The question of the left-handed plow

Browsing the newspaper collection at the Library of Congress Chronicling America website, I came across this tongue-in-cheek article1 from an 1899 issue of The Daily Inter Mountain, a Butte, Montana, newspaper.

Here are a few excerpts:


During a temporary lull in business a Helena lawyer discovered that the plow on the great seal of the State of Montana is a left-handed contrivance, and raises the question as to whether such a thing as a left-handed plow ever existed. Several graduates from various agricultural colleges were cross-examined, but as they had never seen a plow they could not settle the question. A Dutchman who had plowed the raging main on his trip from the Faderland refused to give expert testimony, and finally the editor of the Helena Herald volunteered the information that a corn plow would throw dirt in both directions, being ambidextrous, so to speak, and possibly the designer of the great seal was right after all.

The Montana Territory Coat of Arms (illustrated, 1876), by Henry Mitchell. Restoration by Godot13 [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The article continues, laying out the argument for one opinion, then the other. And finally concludes that left-handed plows may be found in the Alleghney mountains . . .

. . . where the horses’ legs grow longer on one side so they can walk around the hills with impunity, and where the farms are fastened onto the mountainsides with stakes driven into each corner. If such plows are not found in that part of the country, the Inter Mountain will suggest that Governor Smith loses no time in abolishing the great seal of the state of Montana. What is the use of having a right-handed seal with a left-handed plow on it?2

  1. Daily inter mountain. (Butte, Mont.), 08 July 1899. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>
  2. There is a discussion of the various versions of the State Seal at the Montana Secretary of State’s web site but there is no reference to the “left-handed plow” controversy.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *