Events offer glimpse of the past
September 04. 2007 6:00AM
Honoring how farmers of yesteryear worked the land – and got their kicks - is at the heart of a local threshing bee taking place this weekend.
“It’s to promote and keep the way we used to farm and the type of machinery we had in front of the people… and realize what it was a farmer had to do,” said Burnie Burkman, a board member of the Brandon Valley Vintage Power Association, sponsor of the Fourth Annual Threshing Bee.
But it’s also an excuse to have old-time fun. The weekend-long event features new activities, like hay bale and frying pan tosses, and popular standbys, including tractor pulls, draft horse wagon rides and, of course, oat threshing.
“That’s my favorite, because I have all the equipment needed to thresh oats,” Burkman said. Threshing separates the grain – or oat – from the stalk it grows on.
The threshing bee is held on Burkman’s property. He said his grandfather homesteaded the land – and the land where the Brandon Golf Course now sits – back in 1874.
“There should be quite a few pieces of old equipment there, tractors and farm equipment,” Burkman said of what visitors can expect.
“We have an old restored farm house – I’d say close to 100 years old – where we’ll be serving egg coffee and bars,” he said. “Last year we only had one room restored. We have the kitchen, dining room and living room ready this year.”
Oliver is the featured tractor brand this year. The brand isn’t made anymore and the Great Plains Oliver Collectors will display their tractors throughout the weekend.
Another past hit for visitors is the pioneer church service given by retired pastor Bob Nielsen, who dons vintage pioneer clothes and makes his entrance on horses.
“This is a tangible recounting of history,” said Jerry Merkouris, current president of the Vintage Power Association. “Come on out and have a good time. And learn about the farming of yesteryear.”
Second historical celebration will also be held at Beaver Creek Nature Area.
Fiddlers, pioneer farming, Civil War soldiering, homestead living, pioneer crafts and outdoor cooking will greet visitors to Beaver Creek Nature Area near Brandon on Sunday.
From 1 to 4 p.m., the park will host its 29th Annual Homesteader Day Harvest Festival. Each year, the event attracts thousands of visitors of all ages who want a taste of homestead life and pioneer living history.
According to district park supervisor Marty DeWitt, the afternoon’s activities showcase what life was like settling on the prairies of Dakota Territory. “For many people, especially younger folks, all they know about life over 100 years ago is what they read in books or see in the movies,” DeWitt said. “At the Homesteader Day Harvest Festival, we give them a chance to experience first-hand the sights, sounds and smells of that bygone era.”
Visitors can sit on straw bales and listen to the music of the South Dakota Old Time Fiddlers and take part in homestead crafts like candle and rope making, Dutch oven cooking, corn shelling, and butter making.
Other demonstrations will include spinning and weaving, natural wool dyeing, chair caning, Pysanky (Ukranian egg painting), blacksmithing and pioneer games. The 13th Infantry will also be on-hand to give visitors a glimpse of what it was like to be a soldier during the Civil War, and the Silver Creek Mavericks, a cowboy reenactment group will share the stories of the early cowboys on the prairie.
As a special note, this year’s festival is being dedicated to the memory of Burton Burkman, a long-time Brandon resident who passed away this past spring. Burkman was one of the founders of the Dakota Heritage Association in the late 1970s, and his family has been long-time supporters of the Homesteader Day festival and many other national and regional hand corn-picking and plowing events.
In recent years, his son John has continued to operate the family’s original 1929 Nicholas & Shephard “Red River Special” threshing machine for festival participants to see. Although its belts and pulleys will be silent this year, the machine will still be on display as a reminder of what some call the “good old days.”
“We are very grateful to the Burkman family, and many other friends, family members and organizations that have helped over the years to bring this old-time farming heritage back to life,” said DeWitt. “To commemorate the occasion, we will be having a special ceremony at 2:30 p.m. to recognize several folks who have made this event possible, some since the very first festival in 1979. And as a special treat, included will be the performance of an original song written just for the occasion.”
The historic 1870s Samuelson homestead cabin will also be open for viewing, and visitors will be able to visit with descendants of the families who called the cabin home. To round out the program, a group of volunteers will be offering food and refreshments on site as a fund-raiser for ongoing restoration of the historic Samuelson log cabin.
Admission to the Homesteader Day Harvest Festival is free. The event is made possible by the generous support of the Siouxland Heritage Museums, the Mary Chilton DAR Foundation, the Department of Game, Fish and Parks, and the many dedicated volunteers who work hard to keep the pioneer spirit alive.
Beaver Creek Nature Area is located southeast of Brandon, just one half mile west of the intersection of 484th Avenue and 264th Street. For additional information, contact Palisades State Park at (605) 594-3824.