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The Value of Wise Counsel

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Imagine yourself in a small, remote homestead in 1906. What crops do you grow? Do you raise animals? Where will you get your water? How do you build your house?

These details may not scream “epic drama,” but in the shoes of a young couple just starting out in the semi-arid plains near Philip, South Dakota they led to a choice between success or failure.

In the early 1900’s part of the Sioux Indian Reservation land in South Central South Dakota was opened up to settlers. They were called “homesteaders” and “pioneers” and the soil they were given access to was virgin, never before cultivated for crops. It was, at the time, a great opportunity for young people. Based on the requirements of the Homestead Act of 1862, a person could take up a land-grant of 160 acres for the price of fees and a trip to the registrar, live on it for 8 months or five years while farming the land and adding buildings, and the land became their own, free and clear.

The difficulties of this homesteading lifestyle are outlined in the book, Letters From Tully, which tells the story of Estella Bowen Culp and her husband, Orley. They were green, not knowing much about farmsteading and they wanted to make their homestead succeed in growing grain crops. Their ignorance was one significant challenge to their success.

Know the territory

South Dakota has a variety of terrain, from the Black Hills in the Southwest (home of Mount Rushmore), to the cornfield flats of the Eastern half of the state. In between is a hilly, diverse geography, fertile in some parts, arid mesas in others. The weather is iffy, and without irrigation it is nearly impossible to consistently grow summer crops to maturity.

Estella and Orley chose to grow grain crops to prove-up their land and make it profitable. They believed, as many did before them that the rains would come in the course of the summer and water their crops sufficiently for a steady harvest. It’s a nice theory, but the climate doesn’t oblige.

When they first arrived, they were counseled by other, more experienced homesteaders to invest in cattle. Develop a herd, which would provide meat and could also be sold at market. The land in South Dakota is good herd land. Plentiful, nutrient-rich native grasses, gullies and windward hills animals can shelter in, and enough water from wells to water a herd, not a crop.

Despite the best of advice, the young couple chose to continue in their pursuit of grain crops. They failed to make a profit. Without a financial surplus they couldn’t invest in the land and build on the initial land claim.

Listen to wise counsel and “count the cost”

The counsel the Culps received was good, but they chose not to act on it. A certain degree of flexibility would have given them a better chance at success. In the course of time they both had to leave the claim and take jobs in the nearby town to make ends meet.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise,” (Proverbs 12:15 Proverbs 12:15The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that listens to counsel is wise.
American King James Version×
). Though they weren’t fools in the sense of rejecting God, this young couple acted foolishly by not taking wise advice. Probably a predicament everyone has faced at some point in life.

They also failed to build up a knowledge base about their surroundings, part of a process called “counting the cost,” a principle from the Book of Luke (Luke 14:26-33 Luke 14:26-33 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29 Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an ambassador, and desires conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×
). Though the Biblical principle primarily applies to the commitment of baptism and obedience to God’s way of life, it also has an application in all our everyday decisions.

Gather wise counsel (from God above all) and make the effort to count the cost in time, commitment, resources and finances of any important life-impacting decision like college, work or relationships.  This small investment of time has the potential for great returns in the form of a happier, more stable future. 

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  • KARS
    So right Miss Stiver, always make sure you can complete the fence you are planning to build (so to speak) before you begin the project. People are always watching and they love to laugh at those that don’t complete what they begin. Here is an example. We have been pulling weeds since early spring to save our lawn. Neighbors that pass by can’t believe that we have chosen to do it this way. They tell us how they would do it and how they feel about what we are doing. It may seem slow and tedious but by waiting for the rains, the ground softens and the weeds are much easier to pull by their roots. The majority of them haven’t come back. We plan to keep going because it’s working. 4 hands are better than just 2.  :o) Thank you for your advice.
  • Eric V. Snow
    People have to be humble to accept (corrective) advice from others. As Proverbs 9:8 Proverbs 9:8Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate you: rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.
    American King James Version×
    teaches, “Reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” And it’s wise to listen to more than one person before making important, serious decisions. Consider in this light the teaching of Proverbs 24:6 Proverbs 24:6For by wise counsel you shall make your war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety.
    American King James Version×
    : “And in abundance of counselors there is victory.” But of course, if someone is foolish, he may react as a scoffer who laughs at the advice that he receives (Proverbs 13:1 Proverbs 13:1A wise son hears his father’s instruction: but a scorner hears not rebuke.
    American King James Version×
    ): “A scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” So if we want to listen to and then act on good advice, we have to swallow our pride at times, and admit that we’re wrong.
  • CharlieM
    My wife and I raised our four children in Alaska where we built our home by hand, hauled our water from the lake each Friday, raised some animals, hunted game, fished and trapped. But, there were always the unexpected that we had to be prepared for. Then God called us. He had taught us many things while we lived in the bush. Counting the cost (not particularly monetary) was almost a daily requirement to survive. Most things required some sort of rationing. What we learned from those experiences has helped us be better prepared and make wiser decisions. But, I still need to seek wise counsel more often. And, your article is an inspiration to that end. Thank you - very much. Charlie

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