About Us: History


In the summer of 1900, two sons of John and Alice Coughlin biked across dirt roads from Sibley, Iowa to Clark, SD. They then rode back and shared the exciting news with the family that there was plenty of inexpensive good farmland available. John Coughlin and Alice came up on the train the next summer in 1901 and bought the original Oak Tree Homestead.

Photo: Makens Family
Makens Family Photo
In 1916 Reverend Joseph Coughlin planted an acorn to honor the birth of Francis Makens, the firstborn child of his sister Kate. This same oak tree is still living today and is the reason we chose to call our family farm and hunting lodge "Oak Tree".

Throughout its history, our family has worked to expand the farm and keep it in the family.

The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties (from 1929 until 1940) cost thousands of families their jobs and their farms. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by approximately 60 percent. 1 2 3 Unemployment rates skyrocketed while personal income, tax revenue, profits and prices dropped, and international trade plummeted.

Photo: Buried machinery in a barn lot; South Dakota, May 1936
Buried machinery in a barn lot; South Dakota, May 1936. The Dust Bowl on the Great Plains coincided with the Great Depression.
The Dirty Thirties was a period of severe dust storms that caused major ecological and agricultural damage to American prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion. 4 The Dust Bowl was an ecological and human disaster caused by misuse of land and years of sustained drought. 4 Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and lost their farms.

One of the proudest moments in Oak Tree history is that the Makens family and their farm made it through that difficult time surviving all the hardships and turmoil.

Through the years we have raised corn, soybeans, wheat, sunflowers, potatoes, oats, flax, rye, cattle, and other crops and live stock.

In 1973, Bill Makens and his brother Pat bought the original homestead from the third generation. In 1996, Bill Makens purchased the family farm, over 5,000 acres at that time, after the death of John Makens at a bank auction. In 1998 we renovated the old Woods farmhouse and turned it into Oak Tree Hunting Lodge. In 2000, we built the Main Lodge and in 2002 expanded the dining room and added a Great Room. In 2005, the West Wing was added. In 2007 the farmhouse was completely renovated a second time. In 2007 we constructed a 13,000 square foot maintenance building for our farm equipment powered by geothermal energy. In 2008 we erected a wind turbine to provide clean, green, renewable energy to the lodge.

We are now in our sixth generation. In 1901, we began with 160 acres, and now we have expanded to over 8,000 acres.

  1. "Commodity Data". US Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/data/. Retrieved 2008-11-30.
  2. Cochrane, Willard W. (1958). Farm Prices, Myth and Reality. pp. 15.
  3. "World Economic Survey 1932–33". League of Nations: 43.
  4. "Drought: A Paleo Perspective - 20th Century Drought". National Climatic Data Center. http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/drought/drght_history.html. Retrieved 2009-04-05.