Preserving Native American Seed Heritage

Learn about two seedsmen — Carl Barnes and Oscar H. Will — who did extensive work to preserve Native American corn varieties.
By William Woys Weaver
February/March 2013
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We are excited to share with you these authentic Oscar H. Will & Co. seed catalog covers that date back to as early as 1896. Browse the images with this article to see 14 more of these unique pieces of art.
Cover Courtesy Oscar H. Will & Co.
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There have been many collectors of rare native corns through the years, such as Carl Barnes, a Cherokee farmer from Turpin, Okla. Many of the Cherokee corns in circulation, including ‘Cherokee’ popcorn, trace to Carl Barnes. He developed a stunning new variety called ‘Carl’s Glass Gems’, which will be available through Native Seeds/SEARCH. You can learn more about Barnes’ life in the article The Origins and Journey of 'Carl's Glass Gems' Rainbow Corn.

The highest kudos for collecting, however, go to George F. Will, anthropologist son of Oscar Will, the Bismarck, N.D., seedsman who promoted Native American varieties in his catalogs. George F. Will co-authored Corn Among the Indians of the Upper Missouri in 1917, and this book remains one of the best sources on traditional Great Plains corn. Will collected and grew more than 100 corn varieties, which the catalogs describe in great detail. Sadly, many of those varieties are no longer available.

Read more: Connect to an ancient heritage by growing rare vegetable varieties in Native American Gardening: The Three Sisters and More, and discover rare vegetable varieties in Seed Varieties for Your Native American Garden. Also, check out the joys and benefits of two carefully preserved varieties in The Origins and Journey of 'Carl's Glass Gems' Rainbow Corn and Try Puhwem 'Mother Corn,' a Revered Native American Variety.


We’re proud to have Oscar H. Will’s great-grandson, Oscar H. Will III, as a colleague. “Hank” is a MOTHER EARTH NEWS Contributing Editor and Editor-in-Chief of our sister publication, GRIT.MOTHER EARTH NEWS 








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