They Were Farmers: People who farmed or ranched, but were notable for something else.

This is another one of those trailing threads.  This time listing people who started out in agriculture or who dabbled in it.

On this one, I may put a time period limit. Say nobody prior to 1890, unless truly exceptional in some fashion.  Prior to that date, agriculture was so common, it'd be too easy to simply list absolutely everyone.

Also, while most of the people on this list are quite admirable, saying something positive about farming in general, a few will be baddies. That's just the way such lists work.

Author's Note:  Know somebody who could be listed here?  Add their name in the comments.


John Adams

Okay, I know I said that I wasn't going to go back past the 20th Century, but so many people forget that John Adams was a farmer that I feel compelled to add him here.  As I noted on the thread on lawyers, Adams was a 18th Century polymath who played many parts in life, including that of lawyer.  Adams came from a well to do Massachusetts farming family and studied law early in his life. That lead him to a career as a lawyer, and farmer, both of which he loved. He added to his families' farm holdings during his lifetime, and he purchased a horse to break for riding when he was in his 80s, showing how vigorous he remained late in life, an attribute perhaps attributable to his lifelong combining of intellectual and physical careers.

Category:  Diplomat.  Civil Servant.  Politician.  Farmer.

Date Added:  November 28, 2013.


Wendell Berry

The eclectic polymath Berry is well known in certain agricultural circles.   In addition to farming in his native Kentucky, he is a professor of English at the University of Kentucky.  He has also written a series of books on agrarian philosophy which are widely admired by agrarians.  His writings include novels and poetry and social criticism as well.

Other Occupations:  Educator. Writer.  Philosopher.  Social Critic.

Date Added:  November 22, 2013.


The Boers

The Boers are the Dutch Europeans in southern Africa.  The word "Boer" means farmer in their Dutch dialect and the has come into English principally through the first and second Boer Wars.  The name is similar to the German word Bauer which is familiar to English speakers as a German extraction last name.

Boers are called that as, up through the Second Boer War, nearly all of them were farmers.  This contributed to the nature of the Boer War, as Boers served without uniform, were required to acquire their own service rifles, and were 100% mounted, and mounted on their own horses.

Category:  National identity

Date Added:  November 21, 2013.


Anthony Wilford Brimley

Actor Wilford Brimley has occupied a large number of occupations during his lifetime, including Marine, bodyguard, and blacksmith.  The Salt Lake City native was raised in the city, but started working as a cowboy when young and has farmed for years in Big Horn County Wyoming. Brimley has noted in interviews that he always felt that he should have another occupation other than acting, as you never knew when the acting roles would quit coming.  He entered the movies as a stuntman due to his riding abilities.

Category:  Actor, Marine, Blacksmith, Bodyguard

Date added: September 29, 2014.


Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck, the legendary jazz musician, was the son of a northern California cattle rancher and grew up as a ranch kid.  He originally intended to study veterinary medicine at the College of the Pacific and return to his parents ranch, and work alongside his father, but his zoology professor urged him to switch to music, where he felt this heart really was.  Brubeck's most famous piece is the legendary "Take Five."

Other Occupation:  Musician.

Date Added:  November 7, 2013.

Robert Burns

While he apparently was not very successful at it, the unofficial poet laureate of  Scotland, Robert Burns, was a farmer as well as a poet.

Other Occupation:  Poet

Date Added:  October 2, 2015


Jimmy Carter

Carter was a Naval Academy veteran and later President, but he was also a peanut farmer, a role that he was born into.

Other occupation:  Naval officer, engineer, politician

Date added:  February 16, 2016


Whitaker Chambers

 Whitaker Chambers about the time of his testimony exposing the Ware Group, a Communist Cell.

Chambers is famously remembered today for being the individual who revealed the existence of the Ware Communist Cell in Washington D. C., and its most famous member, Alger Hiss. To the extent he's remembered as a farmer, its in that he had hidden some microfilm in a pumpkin, which gives rise to the famous pumpkin papers moniker.

In actuality, Chambers who wasn't born a farmer, seemingly had a natural affinity to it and took to it while in his 20s. Prior to purchasing farm ground while working as an editor for Time magazine, he'd lived on farms while a Communist operative and then a fugitive from the Communist.  He came to have a deeply agrarian view of agriculture and expressed a view of it far beyond that of merely having a liking for it, but a nearly spiritual affinity for it.  His family grew both crops and livestock, and was deeply involved in rural activities.

Other Occupations:  Translator, Writer, Communist Operative, Revolutionary, Spy, Anti-Communist Activist, Editor.

Date Added:  November 21, 2013.



The model citizen of the Roman Republic was a farmer, in addition to being a citizen soldier and a politician.  He's listed here due to his exceptional place in early Roman history.

Other Occupation:  Soldier.  Politician.


Confederate Soldiers

Over half of the Confederate soldiers of the American Civil War were farmers.

Other Occupation:  Soldiers


Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus

Diocletian was an effective Roman Emperor who was also one of the worst persecutors of Christians in Roman history.  He actually left the office of Emperor on his own, twice, to retire to farming cabbages.  He's listed here due to his notable role as an effective Roman Emperor, a baddie in persecution, and the fact that he actually stepped down as emperor.

Other Occupation:  Politician.


Paul D. Etienne

Paul D. Etienne is the Catholic Bishop of Cheyenne.  He's also a farmer, sharing a farm with his brother, who is also a Catholic Priest.  The farm is in Indiana, so necessarily with his current duties he farms part time.

Other Occupation:  Cleric

Catherine Fox

Catherine (Kate) Fox is a justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court.  She grew up on the dude ranch of her immigrant parents and worked on it as an adult, for a time, prior to going to law school.

Other Occupation:  Lawyer

Date Added:  November 22, 2013. 

George C. Frison

Legendary Wyoming archeologist was a rancher for half his life.  He left ranching at age 37 to peruse a career in archeology, which he'd always been interested in, as a physician cautioned him to leave ranching due back injuries he had sustained in that occupation and in the U.S. Navy during World War Two.

Other Occupation:  Archeologist

Date Added:  October 23, 2014.


James Geringer

Jim Geringer was a former Governor of Wyoming.  The Air Force officer veteran came from a wheat farm outside of Wheatland Wyoming, which he farmed prior to his being Governor.

Other Occupation:  Politician, Air Force Officer


Ulysses S. Grant

U.S. Grant is famous principally for his role as a general during the Civil War, and then later as President, but he occupied a lot of vocations during his lifetime, including trying his hand at farming.
Other occupation:  Soldier, businessman, politician

Date added:  February 16, 2016


Richard Davis Hanson

Hanson is an amazing polymath, being a political and social commentator, a historian, a professor and a farmer.  He farms in California on a farm handed down from his family.

Other Occupations:  Educator, Writer, Critic, Historian


William Henry Harrison

Harrison is remembered as a soldier, and then briefly President, but he also had a farm in Ohio and before that in Virginia.

Other occupation:  Soldier, politician

Date added:  February 16, 2016


Eddie James "Son" House, Jr.

Son House is a legendary Delta Bluesman who had a regional Southern career in the 1930s which he abandoned for better paying work in the railroad in New York and a second national career that bloomed in the 1960s blues revival.  Early in his life, before being a bluesman, he'd also managed a horse farm in Louisiana and had worked on the farm of his father in law prior to leaving his first wife.

Other Occuaptions:  Railroad porter.  Musician.

Date Added:  November 22, 2013.


Heinrich Himmler

The creepy head of the SS in Nazi Germany was briefly a chicken farmer.  Briefly is the key word here, as he really had trained to be an officer in the Imperial German Army but found himself out of work following the German defeat in World War One.

Other Occupations:  Too icky to categorize.


Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson's name was just entered on the They Were Lawyers thread.  Most people are probably aware that Jackson had a connection with the law, if they know his history, but perhaps fewer are aware that at the same time he was a lawyer, he was a planter.  Planters were a class of farmer, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who engaged in large scale, and frankly slave based, farming in the American south.

Other Occupations:  Soldier, Lawyer

Date Added:  January 25, 2014


Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was a "planter", a call of farmer in which the planter owned a large estate farmed by others, typically slaves.  An eclectic personality, Jefferson famously invented a type of plow.

Other occupation:  Lawyer, politician

Date Added:  February 16, 2016


Lyndon B. Johnson

The Texan Johnson acquired a ranch in his adult life in his native state.

Other occupation:  Politician

Date added:  February 16, 2016



Kulaks were farmers, mostly in southern Russia, who owned their own land rather than working as tenant farmers collectively.  They were violently oppressed following the rise of the Communist during the Russian Revolution and Civil War who propagandized them as being rich opponents of the masses which was far from the truth.  Communism was an urban movement to start with, and its grasp of agricultural affairs was poor at best.

Other Occupations:  Economic class

Date Added:  November 22, 2013.


 Gene Logsdon

Logsdon occupies a space that is analogous to Wendell Berry's, except that he tends to restrict his writing to agricultural topics and he doesn't eschew the internet. Otherwise, in addition to being a farmer, he's an agrarian advocate and writer.

Other Occupations:  Writer.  Social Critic

Date Added:  November 22, 2013.


Frank Lucas

From Rich:

I'm not sure if it fits with the type of person you are looking for, but Congressman Frank Lucas is or was a farmer/rancher in western OK.

I usually have a general dislike of politicians, but at least my representative actually has some first-hand experience with cattle, wheat, droughts, etc.

Off the top of my head, there seem to have been a lot of politicians in OK that had similar backgrounds.

Cynthia Lummis

Cynthia Lummis is the Congresswoman from Wyoming. Even though I'm also from Wyoming, I frankly do not know a great deal about her.  However, she apparently grew up on a family ranch outside of Cheyenne, which was one of a variety of businesses owned by her family in that area.

Other Occupations:  Lawyer.  Politician.

Date Added:  November 7, 2013.


Matt Mead

Matt Mead is the current Governor of Wyoming and comes from a ranching family.  In addition to being the Governor, he's also a rancher.

Other Occupation:   Lawyer, Politician.



The word "metis" has its roots in a French word for "mixed" which reflects the mixed cultural and racial background of this Canadian culture. Descendants of  Indians and French Canadians, and speaking French, they lived in Western Canada without an established color of title but also retained some nomadic hunting practices.  The struggle over the title of their land lead to the Northwest Rebellion, which they lost.

Other Occupation:  Culture.

Date Added:  November 22, 2013.


Saint Patrick

Before he was a priest and missionary to Ireland, St. Patrick was a slave from Wales held in Ireland.  In that role, he was detailed to herding sheep, and therefore occupied the role of herdsman.

Category:  Cleric.  

Date added:  September 29, 2014


Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt ranches, as is widely known, in the 1880s in North Dakota, so I'm violating my own rule here. Roosevelt was wealthy, as is widely known, but not as rich as generally imagined, and was truly a rancher, as opposed to either being an absentee landlord or corporate head of an agricultural enterprise.  After the death of his mother and first wife, there was a time when it appeared that he might abandon the East and politics for a permanent vocation as rancher, which of course did not come to pass.

Perhaps bringing this back into the applicable time period, it was also the case that part of his large estate in Oyster Bay, New York was farmed, and there were considerations given to expanding the farming there at one point in time when he was out of politics, as a means of generating money from the estate.

Other Occupations:  Writer, politician, soldier


Kenny Sailors

Sailors is also mentioned here on the page about hunters and fishermen.  The legendary University of Wyoming basketball player grew up on a farm near tiny Hillsdale Wyoming, prior to attending UW and going on to a career in the NBA.

Category:  Athelete, Fisherman and Hunter, Outfitter

Date Added:  January 30, 2016


Zachery Taylor

Taylor is an exception to the "nothing prior to 1890" rule, but he is truly an exception.  He was a full time professional soldier but oddly enough, always farmed at the same time, no matter where he was stationed.  Indeed, by appearance he often looked a lot more like a 19th Century farmer than a soldier.

Other Occupations:  Soldier 


Taj Mahal (Henry Saint Clair Fredericks)

Bluesman Taj Mahal is famous for his ability to play so many differing variants of the blues.

An association with agriculture would not be unusual for a bluesman of a certain era and region, but that doesn't fit here.  Taj Mahal, born  Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, was born in Harlem New York to a West Indian jazz musician father and a mother who was a local gospel musician.  Steeped in music since a child, his career likely seems natural, but starting in his early teens he became deeply attracted to agriculture and remains so.  He worked at farms starting in his mid teens, and was a foreman for a dairy farm following his graduation from high school.  He still grows much of his own food.

Other Occupation:  Musician

Date Added:  November 22, 2013.


Jon Testor

Jon Testor is the U.S. Senator from Montana.  He's also a wheat farmer.

Other Occupation:  Politician


Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman grew up on a succession of farms owned by his parents.  His father was a farmer and a cattle trader.  After graduating from high school in 1901 he worked a series of hard blue collar jobs until 1906, when he returned the farm.  Little recalled now, he worked as a farmer on his parent's farm up until he World War One, when he entered the Army through the Missouri National Guard as an officer.

During this period, he met Bess, his future wife, and proposed to her.  According to Truman, she declined as as farmer didn't make a sufficient income in her view. That motivated him to not return to farming following World War One.

Truman is an unusual character in a lot of ways.  He's the last U.S. President to never have attended college or university and he's the last U.S. President to have grown up on a farm.  Of FDR's three Vice Presidents, he's one of two who had strong agricultural roots, and one of two who had not graduated from university, but the individuals he shares that distinction with are note the same ones.

Other Occupations:  Politician, Small Businessman, Soldier

Date Added:  November 21, 2013


John Tyler

John Tyler is remembered because of his role as President of the United States.  He was a lawyer, but also owned a farm in Virginia.

Other occupation:  Lawyer, politician.

Date added:  February 16, 2016


Alvin C. York 

Alvin C. York was at one time a household name in the US, and he remains the most remembered US enlisted man from World War One. The Tennessee pacifist gained fame for his heroic capture of 132 Germans, killing an additional 28, while silencing 32 machineguns, during a single day in 1918.  His Medal of Honor citation reads:
After his platoon suffered heavy casualties and 3 other noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Cpl. York assumed command. Fearlessly leading 7 men, he charged with great daring a machine gun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machine gun nest was taken, together with 4 officers and 128 men and several guns.
York was a farmer by occupation although he worked a variety of other jobs as well, in order to get by.

Other Occupations:  Soldier, Educator.


Union Soldiers

While its well known that Confederate solders were largely rural, it's sometimes forgotten that almost 50% of Union soldiers during the Civil War were farmers.

Other Occupation:  Soldiers


Henry A. Wallace

Wallace is recalled today as he was the hard left 1940-44 Vice President of Franklin Roosevelt who ultimately proved to be too hard left even for the FDR Administration, which had a very high tolerance towards the political left.  Indeed, after revelations about Communist penetration into various Executive agencies started coming to light after World War Two, Wallace was suspected by some of being a Communist, which he is still sometimes accused of being even by surprising sources.  The New Republic, for example, which he edited for a time in the late 1940s basically acknowledged that he was in one of their anniversary issues, indicating a degree of shame for having once employed him.  Nonetheless, the real evidence is that he was a very hard left Democrat/Progressive, and neither a Socialist or a Communist.

Wallace rose to prominence through agriculture, a fact that's typically forgotten, having started off working on a family farm and working on a family farming journal.  His family was prominent in agriculture, with his father having been a Secretary of Agriculture in the early 1920s.  Henry Wallace became Secretary of Agriculture in the first Roosevelt Administration and he became Vice President in the 1940 Administration.  He was dropped in favor of Truman in the next administration, saving the US from what would have been a disastrous late World War Two presidency.  He was not popular in the 1940 administration, where his hard left views were well known.

Following his period as Vice President, he was the Secretary of Commerce, and then he worked as a journalist, editing the New Republic.  He ran for President on the Progressive Party ticket, an effort to restart the Bull Moose party but updated, and brought much further left, than the original party. By that time, his political ship had sailed and he was not a success.  He himself heavily modified his views of the Soviet Union following North Korea's invasion of South Korea.  Late in life, however, he returned to his first love, farming, and even developed a very highly successful new breed of egg laying chickens.

Other Occupation:  Civil Servant, Politician, Journalist.

Date Added:  November 21, 2013.


Francis E. Warren


Francis E. Warren was the last Territorial Governor of Wyoming and the first State Governor, albeit only briefly.  His mostly remembered, however, for being a very long serving U.S. Senator.  He was also John J. Pershing's father in law.

The Massachusetts born Warren had grown up on a farm in Massachusetts and had farmed in that state before serving in the Civil War, where he won the Congressional Medal of Honor.  After coming out to Wyoming he was not only successful in politics, but founded Warren Land & Livestock, a ranching company that still exists.

Other Occupation:  Politician.

Date Added:  November 21, 2013.


Jason Werth

Former Nationals outfielder and now a Major League Baseball free agent, without a contract, Jason Werth is an organic farmer.

Other Occupation: Athelete

Date Added:  January 31, 1918


Samuel Woodfill.

Unlike York Woodfill is barely remembered today, but there was a time when his fame was as great as Sgt. York's.  Woodfill was a career soldier in the U.S. Army with sixteen years of service as an enlisted man at the time that the US entered World War One.  He won the Congressional Medal of Honor for this noted series of feats:
While he was leading his company against the enemy, his line came under heavy machinegun fire, which threatened to hold up the advance. Followed by 2 soldiers at 25 yards (23 m), this officer went out ahead of his first line toward a machinegun nest and worked his way around its flank, leaving the 2 soldiers in front. When he got within 10 yards (9.1 m) of the gun it ceased firing, and 4 of the enemy appeared, 3 of whom were shot by 1st Lt. Woodfill. The fourth, an officer, rushed at 1st Lt. Woodfill, who attempted to club the officer with his rifle. After a hand-to-hand struggle, 1st Lt. Woodfill killed the officer with his pistol. His company thereupon continued to advance, until shortly afterwards another machinegun nest was encountered. Calling on his men to follow, 1st Lt. Woodfill rushed ahead of his line in the face of heavy fire from the nest, and when several of the enemy appeared above the nest he shot them, capturing 3 other members of the crew and silencing the gun. A few minutes later this officer for the third time demonstrated conspicuous daring by charging another machinegun position, killing 5 men in one machinegun pit with his rifle. He then drew his revolver and started to jump into the pit, when 2 other gunners only a few yards away turned their gun on him. Failing to kill them with his revolver, he grabbed a pick lying nearby and killed both of them. Inspired by the exceptional courage displayed by this officer, his men pressed on to their objective under severe shell and machinegun fire.

By the end of the war, Woodfill held the status as the most decorated US soldier of the war.

Upon retiring from the service in the late 1920s, Woodfill became a farmer.  Never terribly successful at it, he hung on by taking various skilled labor jobs off his farm.  In spite of his struggles, he was uniformly regarded as a very happy man by all who knew him.  He served in the Army a second time in  World War Two, where he remained in the US as a training officer.

Other Occupationns:  Soldier.


Related Threads:

They were clerics.

They were lawyers. 

They had been soldiers.


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