Rock Piles

One of the monuments on the Prairie has always been Rock Piles. They are sadly disappearing because farmers don’t like to farm around them anymore. They take a bull dozer, dig a pit next to the Rock Pile and shove them in to bury the rocks. Very sad. These Rock Piles are tributes to hard, hard work done by hand by many people on the Prairie.

Northern Montana rock pile with the Sweet Grass Hills in the distance

Rock pile with the Sweet Grass Hills in the distance

My parents were some of these hard working people, they knew how to work hard. I grew up watching them work. When I look at these old Rock Piles I think back to how they were built. Most Rock Piles years and years ago were put there one rock at a time. This process was started by going to the field to be cleared of “donuts” my Dad’s word for rocks, with a horse pulling a device called a “Stone Boat.” All a “Stone Boat” consisted of was a flat combination of nailed together boards, sturdy enough to be pulled along the ground by the old horse and it was loaded with rock, one by one, by hand of course. When you had a good load of rocks you headed for a designated place in your field and then you unloaded your rocks. One by one by hand on the pile. Backbreaking work, rock after rock, day after day. My Dad and my Uncle Don S. picked many many rocks and built a lot of Rock Piles. My little skinny mother also picked her fair share of rocks or donuts. No wonder her poor back was like an S in her later years.

Bill and Pat Crites at home in Havre, MT

About a month before my Dad passed away. Couple of fine Rock {Donut} Pickers..

Later years a tractor pulled the stone boat, then a tractor had a bucket on the front and you picked rock that way. Then mechanized rock pickers came along that you pulled with the tractor.  When you went to the Rock Pile the rock picking machine dumped the rocks with the aid of a hydraulic cylinder. Much easier on the back.

A rock pile in Northern Montana by Gildford

One rock at a time. Hand picked back breaking work.

I was asked not too long ago about burying the rock piles on our place. I said no I want to always remember the work that it took to farm this country. Funny thing, when I was about 20 years old my Dad asked me why I worked like I was killing snakes? I just looked him in the eye and said, “I had two good teachers..”

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  1. Lita Thisselle says:

    I have to tell you my story about these rock piles. My uncle had a farm/ranch north of Havre. When I was very young I asked to go to the fields with him to ride the tractor. After a few hours of riding around, we stopped to have “lunch” (cookies and sodas brought to the field by my aunt). There were some rock piles near by and my uncle told me to stay off them because they were “snake houses”. For years I wondered how those snakes could push those rocks into such big piles. Several years later my uncle and his dad were talking about “picking rock” and it finally dawned on me that they had piled the rocks and the snakes moved in.

    Like you, the rock piles remind me of all the work that went into clearing this land but it also gives me a smile to remember the wonderings of a little girl’s mind. Hope you have enjoyed my tale like I enjoy yours.

  2. Slim says:

    Thanks Lita that is how our minds work when we are young.. Thank you for sharing..

  3. Slim says:

    I always enjoy your pictures and your comments Lita… I like the page You know you are from Havre if… Good memories..

  4. Helene Stone says:

    Did not know that about piles if rocks….. I will forever see the differently!

  5. Slim says:

    Thanks for your comment Helene.. Keep coming back..

  6. Susan Bliss says:

    I love the old rock piles. I didn’t know they were now burying them. They are representative of a lot of hard work. Jim and Dick (and probabley most of the boys of that age) picked tons of rock when they were in high school. I did my share of the slightly smaller ones every summer on the farm where I worked as a teen ager. They did tend to be “snake houses” though …. we were always told to be careful – and I still am to this day. Thanks for your insightful stories, Russ.

  7. Slim says:

    Yes I think everyone contributed to the Rock Piles. Thank you for stopping by Susan and for your comments..

  8. Michelle says:

    What a great story! I’ve seen many rock piles, but never knew the history behind them. Thankyou. ( I think also of the rock cairns seen in the mountains to mark the trails..hopefully they won’t be buried!) There is meaning behind them,too!

  9. Slim says:

    Yes it is the pits when they bury them. I would much rather have a little inconvenience farming around them instead of burying them.. Hope some stick around. I enjoy seeing them. Thanks for coming by Michelle.

  10. George says:

    We have an old farm in the Adirondacks of New York. My father called the big stone piles the “stone boats” so maybe something was lost in translation. Hopefully you’ll be happy to know I’ve asked my children not to throw stones off the stone boats out of respect for the farmers who worked hard to put them there and clear their fields. As long as I’m caring for that land, the piles will be silent witness and evidence of the land’s history, of people subsisting on the hard scrabble land like so few still do in this country today.

    • Russ Crites says:

      Thank you George for your comment.. You are Right On.. A testament to all those that came before us and the amazing amount of work that was done.. Thanks for dropping by.

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