If you live on a ranch in southwestern North Dakota you know it’s the year of the tumbleweed. And why is that? Because countless tumbleweeds are stacked against your fence lines for as far as you can see.

At least that’s what it’s like here at the Lone Tree Ranch south of Dickinson, North Dakota. And one has to wonder what we are going to do with them all?

Blustery winds this week had them tumbling across the prairie in such abundance that it looked a bit like rush hour traffic on a Los Angeles freeway or European refugees fleeing Nazi military advances during the early stages of World War II.

And where do they all come from? Is there a tumbleweed factory somewhere in the northwest that is cranking them out at a rate of 1 million per day? One has to wonder.

All I know is, millions of them passed by here at breakneck speeds and are probably at the Gulf of Mexico, Florida or at least Iowa by now. That is, those that escaped entrapment on the barbed wire fence lines.

Of course, tumbleweeds rose to fame in the 1930s when a singing group that went by the name of Sons of the Pioneers had a hit song called “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” The song was actually written by a member of the group by the name of Bob Nolan and they had another member of the group whose name was Leonard Slye who would later become better known as Roy Rogers.

The lyrics of the song go something like this:

See them tumbling down

Pledging their love to the ground

Lonely but free I’ll be found

Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds

Cares of the past are behind

Nowhere to go but I’ll find

Just where the trail will wind

Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds

I’ll keep rolling along

Deep in my heart is a song

Here on the range I belong

Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds

It’s hard to believe that someone could actually romanticize a big weed that had dried up, broken off of its roots and disappeared in the wind. But they certainly did, to the point that tumbleweeds are now a big part of western lore and even bit part actors in many of Hollywood’s best cowboy movies including “Stagecoach” and so many more.

Yet, they’re not friendly creatures, being so prickly and hard to remove and all. Plus they blow up like grenades when you light them on fire and are thus about as helpful as gasoline when it comes to fire prevention.

And now, at least in North Dakota, the tumbleweed infestation has gotten so bad that in Bismarck, our beloved capital, you can call the Public Works Department and they’ll help you to clean them up. But boy, are they going to have their hands full.

Still, it’s Mother Nature that is the main culprit here. She, after all, got a little greedy and decided not to share her abundant vaults full of rainfall this year, effectively making weeds her priority and relegating rich abundant grasses to the back of the line.

Thus you could say it’s a weed conspiracy coming directly from the top administrator with the wind as a co-conspirator and therefore no mystery when it comes to who to blame.


Kevin Holten is a columnist and executive producer of “Special Cowboy Moments” on RFD-TV.


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