Russian Thistle in North America
Allyn Brosz, e-mail message to Michael Miller, February 2010.
What a great story! I've been collecting information on the Russian thistle for some time and have an article lurking in the back of my mind.
The GRs are credited/blamed in most accounts for introducing the Russian thistle to North America. Most botanical sources think that it came over in contaminated flax seed and took root on the prairies of Dakota. However, one contemporaneous account in the Chicago Daily Tribune (CDT) alleges that the GRs used straw for packing material in their trunks. When they arrived in the U.S., being the thrifty souls that they were, they saved the straw to feed to their cattle, rather than burning it. The CDT goes on to say that the thistle was propagated when the Dakota farmers began to sell beef cattle on the Chicago market. The railroads bought straw from the local farmers and used it as fodder for cattle in the rail cars. When the cars were cleaned at the Chicago stockyards, the thistle seed took root again. By the 1890s this had become a major problem in the Chicago area, and the papers were calling for government intervention. Just before the end of the 19th century there was actually a Russian Thistle Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture. One of the senators from Minnesota introduced a bill to appropriate $1 million dollars for the eradication of the Russian thistle and resistance to this proposal caused the entire appropriation for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be blocked for a brief time.
As Jim says, the Russian thistle became a valued commodity in the Dirty Thirties. A gentleman from southwestern Minnesota (the Luverne or Pipestone area) modified a baler so that farmers could package the weed for cattle fodder.
Besser a Glatze als gar kein Hoor!