When I first came to Dickinson, North Dakota, in 2011, I listened to a group of older local people talking. They were saying, it was a very good thing that this oil boom came along when it did, there were a lot of farmers up around a certain area, (I am not repeating the specific area), that were incredibly poor, that were just struggling, not even getting by, and oh they were so poor, it was good that this oil boom came and saved them.
In this post, I am going to write about four farming and ranching families that I met since 2011, while living and working in Dickinson.
One of the first local people that I became friends with, was a man of about 60 years of age. He grew up on his parents’ farm north of Dickinson. His parents had died at least twenty years ago. I visited his property many times. He did not have running water or sewer at his home. His farming equipment was worn out, and always needing repair. He leased out most of the land to someone else to grow wheat. There was an oil well on an adjacent property, and he received some oil revenue money from that. The oil revenue money and the money he got from leasing the land, paid for the property tax and some of his bills. He borrowed small amounts of money from me, a friend of mine, and another person, when he was broke, which he always paid back. He worked different jobs. He had had so little money, that all his teeth were bad, he was missing several front teeth, and he was never able to get his teeth fixed. Oh, by the way, beginning in 2010 and continuing through 2014, he had been offered up to $2.5 million for his property by developers, which he would not accept.
A local man that I met in 2013, and became friends with, he had grown up on his grandparents’ farm north of Dickinson, he was in his 50s. His family got their first indoor bathroom built onto their house when he was in the 4th grade. A few times in the winter, in the entire house, there was no food to eat for the family of seven, they tell me about the time they found one jar of fruit in the basement, that was all they had to eat. His mother had to pawn her wedding ring several times, eventually she didn’t get it back. His mother and father both worked outside the home, besides running the farm. When his parents got into their sixties, they sold the farm and moved to town. They held the mineral rights to the land that was sold. In about 2010 the family began receiving oil revenue checks, which the parents and the five adult children used to pay some of their bills. My friend had never had enough money to get good dental care, all of his teeth are bad, and he is missing many teeth. He is very ashamed of how he looks. I got him a job a couple of times working with me.
In 2013, I was working for a contractor that did utility installations. I had to go to a farm in the South Heart area. The farmer that I met was in his fifties. This farmer was alone, he had never married, and apparently he didn’t have any friends, and didn’t ever have anyone to talk to, probably for weeks at a time. I talked to him for about an hour, even though I was supposed to be other places, because I realized that he didn’t have anyone to talk to. I came to realize that the reason he had never married, and did not have any friends, was because he and his family had been so poor, nobody had wanted to have anything to do with him and his family. He was very ashamed of his family house, they had never had running water and sewer installed to the house. His mother and father were dead now. He was alone. Beginning in about 2010, he had a couple of oil wells on his property. He now had two new trucks. He had lived poor for so long, he really did not have any use for the oil well money after he bought the two new trucks.
A man that I know in his 30s, has a wife and several young children. He lives on a ranch in the South Heart area. Besides running the ranch, he had a full time job, and his wife also works. He lost his job, and he became broke. He recently got another job, and he is getting back on his feet.
I wanted to write about these four farming and ranching families to dispel some myths and misconceptions. Farming and ranching in Western North Dakota is, and always has been very hard. I am talking about mom pawns her wedding ring hard, one jar of fruit to eat in the entire house hard, having all your teeth go bad and rotting out of your mouth because you can’t afford dental care hard, so poor you can’t get a wife hard, so poor you don’t have indoor plumbing hard.