Dakota Datebook

The Golden Goose

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Once upon a time a farmer and his wife had a goose that laid one golden egg every day. To hasten their wealth, the farmer and his wife killed the goose to obtain all of the golden eggs at once, but there were no golden eggs inside. So, according to Aesop, to kill and butcher the goose was a foolish thing. Perhaps! On this date in 1932, a story comes to light from southeastern McLean County near Washburn that might bring the wisdom of Aesop into question. A farmer named Emil Oberg and his wife, Ida, were butchering geese when they discovered bits of rusty colored specs in the gizzards. By chance, a relative visiting the farm was a former prospector who identified the specs as gold ore.

Mr. and Mrs. Oberg were excited, and wondered if they had a paying gold vein on their land. Since the geese never left the farmyard it had to be located somewhere on the farm, but they failed to find anything. They even searched the surrounding area using a miner’s gold pan, examining gravel pits from which gravel had been hauled to the yard, but nothing turned up. The source remained a mystery until Mr. Oberg remembered that twenty years before, he had dug a well and had hit a vein of gravel at approximately 16 feet below the surface. The gravel had been scattered about the yard, and eventually a hen house had been built using some of this gravel. The geese had been penned up inside this building, so that had to be the source of the gold.

The Oberg farm was near Turtle Creek where gold had been discovered years ago. At that time, a miner attempted to work a claim, but was unsuccessful. This same bench of gravel ran under the Oberg farmstead. So, to save some time digging, Emil decided to dig a hole in the cellar of his house. Unfortunately, no paying quantity of gold was discovered.

Now this doesn’t quite sound like a fairytale ending, but unlike the farmer and his wife in Aesop’s fable, the Obergs actually lost nothing and lived happily ever after, content to let their geese do the mining. This farmer and his wife not only reaped the gold, but occasionally enjoyed a succulent goose dinner.

By Jim Davis
The McLean County Independent December 22, 1932
The Washburn Leader December 23, 1932

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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