies, before coasting over that splendid rolling route along the Rocky Mountain Front on the way to my brother- and sister-in-law's cabin under Ear Mountain on the South Fork of the Teton. This year I took a side-trip out of Augusta and took some photos of the Butte with hay, naturally, in the foreground.
When I got to the cabin, I mentioned this excursion (and the coincidence of our internet friendship) to my sister-in-law, Ann Clary Gordon. Ann looked at me in amazement and asked whether I realized that her family had ranched the land around Haystack Butte for decades. I knew that the Clary family (her father's side) had pioneered along the Front and that the Holter family (her mother's) were also successful entrepreneurs both in the Helena area and east of Lewistown [for a while they owned the N Bar ranch which is the subject of Linda Grosskopf's On Flatwillow Creek] , but had not known exactly where until the subject of the Butte came up. Her father, Bob Clary, broke the family ranching tradition and became a Great Falls lawyer (since this is a less arduous undertaking, he has survived to age 90, and still, I believe, goes to his office). Her younger brother Dick bravely (or foolishly) went back to ranching and runs his Angus herd on a spread near Utica (home of the increasingly famous What the Hay Festival, another hay connection).
When I mentioned all this to Dick at the ranch later that week, he too regaled me with childhood stories about climbing Haystack Butte in search of Indian arrowheads -- and pulled out a little "treasure chest" which is full of them.
I hope you enjoy this triangle of coincidences as much as I do.
Let's stay in touch.
Email from Alan Ritch to Bob Clary (September 12, 2005) [Bob’s 90 year old eyes prefer the uppercase font]
AS ANN TOLD YOU, I RECENTLY RETIRED AND BEGAN AN ENDLESS RESEARCH PROJECT ON EVERY ASPECT OF HAYMAKING: TECHNOLOGY, HISTORY, ART, LITERATURE AND SO ON. EVENTUALLY I MAY PUBLISH A BOOK ON THE SUBJECT. I HAVE ALREADY COMPILED A HUGE WEBSITE WHICH I HOPE YOUR COMPUTER CAN ACCESS IN LEGIBLE FORM.
ONE INTERESTED READER RECENTLY CONTACTED ME ABOUT THE FREQUENCY OF 'HAYSTACK' AS A DESCRIPTIVE PLACE-NAME IN THE AMERICAN WEST. HE WAS SPECIFICALLY INTERESTED IN HAYSTACK BUTTE, NEAR AUGUSTA, WHICH MERIWETHER LEWIS PASSED ON JULY 8, 1806. MY CONTACT, JOE MUSSULMAN, WHO IS CONNECTED IN SOME WAY TO THE GREAT FALLS INTERPRETIVE CENTER, HAS PRODUCED A WONDERFUL SERIES OF WEB-PAGES TRACING THE ROUTES OF THE LEWIS & CLARK EXPEDITION THROUGH CONTEMPORARY SCENERY. HIS ESSAY ON HAYSTACK BUTTE IS AT http://www.lewis-clark.org/content/content-article.asp?ArticleID=2289.
I'VE DRIVEN BY THIS LANDMARK MANY TIMES ON MY WAY UP HIGHWAY 287 TO JIM AND ANN'S CABIN. PROMPTED BY JOE'S INTEREST, I TOOK A SIDE-TRIP TO HAYSTACK BUTTE LAST MONTH AND TOOK SEVERAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE MOUNTAIN WITH HAY, NATURALLY, IN THE FOREGROUND. IMAGINE MY SURPRISE, WHEN I MENTIONED THIS TO ANN, AND SHE TOLD ME THAT YOUR FAMILY HAD RANCHED AROUND THE BUTTE FOR MANY YEARS. I'VE WRITTEN BACK TO JOE TO ALERT HIM OF THIS LOVELY COINCIDENCE. AND WHEN WE VISITED DICK, LATER THE SAME WEEK, HE TOLD US MANY STORIES ABOUT HIKING ON THE BUTTE IN SEARCH OF INDIAN ARROWHEADS. INDEED, HE PRODUCED A LITTLE BOX FULL OF POINTS HE'D DISCOVERED IN THE AREA.
LAST WEEK, WHEN ANN CAME TO SANTA CRUZ TO ATTEND MY SON DEVON'S WEDDING, SHE BROUGHT ME A PHOTOGRAPH OF YOU POSED ON A HORSE IN FRONT OF THE BUTTE [at right] AND YOUR BOOK ON FLATWILLOW CREEK AND SHE MENTIONED THAT YOU WERE FULL OF INTERESTING MEMORIES ON HAYMAKING ON THE RANCH. THANKS FOR LENDING ME THE PHOTO AND THE BOOK. I'LL INCORPORATE SOME OF THE CONTENT INTO MY WEBSITE.
I REALLY LOOK FORWARD TO A LONG CONVERSATION WITH YOU, EITHER BY EMAIL OR IN PERSON, ABOUT OUR SHARED INTERESTS.
ALL THE BEST TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILY,
THANKS VERY MUCH FOR YOUR E-MAIL RE: HAYSTACK BUTTE AND YOUR CONSIDERATION IN USING THE LARGE PRINT.
I AM INDEED IMPRESSED WITH YOUR INTEREST AND KNOWLEDGE OF HAYSTACK BUTTE NEAR AUGUSTA, MONTANA. I HAVE MANY FOND AND NOSTALGIC MEMORIES OF THE BUTTE IN MY YOUTH. AS ANN SUGGESTED, MY FATHER WAS ASSOCIATED WITH, AND FOR MANY YEARS WAS PRESIDENT AND MANAGER OF J. B. LONG & CO., WHICH OWNED A NUMBER OF RANCHES AND ENGAGED IN THE LIVESTOCK BUSINESS, PRIMARILY SHEEP. IT ALSO OWNED, HOWEVER, A 13,000 ACRE RANCH, PARTLY SURROUNDING HAYSTACK BUTTE, WHERE SLIGHTLY MORE THAN 1,000 HEAD OF HEREFORD CATTLE WERE RUN.
INCIDENTALLY, THAT BREED HAVE BEEN ALMOST ENTIRELY OVERTAKEN IN POPULARITY BY THE ABERDEEN-ANGUS BREED, WHICH DICK RUNS, FOR THE REASON THAT THE HEREFORDS ARE WHITE-FACED AND WHITE-HAIRED ON THEIR BELLIES AND BAGS. FREQUENTLY, THEREFORE, WHEN THERE WAS A SPRING WET SNOW, THE BRIGHT SUN REFLECTED OFF THE SNOW, BADLY SUNBURNING THE COWS' BAGS TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY WOULD NOT LET THE CALVES SUCKLE. THE ONLY TREATMENT, AND THAT NOT VERY SUCCESSFUL, WAS THE OBVIOUSLY LABORIOUS TASK OF APPLYING LAMP-BLACK TO THE SUNBURNED BAGS!
[A recent picture (at right) of some of Dick Clary's herd reflects the popularity of the Black Angus breed and the startling appearance of one young White Angus. If it's a heifer, and if Dick decides to keep it for breeding, he'd better keep some lamp-black handy!]
THE RANCH USED THE BRAND _F (LF), AND WAS KNOWN AS THE _F RANCH. AS A YOUTH, I WORKED ON ONE OR THE OTHER OF THE RANCHES IN THE SUMMER. COWBOYING, OF COURSE, WAS MUCH MORE ROMANTIC THAN HERDING SHEEP; SO COMMENCING AT AGE THIRTEEN, I CHOSE THE _F. THE FOREMAN, AT FIRST, WAS BALLY BUCK, HALF BELKNAP INDIAN. HE WAS LARGE, COLORFUL, AN EXCELLENT CATTLEMAN, AND A FRIEND OF CHARLIE RUSSELL. HE TAUGHT ME HOW TO HARNESS A TEAM OF HORSES AND DRIVE A SPRINGTOOTH HAY RAKE. SITED AS IT WAS IN THE FOOTHILLS OF THE MAIN RANGE OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS AND IN SIGHT OF HAYSTACK BUTTE, THAT RANCH TO ME WAS NEXT TO HEAVEN.
IN LATER SUMMERS, AFTER MY HAY RAKING WAS COMPLETED, I DROVE THE TEAM WHICH PULLED THE CABLE LIFTNG THE OVERSHOT STACKER LOADER, PICTURED IN "ON THE FLAT WILLOW". [Grosskopf, Linda and Newby, Rick. On Flatwillow Creek. Los Alamos, NM: Exceptional Books, 1991, p. 273.]
ON ONE OF THE RIDGE LOGS OF THE BUNKHOUSE ON THE RANCH, SOMEONE HAD PLACED A HUMAN SKULL WHICH HAD BEEN FOUND BY A RIDER ON THE BUTTE. THE CAUSE OF DEATH AND WHETHER IT MIGHT HAVE BELONGED TO AN EARLY DAY INDIAN WERE UNKNOWN.
WITH ONE OR TWO OTHER YOUNG FELLOWS WORKING ON THE RANCH, I CLIMBED THE BUTTE AT LEAST TWICE, THE TOP OF WHICH PROVIDED A VIEW OF MANY MILES IN ALL DIRECTIONS. WHILE THE CLIMB WAS COMPARATIVELY EASY, YOU HAD TO BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DIDN'T CAUSE A LARGE LIMESTONE, BY WHICH YOU WERE PULLING YOURSELF UP, TO SLIDE BACK DOWN ON ANYONE BEHIND YOU. THE FAIRLY STEEP GRASSY SLOPES OF THE BASE OF THE BUTTE PROVIDED GREAT CATTLE PASTURAGE. I RODE THEM MANY TIMES, WORKING STOCK. THERE IS SCATTERED TIMBER, AND SO IT ALSO WAS THE HOME OF MANY DEER. HUNTING THERE ONCE, I NOTICED MOVEMENT ABOVE US, COMING TOWARD US. IT TURNED OUT TO BE A YOUNG BUCK DEER, OF WHOM OTHER HUNTERS HAD ONLY BROKEN A FRONT LEG. WE WERE ABLE TO PUT IT OUT OF ITS MISERY.
IT IS MY UNDERSTANDING THAT THE PRESENT OWNERS OF THE RANCH HAVE ACQUIRED ADDITIONAL ACREAGE SO THAT NOW THEY OWN THE LAND ENTIRELY SURROUNDING THE BUTTE.
I WOULD HAZARD THAT THERE ARE MANY OTHER HAYSTACK BUTTES IN MONTANA, SO CALLED BECAUSE OF THEIR SHAPE. I KNOW FOR A FACT THAT THERE IS A HAYSTACK MOUNTAIN, PROBABLY FIFTY MILES WEST OF AUGUSTA, IN THE BOB MARSHALL WILDERNESS, OVERLOOKING THE SOUTH FORK OF THE FLATHEAD RIVER.
A NUMBER OF YEARS AGO, WHEN WE HAPPENED TO BE IN HELENA, ANN AND MY OTHER CHILDREN NOTICED, AND PURCHASED FOR ME, A BEAUTIFUL, ACCURATE PAINTING OF HAYSTACK BUTTE, WHICH LOVINGLY HANGS ON OUR WALL, AND WHICH, HOPEFULLY, YOU MAY SOMEDAY ADMIRE. [The painting was actually spotted by Dick Clary and his wife Marcia. We hope to add it to the hay in art database sometime soon. AR]
WHAT STARTED YOUR REMARKABLE INTEREST IN HAY?
I'M SORRY NOT TO HAVE ANSWERED YOUR DETAILED AND EVOCATIVE LETTER MORE PROMPTLY. PERHAPS ON OUR 2006 VISIT TO MONTANA WE CAN SIT DOWN AND HAVE A PROPER CONVERSATION ABOUT OUR SHARED INTERESTS. MEANWHILE HERE IS A SHORT EXPLANATION ABOUT MY OWN PECULIAR OBSESSION WITH HAY. (ANN COPIED YOUR NOTE TO A FEW OTHER CLARYS AND ASKED ME TO SEND EVERYONE THE PICTURE OF YOU POSED IN FRONT OF HAYSTACK BUTTE. I'VE ATTACHED IT TO THIS MESSAGE AND HOPE THAT MOST WILL BE ABLE TO OPEN IT.)
I HOPE THAT YOU CAN READ THE TEXT AND VIEW THE IMAGES ON MY WEBSITE, WHICH WOULD ILLUSTRATE HOW MY HAY INTEREST HAS BLOSSOMED DURING MY RETIREMENT.
BUT HERE ARE THE ORIGINS:
I GREW UP ON A WARWICKSHIRE (ENGLISH MIDLANDS) FARM. MY FATHER, EITHER THROUGH TECHNOLOGICAL TIMIDITY OR PRESCIENT AGROECOLOGY, NEVER BOUGHT A TRACTOR, PREFERRING TO USE DRAFT HORSES (AND HIS MALE CHILD!) WELL INTO THE 1950S. SO MOST OF OUR TASKS, INCLUDING HAYMAKING, WERE AS ARDUOUS AS THEY MUST HAVE BEEN A CENTURY BEFORE. [The photograph at right was taken in December 1953 for an article in the Coventry Standard: 'Mr. Ritch (left) with his farmhand, Mr. Derek Lowndes, shows one of the his three farm horses, and a load of kale.' My father, not as short as he looks (Derek was 6'5" tall) wore a mischievous smile and khaki shorts, simultaneously mocking the photographer and the winter weather. The article noted that Mr. Ritch wears shorts 'all the year round, only putting on overalls on particularly cold days.' The fodder in the horse-drawn cart was kale, but the article ended with a quote by my father on his use of hay: '"It does cattle no harm to have some dry food but I can't get them to eat hay now. They get the grass in the fields, and they eat the roots [and kale], but they won't take the hay. Even though I flatter myself that I make good hay.''']
TWO YEARS AGO I BEGAN TO WRITE A MEMOIR OF THIS EXPERIENCE AND CASUALLY LOOKED FOR PAINTINGS OR PHOTOGRAPHS WHICH WOULD ILLUSTRATE SUCH OLD-FASHIONED FARMING. HAVING STUDIED ART HISTORY AND CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY AT BERKELEY BEFORE I BECAME A LIBRARIAN, I WAS AWARE THAT REALISTIC LANDSCAPE PAINTING WAS COMMON IN NINETEENTH CENTURY EUROPE AND ITS THEMES CONTINUED TO BE POPULAR AMONG THE IMRESSIONISTS AND POST-IMPRESSIONISTS. WHEN I DISCOVERED THAT THE MOST FAMOUS 'HAYSTACKS' IN ART (BY MONET IN THE 1890S) WERE ACTUALLY STACKS OF WHEAT, I EMBARKED ON WHAT I EXPECTED TO BE A SMALL RESEARCH PROJECT FOCUSED ON THE DIFFERENCES, BOTH SUPERFICIAL AND SUBTLE, BETWEEN THE ICONOGRAPHY OF THE TWO KINDS OF HARVEST (HAY AND CEREAL).
HAVING BEEN A REFERENCE AND RESEARCH LIBRARIAN FOR 25 YEARS IN ONE OF THE BEST ACADEMIC LIBRARY SYSTEMS IN THE WORLD, I FOUND LOTS OF INFORMATION, VISUAL AND TEXTUAL, QUITE QUICKLY. THERE WAS SO MUCH THAT I HAD TO LEAVE THE MORE VOLUMINOUS CEREAL ART AFTER A MONTH OR TWO. MAYBE I'LL GO BACK TO IT WHEN (OR IF!) I EVER FINISH THE HAY PROJECT. HAVING THE TIME TO PURSUE EVERY ASPECT OF HAY IN ART, I'VE CONTINUED TO DO SO, IN LIBRARIES, ON THE INTERNET AND ON VARIOUS FIELD TRIPS TO EUROPE AND THROUGH THE AMERICAN WEST.
MY NEXT MINI-ESSAY [This one, dear reader, the end of which is almost in sight!] WILL BE ABOUT HAYSTACK BUTTE, FOCUSSING EITHER ON HOW THE WAY FRIENDSHIP AND FAMILY AND SERENDIPITY TEMPT THE UNDISCIPLINED RESEARCHER IN ALL KINDS OF UNEXPECTED DIRECTIONS, OR ON HAYSTACKS AS PLACE- NAMES WHICH REFLECT THE TECHNOLOGIES OF THE TIME WHEN THE LAND WAS FIRST LABELED.
[Another of my recent pictures (at right) of a stack of round bales with the Rocky Mountain Front behind them captures new geomorphological affinities: the cylindrical building blocks, irregularly arranged, having something in common with the rolling stacked strata of the Front.]
IF I TAKE THE FIRST, MORE PERSONAL APPROACH, I'D REALLY LIKE TO USE SOME OF YOUR EVOCATIVE TEXT. I KNOW MANY OF MY OTHER 'HAY-MATES' WOULD LOVE TO READ IT. MAY I?
I REALLY ENJOYED YOUR DESCRIPTION OF THE SHIFT FROM HEREFORD TO ANGUS CATTLE. MY DAD LIKED BOTH BREEDS (THERE WASN'T ENOUGH SNOW AND SUN IN ENGLAND TO HURT THE UDDERS!) AND CROSSED THEM WITH THE HOLSTEIN HEIFERS AND COWS THAT COMPRISED MOST OF OUR OWN DAIRY HERD.
UNTIL NEXT TIME, BEST WISHES,
Abandoned silage bales, Seven Devils Road, north of Bandon, Oregon, August 2005.
Coastal Oregon can be damp and cold enough to make even the summer traveler wear winter clothes and the hay maker to wrap his bales in plastic covers more reminiscent of wet Wales, than of the hot, dry American West. I found these silage bales from an earlier season, left to decay on a typically chilly August day. The fog extended only a few hundred yards inland, but the damp air sucked by the inland heat penetrates many miles up the Camas Valley. Beyond the first protective ridge, humidity drops, temperatures soar, and hay can be made without protective plastic. But these abandoned packages, mysterious detritus of industrial agriculture, have their own peculiar beauty. The uncertainty of their abandonment to ferment and decay provoked enough metaphors to string together the following sonnet.
The plastic is the color of the mist,
Or sheep or snowdrifts after partial melt,
With wizened texture, these taut wrinkles pressed
Outward by inner swell, like bellied belt.
The fodder fumed within these swollen lumps
Left cooler seeds to darkly germinate
And push up fronds and stems, sharp clumps,
Green points, new verdant blades that lacerate.
Grains also settled on the surface skin
With wind-borne dust enough to fertilize
The urgent leaves and roots that sink within
To find fermented mulch and rush the bale’s demise.
As bodies shrouded cycle back to earth,
Abandoned hay regenerates its birth.