Makes You Wanna Say 'Hmmmmm?'

gardenlad(6b KY)February 6, 2004

We've been having so much fun with the A Slippery Question thread, I thought I'd get something else going. This time on documentation of various legends.

1. We all blythly repeat the "found sealed in a cave and carbon tested at...." stories about New Mexico Cave and Anasazi beans. But does _anybody_ have real details? Who discovered the beans? On what archeological dig? Confirmation of the carbon dating? Etc.

2. Found in a wild bird by a hunter. The number of beans that this applies to is endemic. Mostoller Wild Goose; Kentucky Goose; Turkey Craw; the list goes on and on. Can anybody document _any_ of them? Or are they all apocraphal?

3. Cherokee Cornfield isolation. It's taken as a given that if you separate the various colors and patterns of mixed pattern varieties like Cherokee Cornfield that they do not grow as well. Who has actually done such a thing? Is this another myth? Or has somebody actually broken them down into the 15 or 20 distinct patterns and grown them out separately.

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wesley_va(z7b VA)

It is interesting how often beans appear out of the craw of birds. In 1794 Col. Frances Taylor of Dinwiddie Co., VA records planting "Goosecraw Beans." I doubt that many of these beans survive the generations but of all of the many references to them, it is almost certain that a few are passed down family lines until they become part of the seed trade. Unfortuanetly almost all of them, such as the Turkey Craw listed in The Garden Seed Inventory, describe them as "southern heirloom...according to folklore" but we never seem to hear exactly where this folklore comes from. There must be someone out there with some family history of one on these beans, would love to hear from them.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2004 at 11:07AM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

I know what you mean, Wes. I'm always hearing, "but in this case it's really true." Until you ask for details. And then it was always the grandfather of a friend's brother-in-law's uncles's coworker---once removed---who shot the bird and found the seeds.

We seem to have more details about the Mostoller Wild Goose than any of the others. That doesn't mean it's true; just that it has more of the dramatic hyperbole that lends versimilatude to an otherwise bald tale.

And, as you point out, these stories have been in circulation at least since the 18th century.

Even if true, I doubt the varieties in question could have really been unknown at the time. Given how quickly seeds break down in a bird's crop, it would have to be fairly soon between injestion and death to recover viable seed. Which means the variety was being grown nearby by somebody.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2004 at 4:16PM
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Did a google search, and found the following:

Most popular of the modern boutique beans, the Anasazi bean is also called the Aztec bean, Cave bean, New Mexico appaloosa and sometimes Jacob's Cattle. It is a 1,500 year old variety: the story behind the modern origin of the New Mexico Cave Bean is unusual. As it goes, in the 1980's a member of an archeological team from UCLA was looking for remains of Pygmy elephants that roamed the earth thousands of years ago in the area now known as New Mexico and came upon these beans. The beans were in a clay pot sealed with pine tar and were determined by radio carbon dating to be over 1,500 years old, yet some still germinated! The beans were simply called "New Mexico Cave Beans" after the discovery of the half dozen or so beans found in a cave once inhabited by Native American peoples.

Years later, after the beans were grown by a few different heirloom growers, some of these very same New Mexico Cave Beans were renamed and trademarked as Anasazi Beans by Adobe Mills, a privately owned company. No one knows what the tribe actually called themselves - anasazi is a Navajo word that means "ancient ones" or ancient enemies.

The major producers of these beans are around here, northwest of Cortez, Colo, and one of my good friends is a major producer of organic Anasazi beans. I prefer the pinto beans from Adobe mills myself, but what the heck. More flavor and a little less of the hype.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2004 at 2:23PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Just shows to go you, David.

Although the gist of the story is what I know, I've also been told that Anasazi and NM Cave are different beans, with different growth habits. And that Jacob's Cattle and Anasazi, while superficially look-alikes, are cleary different when you hold them side-by-side.

The way I first heard it, Anasazi were carbon dated as being 500 years old; mere infants compared to the 1,500 of the NM Cave.

If Dna testing ever gets to be affordible, just think of all the great legends that might have to be deep sixed. :>(

    Bookmark   February 11, 2004 at 3:58PM
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We all know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, in which a handful of
magical beans grew overnight into a stalk that reached high above the
clouds. But do you know about magical beans that were carried to Somerset
County by a goose and are still growing more than 130 years later? And
they?re still traveling.

It was the fall of 1865 or 1866, when a flock of Canada geese on their
flight south paused on the Stonycreek a couple miles west of Lambertsville.
One got caught in the mill race that fed the water wheel that operated
Joseph Mostoller?s sawmill.
One of the Mostoller sons, John or David, shot the goose and took it
to their mother to be cleaned and prepared for dinner. As Sarah Mostoller
cleaned the goose, she felt that its craw was distended, opened it and
found a handful of beans. Being a frugal person, Sarah placed the beans on
the window sill to dry, and planted them the following spring. Members of
the Mostoller family have been replanting the beans every year since, and
so have others who acquired seed.
The Mostoller Wild Goose Beans, as they have come to be known, are pole
beans that grow rapidly to a height of 10 feet or more. The bean is white,
pinkish buff around the eye and with splotches of reddish brown in varying
amounts. They can be eaten as snap beans when green, and reportedly are
excellent dried in baked beans or soup.
May years after they were taken from the goose, the beans were
identified by an expert in beanology (my work) as being a Seneca Indian
bean. It is believed the goose gobbled the beans on the Cornplanter Indian
Reservation on the upper Allegheny River, flew to the Somerset County area
and was shot before the beans could deteriorate.
Ralph Mostoller of Moxham got his Goose Bean seed from Willard and
Pauline Constable, then residents of Riverside who had obtained them from
another member of the Mostoller family. She wanted to know whether the
Mostoller name could be used in connection with the beans, a sample of
which had been sent to the US Department of Agriculture Experimental
Station in Beltsville, MD.
Dr JP Meiners, chief of applied plant pathology at Beltsville, wrote
that he found the beans somewhat unique. He planted them and sent samples
to a Dr. Dolan at Geneva, NY who he said, is very much interested in
heirloom beans.
The Wild Goose beans were getting around, but it didn?t stop there. Samples
went to John E. Withee in Lynnfield, MA, who founded Wanigan Associates to
preserve historic heirloom beans and seeds.
The project outgrew Withee, who appealed to two other organizations
for help. They were the Seed Savers Exchange, operated by Kent Whealy near
Princeton, MO and the Organic Gardening and Farming Research Center in
Kutztown. They also are grown in the heirloom seeds projects at the
Somerset County Historical and Genealogical Society and the state owned
Landis Valley Farm Museum north of Lancaster. The Landis Valley heirloom
seed catalog lists the Mostoller Wild Goose Bean. It describes the bean as
white, oval seed with reddish speckled orange-brown spot over the eye and
says it has excellent flavor, vigorous grower with good production. They
sell the seed for $3 a packet.
Besides those sold, the Mostoller Wild Goose Bean has been given to
interested people throughout the United State. It is listed in the Seed

Savers Exchange annual catalog and has been exchanged over a wide area.

That goose had no idea what it was starting when it began its
ill-fated flight from Canada more than 130 years ago.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2004 at 11:19PM
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canadiantomato(z5 Ontario)

And what was the bean called when it was cultivated by ??? in Canada?



    Bookmark   August 6, 2004 at 8:07AM
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mistercross(z6b Ozarks)

The beans were not from Canada. That story should have given the state where it all happened. I had to do a search for all of the place names. The beans were found in Somerset County in Southwest Pennsylvania (there are other Somersets in other states). They were identified in the story as being "a Seneca Indian
bean. It is believed the goose gobbled the beans on the Cornplanter Indian
Reservation on the upper Allegheny River, flew to the Somerset County area
and was shot before the beans could deteriorate." That would be in Northwest Pennsylvania. Not sure exactly where the reservation is.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 10, 2004 at 5:03AM
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jimster(z7a MA)

"Not sure exactly where the reservation is."

Allegheny Reservation used to be in the Eastern part of Warren County, near the New York border. On your map it is identified as Allegheny Res., which now is Allegheny Reservoir, because of the consrtruction of the Kinzua dam. Cornplanter was a Seneca chief in this area during the early days of the United States. Some say that the Kinzua dam project violated an old treaty. Note that this is due North of Somerset County, as the goose flies.


    Bookmark   September 4, 2004 at 8:28PM
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Sorry about not making sure the location was mentioned, the peice I posted comes out of our Mostoller family tree file, and Somerset County Pennsylvania is where the goose was shot. My GG Grandmother Minerva Mostoller was a cousin of theirs.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2006 at 1:27PM
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gardenlad(6b KY)

Wow. Sometimes it's a long wait between posts.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2006 at 4:24PM
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balsam(z4/5 NB)

OK. I'm glad to see someone else is interested in the Mostoller Wild Goose Bean mystery! Here's an authentic Canadian thread to the mystery:

I owned a seed company a few years back (someone else runs it now) that offered heirloom seeds. I was also a member of Seeds of Diversity Canada (like Seed Savers Exchange) and avidly researched heirloom varieties from Maritime Canada. Customers, neighbours, friends, and strangers would mail or give me seeds of "granpa's beans" or "my elderly neighbour's tomatoes" all the time. Along with the seeds there was usually a story about where they came from, who had grown them, etc.

One year I got about a dozen bean varieties from an elderly man from the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick. After growing them for a couple of years, I became convinced that one of the beans was identical to the Mostoller Wild Goose Bean. This is the story about the bean's origin in New Brunswick: apparently this bean, known as Baie Verte Indian Bean, had been grown in the Acadian Peninsula for generations by l'Acadien settlers and their descendants. The bean was given to the very first settlers by the local First Nations community - the Mi'kmaq (our version: Micmac). History tells us that during the Acadian Expulsion in 1775(?) the l'Acadien were rounded up and moved - many to Louisiana, where they eventually became known as 'Cajuns (a mispronounciation of Acadien). Many fled into the northern reaches of New Brunswick, however, and their descendants now comprise much of the population the Acadian Peninsula. Living along with them is the contemporary Mi'kmaq community (mostly on several reservations in the extended area), descendants of the earlier Mi'kmaq that helped the first Acadian settlers.

So here is my theory, unsubstantiated of course. This particular variety of bean was obviously one that was commonly distributed along pre-contact trade routes used by First Nations in Eastern North America (including US and Canada). The most current research in Eastern North American archaeology indicates that there were indeed elaborate and well-established trade routes and that beans (traded northward from Mexico) became part of the native diet in the region around 800 AD. It makes perfect sense that these beans could be known by different names in different places and that their continued existence is owed to the First Nations and l'Acadien people who have kept it going for generations from southern US/Louisiana to northern New Brunswick/Canada.

Incidentally, this type of thing has fascinated my so much that I returned to University two years ago and will be pursuing a Masters degree next year in Palaeoethnobotany so that I can study food pathways and plant uses by pre-contact North American people (and eventually work in the field of archaeology)! Maybe this is my mid-life crisis?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2006 at 9:22AM
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