This branch of the Austrian Hesch family is descended from Johann Hesch and his wife Marya (Schlinz) Hesch, who came to America from Oberschlagles, Bohemia with three sons: Paul, Mathias, and Anton. +++Johann & Marya settled in Buffalo County, Wisconsin but moved to Pierz, Mn in about 1885. .+++Mathias settled in Waumandee, Wisconsin and moved to Pierz in 1911. +++Anton never married but farmed with his dad in Agram Township, where he died in 1911.+++And Paul, my great grandfather, settled five miles away, in Buckman, Minnesota. He died there in 1900.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

"What do you know about Flax?"

We received a challenge this week from my sister, just cuz we said we liked mysteries.  This is a case in point, too, that none of us was privy to all the family stories.  I'd never heard this one before:

"....Mom told a story about her dad once planting flax as a big risk crop. I thought that linen was its only use, but recently found out that linseed oil, from the root 'lin', also came from flax. How unusual was it to plant flax in the twenties, and how much of a cash crop would it have turned out to be?...."

When I think of flax, three things come to mind: one, reading "Red Earth, White Earth", a can't-put-it-down novel by Will Weaver.  It's a story set in northern Minnesota about a farm family on the White Earth Indian Reservation.  One plot thread is that the narrator, Guy, as a young man, decide he'll make it big by planting flax.  His grandfather ok's it, but extracts a promise from Guy that he'll always rest on Sundays, no working the field.  Of course the crop is perfectly ready on a Sunday, and there's a major storm approaching.  Guy has to decide if he'll keep his promise as they watch the black clouds rolling in...and in the end, he does.

Anyway, the flax is ruined, all the money he would have made is totally gone, and Guy leaves for Minneapolis.
. . . . .  The second thing flax-connected is the post we did in February of 2012 about our Hesch ancestors as flax growers back in Bohemia, about how it was harvested and processed in the villages then.
                                                                                 . . . . . The third flax connection in my head was the occasional mention of it in the Pierz Journal, one quick blurb from 1911 when John Dehler hauled "a four horse load to Pierz" and a pic of Uncle Leo and Aunt Fronie standing in a blooming field, possibly flax.  

But, why grow flax (Linum in the family Linaceae)? It was used for linen, linseed oil, a drying agent in linoleum and ink, woodworking products, edible oil and nutritional supplements.  BTW, the wiki article above cites Austrian (Bohemian) home remedies (in particular) made of flax.

Why not? A bushel of flax seed in January 1911 was over twice what wheat, rye, or oats brought.

 In December 1914 it was higher than wheat, rye or oats, tho not as much.  (I think prices varied depending on the time of year as well).

 By 1920, there were 5 grades of wheat in the $2+ range, but now flax was $4.37.  Part of the price would have been a growers' ability to hold it till March before selling, but probably that price alone would have enticed Little Grandpa to plant it.  

I wonder, did mom say whether growing flax was a success?

+  +  +  +  +  +  +
2 weeks later:  Woohoo!  Look what Larry found: September 12, 1919
Wow, huh?  That'd be $1,844 by March, a huge amount in 1920.


  1. Yes, I believe she said it was a success. It was the risk she emphasized, and that Grandpa was criticized for it, but I don't know by whom. I think she said it saved the farm at one time, meaning the risk would have been considerable. Probably it was the financial crisis that forced the need to take a gamble. She admired that he did it, though she herself was more conventional, and I think it scared her.

  2. Great mystery solving, you guys. That was interesting, and I re-read the flax article about Bohemia. Talk about labor intensive.....glad Mom never got in on that.

  3. Great article Marlys. Mysteries such as this will forever be fun to try solve! Farming was such a leap of faith, and increasingly I sense our ancestors also were risk takers. Just imagining the uncertainties of the trip from Bohemia wears me out.

    Deborah in Kodiak