The 23,000-hectare Puszta of Hódmezővásárhely is one of the sunniest areas in Hungary. Its intact vegetation dates back some three thousand years. Today, 229 species of birds – 68% of the Hungarian bird fauna – occur in the Kardoskút White Lake, of which 89 are nesting and 140 are migratory. Among mammals, 23 species are recorded. The area managed by the Körös-Maros National Park is now grazed by two herds of grey cattle and a mixed herd of cigars.
The area of the Hódmezővásárhely Puszta was settled by successive Neolithic cultures around the turn of the 5th and 4th millennia BC. From that time on, during the migration of peoples, and after the conquest, it has been inhabited by groups of people from agricultural cultures. During the Ottoman occupation, the southeastern Pure Wasteland was deserted. After the wars of liberation, when the remaining inhabitants of Hódmezővásárhely who had fled and remained moved back, they were able to graze from the Tisza to Gyula Castle and cultivate an ever larger area of land on the outskirts of the populated field town.
After land disputes, from 1723 the Count Károlyi family bought Hódmezővásárhely, and then began to expropriate Újváros, Sámson, Derekegyháza and the area of Nagymágocs. Until the end of feudalism, the town and the lordship were in frequent litigation. In 1744, the free serfs from Zomba in Tolna County, who had settled in Pustá and founded the new Orosháza, seized land. Initially, there was discord between the two settlements. But the people were the wiser. They began to get to know each other. As the partitioning and farming of the Puszta accelerated from 1850 onwards, marriages were arranged to form indissoluble ‘blood contracts’. They tried to make a living together with a lot of work on the meadows, which were of considerable saline, poor quality and often waterlogged. This is the reason why the map of the area researched by Gyula Nagy, director of the museum in Orosháza, shows the dense system of scattered farms that developed up to the middle of the 20th century, with an important network of schools and reading rooms. This is how the local, highly valuable, unique culture developed. It is no coincidence that Dr. István Tálasi, former professor of ethnography at the ELTE, called the whole of the inner and outer area of Hódmezővásárhely, including the commonly used Puszta, a great relictum.
The huge border was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. At the end of the 18th century, the notorious outlaw population was already a threat to public safety. Then, at the end of the 19th century, secession movements began. Vásárhely itself was forced to establish a centre for the Puszta in Kardoskút. This was followed by the establishment of the Puszcoskos Centre by Id. Gregus Máté, who founded the Vásárhely-Kutas farm centre. In 1950, in the course of the national land readjustment, Puszta was divided into several administrative districts. The counties of Békés and Csongrád shared it approximately equally. The mother town of vásárhely received the smallest part from Csomorkány. The villages of Székkutas, Nagymágocs, Árpádhalom and Derkegyház were annexed to Csongrád County, and the villages of Békéssámson, Kardoskút and Pusztaföldvár were annexed to the county of Békés County to the parent town and district of Orosháza. In 1900, the Puszta had an area of 33 478 hectares and was the size of a district, now it is estimated at 23 thousand hectares. It is also part of the Körös-Maros National Park. According to today’s official registration, the total protected area is 5699.3123 ha.
The Puszta of Hódmezővásárhely is one of the sunniest areas of our country. Due to the climate of the Puszta, all crops ripen and grow earlier here. The flora of the Hódmezővásárhely Puszta is also unique. We distinguish the Tatarsánc Ancient Grassland, which is now a strictly protected area surrounded by a fence. The intactness of the vegetation here is dated back to the Hallstatt period, some three thousand years ago. It was formed after the destruction of the castle. Lake Fehér in Kardoskút is one of the most unique biological areas in Hungary. In the short period after the snow has melted, when the water fills the lake bed, the strictly protected marsh sparrow (Umbra krameri) and nine other species of fish appear. It is also home to the rare digger frog (Pelobates fuscus). Today, there are 229 species of birds in the Puszta – 68 percent of the Hungarian bird fauna – of which 89 species are nesting and 140 are migratory. The bones of a grouse (Tetrao tetrix), a pelican, or dunnock, and a great crested newt (Egretta alba) have been found in the Árpád-period settlements excavated in the Puszta. During inland wet years, the common storks (Himantopus himantopus himantopus L.) and the guillemot (Recurvirostra avosetta L.) are regular breeding species. In the 1960s, the Seychelles Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla Leisler) bred here. Increasingly large numbers of northern breeding cranes (Grus grus grus L.) arrive in the north, but in mild winters ever increasing numbers of them overwinter. There are 23 mammal species. Most of these live in arable fields. Two herds of grey cattle and a mixed herd of cigas graze in the National Park today.
When Rákosi announced the year of the revolution in 1948, he launched a campaign of excessive confiscation, taxation, requisitioning, confiscation of property, and the murder of thousands of people for defending their property and agitating against socialism. The elderly were even more patient, but the young farmers saw the rapid development of the dictatorship as the destruction of their future and their lives. In 1949, János Blahó (1923-1951), born in the Highlands, appeared and began to organise a White Guard movement among the youth of Puszta, whose aim was the armed overthrow of the Rákosi regime. The number of participants in the resistance spread rapidly and secret organizing meetings were held in more and more farms from Nagymágocs to Lake Fehér. Young István Kovács (1927-1951), who became Blahó’s organizing partner, lived in Pósa-halm, and important farmers of the Puszta joined the movement. It spread like wildfire to other areas of Békés and Csongrád counties, as far as the border of Szeged. Some of them even acquired weapons. In the early autumn of 1950, the underground movement began to be dismantled. István Juhász Nagy (1920-1951), János Blahó and István Kovács were hanged in Szeged’s Csillag Prison in the spring of 1951 after being brutally tortured. Hundreds of peasants were imprisoned, sent to mines and labour camps in inhumane conditions.
Meanwhile, economic and violent coercion was used to organise agricultural cooperatives. Dozens of unviable communities were established in the vast region. The ultimate goal was “one village, one cooperative”. The depopulation of the Hódmezővásárhely Puszta began. Many people moved permanently to towns and villages. The farm life is disappearing. The population is still decreasing, although after the regime change there has been a definite development. Nevertheless, there is a struggle to improve the living conditions of the population and to boost population growth.
In the National Park area, the Pustas are moved with the cattle from spring to winter. The animals graze and are pushed and pushed behind. Protected plant and animal species that were thought to be extinct are found. Even in landscape reserves outside strict protection zones, huge patches of chair grass spread in spring. In Székkutas, the Herbária Zrt plant, which employs 70 people, produces herbal teas and dietary supplements.
The National Park and Kardoscuta Municipality have been organising the White Lake Day in September for several years, with an increasing number of visitors coming to the centre and taking part in the demonstrations. The small village has revived its Reading Club and the small cemetery is being looked after. The National Park museum and auditorium is well organised and welcomes groups of tourists and school classes all year round. Special biology and nature conservation classes are held. Székkutas, another prominent settlement in the Puszta, has seen an explosion of urbanisation in the last five years, following the fortunate election of a mayor. Derekegyháza and Pusztaföldvár are developing excellently. In the latter village, the Village Museum has been inaugurated, as well as the historic memorial site of the late Copper Age/early Iron Age Tatar Chain, a small-scale, but semicircular, stair-stepped, outdoor communal gathering place with a large communal oven in the middle.
In 2013, the two parent towns and seven municipalities founded the Association for the Puszta of Vásárhely, and subsequently another association, Pusztaötös, was formed to uplift the people of Vásárhely and to give national and even international recognition to the great Vásárhely Puszta.