My grandparents and my parents raised cattle when I was growing up. They always kept a few heifers and a bull to have calves to raise and sell each year. Often, they would graze their cattle on some land down below the Snake Mountain a couple of miles away from their farms in Watauga County. I once went with my Dad and Grandpa to help round the cattle up into the barn when I was about ten years old. The barn we were trying to get them into was open on both ends without doors and had stalls down both sides. The challenge was getting the cattle rounded up and into the barn stalls without them running out the other side.
My Dad came up with a plan to keep this from happening. He took a section of wire fence and told me to stand at the back of the barn and hold the fence up to keep the cattle from running on through. He said he and my Grandpa would round the cows up and herd them in and they would stop when they saw me and the fence not knowing that it wasn’t fastened to anything. Well, I figured he knew what he was doing so I stood there holding the fence up in front of me watching him and my Grandpa herd the cattle until they got them started running toward the barn.
It was just a few head of cattle, but to me standing there at ten years of age it looked like the stampede on “Rawhide” coming at me. It was my understanding that they would slow down once they got to the barn, but as I stood there holding the fence I remember thinking “Well, these cows aren’t slowing down any.” By the time they got to within about ten feet of me I dropped the fence and lit out running. My Grandfather saw my Dad enter one end of the barn with the cattle running in front of him and me come out the other end running with the cattle behind me. Needless to say, my Dad was not happy with his cowboy son (actually I had claimed to be a gunfighter not a cowboy) and the cows were soon spread out all over the hills again.
A large part of Iredell County’s economy is still agriculturally based. In 2002 there were 1,262 farms covering 146,556 of the counties 367,616 acres. Over 90 percent of the farms are family owned and the average farm is 116 acres. In livestock Iredell County is first in the state in both cattle and chicken production. In addition, many people in the county put out gardens of some type each year even if it’s just a few tomato or potato plants.
Many of these people are like myself the children or grandchildren of North Carolina farmers and still carry a special feeling for raising plants and animals and working with the soil. Iredell County has some of the most beautiful farm land around and an agricultural tradition that goes back this area’s first settlers in the mid 1700’s.
At the Iredell County Public Library, we have an excellent collection of materials dealing with gardening, agriculture, and livestock. We have over 720 books listed just in gardening alone. Our Local History Department also maintains a file on agriculture in Iredell County and has the newspapers on microfilm going back to 1858. We also have the Carolina Watchman now on film out of Salisbury which covered events in Iredell back to 1832. Many of these early newspapers carried front page stories on how the crops in the county were doing and what the latest was in farm techniques and agricultural news.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Remembering the farm in my mind and in the library” on May 2, 2007