The Checkered Years: A Bonanza Farm Diary 1884 — 88


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by Mary Dodge Woodward


Mary Dodge Woodward, a fifty-six-year-old widow and Vermonter by birth, moved from Vermont to Wisconsin, and then — with her two grown sons and a daughter — to a 1280 to 1500-acre bonanza wheat farm in Dakota Territory’s Red River Valley in 1882. Woodward had the house they lived in moved more than 250 miles, from St. Paul, MN to today’s West Fargo, ND area. Although their two sections of land were too small to be considered a true bonanza farm, the history that was documented on that farm gives readers their best insight into the bonanza farm lifestyle.

For five years, from 1884 to 1889, Woodward recorded the yearly farm cycle of plowing and harvesting as well as the frustrations of gardening and raising chickens, the phenomenon of mirages on the plains, the awesome blizzard of 1888, her reliance on her family, and her close relationship with her daughter.

This book, and its photographs, is a valuable record of a frontier woman’s life, and an interesting firsthand account of farm life in the Red River Valley and of pioneer life in general. Following Woodward’s death, her granddaughter compiled the diaries into this book, publishing it in 1937. In the last 25 years, the original house was moved from Mapleton Township to Bonanzaville USA, an outdoor museum in West Fargo, ND.