Rath’s Farming Path
When Carl Rath and his wife Sophie came to the Easton area in 1869, 150 years ago, did he see his great-great-great grandson still owning the family farm? Or was he just happy he found $800 worth of gold in the California gold rush to purchase a farm?
Cletus Rath is Carl and Sophie’s great-great grandson, and was in charge of the Rath farm for 62 years, with his wife Eleanor whom he has been married to for 61 years. Now their son Brian, and his wife Melissa, are next up to keep the family tradition alive and thriving.
This year, the Rath families are celebrating the farm’s 150th year of Rath ownership, also known as their sesquicentennial year. And that ownership is verified by the Minnesota Farm Bureau. The Minnesota Farm Bureau recognizes families who have owned their farms for over 100 years, have at least 50 acres, and are still involved in agriculture production.
The Raths held a grand celebration at their farm earlier this year with over 400 friends and family to celebrate the farm’s sesquicentennial farm honor.
The farmstead itself even played a fairly big part in Easton’s history.
Early in the Rath Farm years, the family donated some of their land to stake out the town of Easton. Presently, the Rath’s granary building is the oldest original building in the history of Easton. At the beginning of the town’s history was the Rath family. And some say Easton’s growth began with Carl.
Once Carl Rath emigrated to the United States in 1846, adventure found him in the hills of California, digging for gold. He found both adventure and gold in the Feather River in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The German immigrant put in five years of work into his gold mine, and retrieved a mere 40 ounces for his hard labor, earning a profit of about $800. In today’s dollars, that would approximately be $20,000. Carl then invested that sum of money into a parcel of land available in Lura Township. Rath purchased a 150-acre plot at the cost of $5 per acre.
However, the parcel Carl purchased was pure, untouched prairie land. Tall grasses, marshy sod, and moist conditions made the land difficult to work with, but the pioneering Rath continued on. Grasshopper plows were used to plant Indian corn, oats, barley, rye, buckwheat, potatoes, flax, hay and hops.
Until the 1940s, most corn crops were picked by hand. Two men with corn hooks and a wagon pulled by a horse could harvest 100 acres at 50 bushels per acre in 33 days. Alfalfa harvesting was done with scythes and forks to pitch it on a wagon or, in the late 1800s, alfalfa would be cut, pulled into piles using a dump rake or raked into windrows and pitched onto a wagon or loaded with a loose hay loader.
When it came to building a home, a barn, or even having wood for a fire, Carl Rath was out of luck. You see, there were no trees on the prairie. So, Carl would take regular trips to Waseca and Mankato to obtain lumber.
“All the trees you see around Easton now were planted here,” says Cletus. “There was not one single tree here before then.”
Trees or no trees, the Rath family erected not only a house, but the well-known granary building, as well, which still graces the Rath farm to this day. And back when the railroad was forming across the county, it was the Rath’s farm that workers came to find room and board, and the granary building housed community conversations and social dances.
From 1871 to 1949, 17 children were born on the Rath family farm. It was a busy, booming farm tucked away in the growing town of Easton.
As time went on, Easton grew, and the Rath family did whatever they could to help and they prospered from helping others.
In 1889, Carl’s time manning the farm was up, and he willed the farm to his wife and their children. Rath family tradition states, however, that the farm could not be divided until each child in the next generation reached their 21st birthday. When the youngest Rath turned 21, six years after his father passed away, the farm was split and the couple’s oldest son, Charles, took up where Carl left off.
Brothers Charles, Theodore, Fred and Edward worked their family’s plot of land over the years, and did what they could to diversify their interests. Those included forming the Ziemer and Rath Brothers Firm in 1890, forming and growing the Easton Dairy Cooperative (a new creamery was built in Easton in the 1920s by the Land O’Lakes company, which Charles helped organize), a mercantile business, and continuing to rent portions of their farm to extended family and friends.
No matter what, a Rath always served as the owner of the original farmstead.
In 1950, Ralph Rath took over the farmstead for his father Charles and purchased it. Ralph built a second house on the property and the old house was sold and moved to Wells. The farm, then, had milk cows, beef cows, chicken and pigs. Ralph was father to nine children. His first wife Beatrice bore four children before dying in childbirth, and his second wife Marcy bore Ralph five more children.
Ralph and Marcy’s eldest son, Cletus, was next in line to obtain the farmstead. In 1968, Cletus bought the farm from Ralph so his father could retire. He and his wife Eleanor, have seven children.
But the history is not just within the buildings and the fortitude of land ownership. It is within the Raths, themselves. The pride in their home and their land is self-evident.
Pulling up to the historic farm, guests are greeted with a sign that signifies the Sesquicentennial farm and a large, colorful garden busy with wildlife shows the dedication Eleanor has put into her garden. She also adores her chickens, which she and her grandson, Justin, tend to.
Throughout Cletus and Eleanor’s time and devotion to the 150-year old farm, their family has grown substantially. They are grandparents to 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Now, the farm produces row crops like corn and soy beans, and for a while, the family had a good number of hogs as well.
“We’ve always found a way to keep our farm moving forward,” says Cletus. “And that will hopefully continue in our future generations, and we hope they will thrive just as much as we have here on our farm.”