Ghent, MN – The Belgian Culture

“Servants of the Land” by Joseph A Amato is a short, but interesting book, describing the Belgian culture in Lyon County at the end of the 19th century.

After defeat of the great Dakota Sioux uprising of 1862, the land in southwestern Minnesota was now safe for farming. Bishop Ireland bought large quantities of land from the railroad and vigorously promoted the area for catholic colonies. To Ghent came the Belgians and French-Canadians, who did not get along. Prof. Amato describes an event that occurred in 1898 involving a French-Canadian constable named Felix Goyette.

When Goyette tried to stop two disorderly fellows from carrying on, one of the fellows gave him a good deal of back talk, and said no --- French policeman could arrest him. After cautioning them to quiet down, Goyette left for Van Hee’s bar only to be stopped along the way by one of the two fellows. A scuffle ensued with Goyette. A crowd gathered, taunting the fighter to ‘lick the French ---!’ One of the two, Paul Baker, pursued Goyette while trying to grab or hit him. Goyette fired his .32 caliber pistol in the air, warning the crowd to back off. Baker rushed Goyette saying, ‘shoot me, you --- shoot me.’ Goyette accommodated him and shot Baker in the head.

Prof. Amato characterized the Belgian farmers with some colorful quips:

The only one I know hereabouts who ever paid to have his land surveyed before he bought it, to see how much was tillable, was a Belgian.

No one works harder than they do – not even God during the six days of creation.

They never throw anything away – there is no such thing as a Belgian garage sale.

They don’t waste money – the artiest thing about them is their seed corn caps.

They cooperate among themselves like no other group. They even buy pencils wholesale.

Why do all Belgians paint their houses and barns the same color on the same day? They got a good deal on the paint.

The Belgians were more experienced farmers that any of their contemporaries. Their conservative ways served them well through the hard times. During the Great Depression they increased their holdings while others lost theirs. When asked to explain why the Belgians prospered while others failed, Marcel Louwagie said “They had big houses and little barns, and we had big barns and little houses.”