Heading Wheat at Fort Necessity

Young Walter Stone documented his trips West to help with the harvest with photographs of farm life in the early 20th century.

| October 2006

For a young Iowa farm boy, in about 1915, it must have seemed a great adventure: Take the train west to northeastern Colorado to help with the wheat harvest. How best to tell them back home of all he'd seen and done? Walter Stone opted for photographs, carefully annotated and protected in a small, simple album embossed with the word "Memories" on the front cover.

As a young man, Walter made occasional trips by train to Willard, Colo., in the years just before World War I, to help relatives head the wheat. His photo album eventually fell into the hands of his great-niece and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Hoeger, in Sumner, Iowa. The album opens with a photo of what is described as "Fort Necessity," the home of F.E. Watenpaugh and family (presumed to be Walter's relatives), Willard, Colo.

The album contains just two dozen photos. Some capture stark landscapes ranging from treeless prairie (in 24 photos, only one shows trees at all, poor specimens at that) to towering buttes. Others focus on humble dwellings that would seem a poor match for howling blizzards. Mules and horses provide power; an early Ford is parked by a shed; lace curtains hang at one window of the house; and children are immaculately groomed and outfitted. The photographs capture a world defined by work, sacrifice and common goals, a world nearly unimaginable today.