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FROM THIS EARTH

A photographer's reflection on family, history and land

  • 3 min to read
A photographer's reflection on family, history and land

Walking on our family land feels like walking through history. I can feel myself move through layers of memories and stories, typically told by my dad.

“Here is where we had our Easter picnics.”

“My great-grandparents lived here.”

“I remember walking back through this field every day.”

I wonder if Winfield and Pearl Reed knew this place would mean so much to us when they came to Rich Hill, Missouri, and bought the first 80-acre section in 1916.

I don’t know much about them, except that they lived on the hill where my great-aunt and uncle do now. Winfield’s funeral was held at the church owned by the Old Order Mennonites, and both grandparents are buried in a cemetery previously unknown to my father and me.

They raised seven kids, the youngest, my great-grandfather, Ralph Reed.

A mounted buck is hung on the wall of my grandfather’s new house

A mounted buck is hung on the wall of my grandfather’s new house Dec. 5 in Rich Hill, Mo. After inheriting land from his father, Ron Reed built the house for his family to congregate.

My great-grandfather Ralph Reed’s bedroom

LEFT: My great-grandfather Ralph Reed’s bedroom. A pair of jeans sit on the bed and a shotgun shell lies in the nightstand. RIGHT: A lamp sits near a tub of photographs at my grandfather Ron Reed’s new house in Rich Hill, Mo. He is still unpacking after recently moving into the home, which was completed in September.

A warranty deed detailing the purchase of a section of land

A warranty deed detailing the purchase of a section of land in Rich Hill, Mo. My great-grandfather, Ralph Reed, expanded his farm by purchasing land from neighboring farmers leaving the business.

My great-aunt Jan Reed and great-uncle Denny Reed

My great-aunt Jan Reed and great-uncle Denny Reed sit on their porch swing Nov. 24 in Rich Hill, Mo. My siblings and I used to visit them during the summers and we’d sit and “count down the sunset” from the porch swing, which faces west. 

Wilma Reed stands near her flowers outside her home

In this family archival photo, my great-grandmother, Wilma Reed, stands near her flowers outside her home in Rich Hill in an undated picture. My father, Marty, said she was very proud of her flower garden.

Ralph left home as a teenager and went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and served in the South Pacific until the end of the war.

After his service, Ralph returned and began farming the family land, which his parents sold to him in 1947 for “love and affection and $1,” according to the sale document.

Ralph’s shrewd nature and eye toward the future helped the farm grow. When other farmers were too small to keep up with increased demand created by large agribusiness, Ralphie bought them out and grew his own operation.

Success in farming became dependent on scale, and he was able to keep up.

A propane tank sits under a willow tree

A propane tank sits under a willow tree outside my great-grandfather’s house house in Rich Hill, Mo. Tanks filled with propane are used to heat and power homes in rural areas where there are no utility services. 

An owl statuette sits outside of my great-grandparents Ralph and Wilma Reed’s house

An owl statuette sits outside of my great-grandparents Ralph and Wilma Reed’s house in Rich Hill, Mo. Wilma had a fondness for statuettes and was known to stop at any roadside stand that sold them.

Flowers are stuck in the dirt in memory of my great-grandmother, Wilma Reed

LEFT: Flowers are placed in the dirt in memory of my great-grandmother, Wilma Reed, in Rich Hill, Mo. My grandfather set out the flowers for her in the glade near the creek because she used to host Easter picnics there. RIGHT: The headstone for my great-great-grandparents, Winfield and Pearl Reed, is in the Fairview Rider Cemetery in Rich Hill, Mo. They are buried alongside other unknown Reeds. Winfield’s name is spelled incorrectly.

Truck tracks are etched into the mud

Truck tracks are etched into the mud on my grandfather’s land in Rich Hill, Mo. The path leads to fields that were once cow pastures, now designated for shooting or bonfires. 

My grandfather, Ron Reed, and his dog, Jake, stand near a creek

My grandfather, Ron Reed, and his dog, Jake, stand near a creek on his land Dec. 5 in Rich Hill, Mo. He said the creek is meaningful because it was his mother’s favorite place to sit.

Photographs wait to be hung

Photographs wait to be hung at Ron Reed’s new house in Rich Hill, Mo. My grandfather likes to cover his walls in old photographs.

A white-tailed deer roots through a barren soybean field

A white-tailed deer roots through a barren soybean field Nov. 24 in Rich Hill, Mo. In deer season, rifle shots can be heard from every direction. 

During this time, Ralph married Wilma Bond and had three children: Ron, Denny and Rusty.

They grew up working on the farm. Each left, but all of them ultimately returned.

Ron moved to Texas to serve in the Air Force; he never farmed on his own but now lives on his father’s land.

Denny attended MU and married his high school sweetheart, Jan. The pair sharecropped and worked on a cattle ranch before returning to farm the family land.

Denny eventually traded Ralph a section of land for the original on top of the hill, where he and Jan have lived ever since.

Rusty was a trucker until he realized it wasn’t the life he wanted. Now he farms corn and soybeans and raises cattle.

All the land acquired by Ralph and his sons now totals at least 1,600 acres.

Rusty Reed’s combine sits on the edge of a corn field

Rusty Reed’s combine sits on the edge of a corn field at the end of harvest season, Dec. 4 in Rich Hill. My great-uncle doesn’t live on the family land but continues to farm it. 

A field corn husk lies in the dirt

A field corn husk lies in the dirt in early December on my great-uncle Rusty Reed’s land in Rich Hill. This type of corn is used to make livestock feed.

My great-uncle Rusty Reed

My great-uncle Rusty Reed, pictured Dec. 4, said his favorite feeling is getting off the combine at harvest and looking over the day’s work.

My grandfather, Ron Reed, sits in Ralph and Wilma Reed’s living room

In ths family archival photograph, My grandfather, Ron Reed, sits in Ralph and Wilma Reed’s living room in an undated photograph. Ron is my great-grandparents’ eldest son.

Ralph and Wilma Reed’s living room sits empty

Ralph and Wilma Reed’s living room sits empty Nov. 24 in Rich Hill, Mo. The house feels like a time capsule. Ralph died in 2017 and didn't live in the house for a few years prior to his death. 

My dad, Marty Reed, uses binoculars to look for deer

My dad, Marty Reed, uses binoculars to look for deer through the window of his father’s new house Dec. 4 in Rich Hill, Mo. Many white-tailed deer live in the timber and walk through a soybean field at the bottom of a hill south of the house. 

A tree lines the road leading to Ralph and Wilma Reed’s house

Trees line the road leading to Ralph and Wilma Reed’s house Nov. 24 in Rich Hill. Grain bins now stand where my dad’s childhood home once was.

my dad, Marty Reed,

“I practically lived here,” my dad, Marty Reed, pictured Nov. 25, said of his grandparents’ house. He was Ralph and Wilma Reeds' first grandkid and lived across the street for the first few years of his life.

A 1968 photograph showing my great-uncle Rusty Reed with a “Blue Ribbon” calf

A 1968 photograph showing my great-uncle Rusty Reed with a “blue ribbon” calf is photographed. Rusty is the youngest of his three brothers.

Eventually, other kids arrived. My dad Marty, Renee and Justin; Derek and Dane; Cody and Dillon and then the next generation. Most have left, but the land is still there to visit.

My dad has told me, “You’re nothing without your roots.”

He’s right. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I know I always have a place to return, where I’ll always be welcomed, where my family has history and where I can connect with our past.

My grandfather’s dog, Jake, sits on a stack of rugs

My grandfather’s dog, Jake, sits on a stack of rugs in his garage in Rich Hill, Mo. Jake follows my grandfather wherever he goes. 

Trees line a path where the Missouri Pacific Railroad once ran through the family land

LEFT: Trees line a path where the Missouri Pacific Railroad once ran through the family land in Rich Hill, Mo. The railroad is no longer there, but a visible path bisects the landscape. RIGHT: My dad, Marty Reed, holds the head of a deer he killed Dec. 5 in Rich Hill, Mo. Marty, who has rekindled his interest in hunting, shot the deer a few weeks earlier but wasn’t sure if he hit it until he found its body on a second visit.

Dusk falls on my grandfather’s land

Dusk falls on my grandfather’s land Dec. 5 in Rich Hill, Mo. He inherited the land after my great-grandfather’s death in 2017. 

The landscape is seen through a door in my grandfather’s garage

The landscape is seen through a door in my grandfather’s garage Dec. 5 in Rich Hill, Mo. His new house was built with many windows — the family land is ever-present.

Reed photographed this story as a student in the Picture Story and Photographic Essay class, taught by Associate Professor Jackie Bell. This story was produced and edited by Tristen Rouse. Supervising editor is Brian Kratzer (kratzerb@missouri.edu).

  • I am an Assistant Director of Photography at the Missourian and a photojournalism graduate student at MU's School of Journalism. In the past, I've worked as an education reporter, staff photographer and photo editor. Reach me at ejrxch@umsystem.edu

  • Assistant Director of Photography at the Columbia Missourian. Reach me at tristenrousephoto@gmail.com or on Instagram @tristenrouse

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