Really Old Squash Image
This image of a big squash has been floating around the Internet attached to a story about archaeologists uncovering a clay vessel with seeds in it, and dating those seeds to 800 years ago. But, there was no clay vessel. These giant squash are grown from seeds handed down from the Miami Nation of Indiana, who has been cultivating them for thousands of years.

The Shocking True Story of That Giant Squash

Alysa Landry

Communities across the Midwest and Canada are growing a variety of squash that yields fruits topping 30 pounds.

But the seed that produces the “Gete-Okosomin” squash also comes with a story that is not quite rooted in fact. The story goes that the seeds were inside a clay ball or vessel found in an archaeological dig on the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin. The tale continues, suggesting that dating of the clay vessel indicated that the seeds were more than 800 years old and had been lying dormant since the 13th century.

It’s a great story, said Kenton Lobe, an environmental studies professor at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba. And though Lobe can attest to the size of the squash as grown for the last three years by his students at the university’s farm, the rest of the story is untrue, he said.

“There was a story that came with the seed, handed down from one person to the next,” Lobe said. “A story about a giant squash that comes from a clay ball really captures the imagination.”

The university received the seeds from the White Earth Seed Library in Minnesota, Lobe said. It tried to verify the story, which has appeared in print and broadcast news in the United States and Canada, but the bottom line is that “there was no clay ball,” he said.

Seeds being found in a clay vessel and dated to 800 years ago make for a captivating story, but there was no clay ball, and where this image came from is unknown.

The true story may be even more captivating, Lobe said. Although less theatrical, the real story of Gete-Okosomin (which means “big old squash”) reveals rich agricultural knowledge among Turtle Island’s original inhabitants.

“This is not an abstract archaeological thing,” he said. “It’s a way to connect back to the first people and acknowledge their agricultural heritage.”

Further digging into the story reveals that the seeds came from elderly gardeners on the Miami Nation of Indiana, who gifted them in 1995 to David Wrone, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin. The seeds had not lain dormant for centuries, Wrone said, but the Miami people had grown them for as long as 5,000 years.

The Miami were careful stewards of the seed, taking care to hand-pollinate them and maintain their purity. Wrone planted the seeds and grew several squash weighing 30 pounds or more.

“It’s a delicious variety,” said Wrone, who spent his academic career studying and teaching about indigenous people in the Great Lakes area. “And it doesn’t have the rind on it that many modern squash have. I would imagine the Miami people sliced it, dried it out and put it in the rafters of their homes. Then they could pull it down and use it in their cooking, throw it in with rabbit, corn or wild rice.”

Wrone said he shared second-generation seeds with his neighbors, including some from the Menominee Nation. Over time, as the seeds traveled across the Midwest, they turned up at the American Indian Center of Chicago and the White Earth Seed Library.

Every time the seeds changed hands, the legend of their origin grew a little bit more exciting, said Zachary Paige, who helped form the White Earth Seed Library.

“This is where the game of telephone starts,” said Paige, who also serves as manager of the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network. “We have no idea where the idea of the clay ball comes from.”

White Earth hosts an annual indigenous farming conference, Paige said. One of the hot topics is finding seeds that are protected from modification. The Gete-Okosomin squash generated excitement among gardeners.

“If you look at the story from this perspective, it’s really framed in a way that’s exciting,” he said. “Instead of being neglected for 800 years, it was grown for thousands of years by the Miami. They stewarded the seed year after year, protecting it from cross-pollination and modification.”

Kenton Lobe and Caroline Chartrand are seen here with Gete-Okosomin squash grown at the Canadian Mennonite University Farm. (

Although the seeds did not come from an archaeological dig, they do shed light on the past, Lobe said.

“We’re talking about significant agricultural knowledge,” he said. “The Miami maintained a variety of squash that is prolific, it’s huge and it tastes incredible. Anytime you have something like this, it gives you a glimpse into what people ate and the agricultural knowledge they had.”

Lobe said he’s getting requests for the seeds from people across North America. Although the story of the clay ball is not true, Lobe said it’s part of the bigger narrative.

“Something great is happening from sharing the seed and the story,” he said. “There’s something that resonates culturally when we share a heritage seed that has been reclaimed.”

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myindependentopinion's picture
Submitted by myindependentopinion on
Hmmm…for the record, there have been multiple different lots of seeds that have been excavated from the historic lands and territory of the Menominee people over time. By the way this article is written, it conveys an exclusive narrative of fabrication which precludes the fact that there are OTHER seeds which exist and are indeed ancient heirloom. I would like to point out that just because these seeds discussed in this article which are being used by the Canadian Mennonite University may have come from via a gift of the Miami Nation of Indiana, it does not necessarily mean that “this tale” as the author calls it is unsubstantiated & totally fictitious. While Mr. Paige may have “no idea where the idea of the clay ball <vessel> comes from”, and while the author Ms. Landry writes that this “story…is not quite rooted in fact,” and in this article, Mr. Lobe states that “the rest of the story is untrue”, I would like to invite them to read the recent NAGPRA notice of repatriation by the Menominee Tribe: that documents one instance of violation where in 1970 two individuals (Mr. Stoltman & Mr. Bennett) from the University of Wisconsin desecrated, excavated, removed & took possession of Menominee ancestor’s human remains and associated funerary objects which included: “…1 small prehistoric ceramic vessel with incised lines; 1 portion of a Madison Plain prehistoric ceramic vessel; 2 ceramic sherds representing a third, distinct vessel;…1 large section of a Point Sauble Collared vessel;…<AND> seeds. The site dates from the Late Woodland Period (ca. A.D. 1050-1150), based on the burial mounds and associated funerary objects.” It also states that the “mound was originally one of three conicals, but when Stoltman and Bennett arrived, much of the mound had already been removed.” Sadly, this isn’t the only occurrence of the multiple documented & undocumented grave robberies carried out by university anthropologists, archeologists, self-interested profiteering collectors, and greedy museum vultures who unethically confiscated and expropriated the belongings of the Menominee people and those of a plethora of Indian tribes across this country. Did it ever occur to these opportunistic parasites that certain items, knowledge, information, et al, are the exclusive proprietary property of indigenous people that they are not necessarily entitled to their possession in an eminent domain bully-like fashion? Thanks to NAGPRA and to the dedicated persistence and tedious hard work of many Indians, some of our ancestors and our property are slowly and rightfully coming back to us. I am mentioning the above published NAGPRA bulletin only since it is already a matter of public record and to repudiate the implicit bias (as illustrated in this article) that something that is organically Indian derived is somehow not true unless, and only if, it is ‘officially’ collaborated by non-NDN folks. I am also using it as a way to illustrate that just because something hasn’t been definitively proven <by you>, perhaps it might be prudent to reserve judgment regarding the possibility that something exists. I would like to offer an alternative theory that maybe, just maybe, the reason why this story and “other stories” can’t be verified is because it is ‘privileged & confidential information’ amongst Indian people that is shared on a ‘need to know’ basis. Eh?! (I believe those are the same type of legal words that are used by Monsanto who has already cornered the market/our earth on their copyrighted proprietary GMO corn seeds that many environmentalists believe are in the process of overrunning and contaminating natural seeds.) My experience of Indian communities is that by our nature we are a generous and sharing people; but undeniably, there is good reason why many of us have become very protective because of the past predator behavior that has gone for centuries. I would argue that many of our suspicions are warranted due to the past disregard of our sacred objects, by the outright purposeful deception and false promises in some cases and by the mistreatment of our knowledge by others. Undoubtedly there are some of us who have become weary of a bunch of non-Indians either laying claim, or obtaining Masters &/or Doctorate degrees in writing about us and/or financially profiting on book deals or on career advancement through leeching off of Indian intellectual property. Let me be clear: I am not specifically commenting about the individuals who are mentioned in this article or about their behavior; I do not know them. Rather I am speaking about the distinct and well documented transgressions committed by others that are historical fact. Hmmm…I’m just saying, hypothetically, that if I happened to be one of the recipients of some heirloom seeds that were handed down and entrusted to me to keep safe in my own clay seed jar (which obviously has been proven to be a reliable vessel) for the future, I might not go blabbing to any strangers who came poking around asking about them! Eh?! Contrary to what some arrogant museum curators may assume and contrary to what some sincere university and govt. officials may believe, perhaps there are sacred reasons why we are the best shepherds to safe guard and protect the inheritance of our past.

Maizeman's picture
Submitted by Maizeman on
Hello. This is Zach Paige who was talked about in the above article. I hope to clarify a little. Firstly, thank you to the commenter for sharing all of your valuable information in the NAGPRA document and the good work you are doing to share this info. This is something that I had no idea existed, and is very interesting and very important. I don't quite remember saying 'no idea where the clay ball comes from' when talking about this story and wouldn't have thought that was an important piece of the article. I agree that ancient heirlooms exist and such excavation digs exists as well as stolen property that should be given back to tribes and families as soon as possible. This story here was specifically about the 'gete-okosomin' squash that I get weekly requests for because of the mass social media storm videos about the seed that went viral and many people in the country request this particular squash from me to grow - in a "set the record straight" type article. The craze all started from a single story-line coming from Winona LaDuke (mainly the people who gave her the seed from Menominee). I have been working for the White Earth Land Recovery Project for 4 years, and I have done extensive research and backstory on this seed talking to each individual to get to the bottom of the true story and finding the facts from all of the people whom grew it. In all hopes, I wanted to present with Rowen White at our annual Indigenous Farming Conference about indigenous seed storage and share the information (which we still did a great presentation on) - but I was hoping to find some interesting facts about the dig, the archeologist etc. of this seed so I followed the line of this particular squash seed and it took me back to David Wrone in 1995. Here is what he wrote when we talked: I thought it valuable to share the TRUTH of this story and not perpetuate the fable of an 800 year-old squash. There is no clay ball in this storyline, although David does talk about someone finding other squash seeds in a KY cave. There are some loose ends to the story, but going as far back to Mr. Wrone is all I know as of now. It is more than possible that information and important heirlooms be protected, and there is nothing wrong with that in the age of poisons, monsanto etc. etc. So in all cases I agree with the commenter. I just want to be clear about the story of the seed in the article, thanks.