The period of beginnings of wheat production in the upper Kansas valley prepared the way locally for the boom and testing period of about a decade, 1872-1882. Favorable crop seasons were interspersed through the period but the opening and closing years especially brought climatic and economic adversity. This was true not only in Kansas, but over the world rather 'generally, and most important of all, in spite of such circumstances or possibly in part because of them, the decade was one of phenomenal technological change which affected profoundly the economic, social and political structure of the world. A communications revolution based upon mechanical power had given a new reality to world markets and price-making for agricultural commodities. The impact of these facts upon Kansas was as great as upon any area of the globe.

     The winter wheat boom was based upon already known varieties of soft wheat and methods of tillage, harvesting and milling, as well as upon traditional crop combinations of corn, wheat and oats. Before the end of the period all these factors were in a state of flux and for some the changes that were to usher in the new era were well along toward their culmination, while for some the transition was only well begun. A new hard wheat had been introduced from Eastern Europe, new varieties of sorghums had been imported from Asia and Africa, alfalfa had made its appearance, and new tillage, harvesting and milling machinery was gaining widespread acceptance. With respect to innovations in Prairie-Plains agriculture, probably no decade until the 1920's with its mechanical power-machinery revolution, and possibly not even that, inaugurated such far-reaching changes as the decade under review.


     1872-Good crops and prosperity did not necessarily go hand in hand and the year 1872 was one of widespread discontent in Kansas. The winter wheat crop was small in acreage but had

40 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

been mostly winter-killed, the spring wheat was fair, but con, the principal staple crop, produced a big yield at ruinously low prices. [1]

     1873-In 1873 occurred the great panic which inaugurated a prolonged economic depression of world-wide proportions. The wheat yield was good but acreage was not large in Geary [Davis] county and the agricultural society recommended that grain be held at St. Louis prices plus freight, as the demands of newly arrived settlers and of the army were thought sufficient to take all of it. The corn and late potatoes were damaged by dry weather, but were estimated at three-fourths of normal. Apples and blackberries were about one-fourth of a crop, peaches were a failure, but grapes were good. [2] recovery from panic prices did not occur until mid-winter. [3]

     1874-The winter wheat made about two-thirds of a crop in 1874 and one commentator said better than 1873, the spring wheat was about one-third of a crop and corn was a failure. [4] This was the notorious grasshopper year, the plague arrived in the late summer after the wheat was saved, but finishing off most of the crops that had survived the drouth. On account of the scarcity of feed, farmers were urged to ship their hogs at once. Corn was shipped in to supply necessary feed for remaining livestock. The wheat prices advanced from about 75 cents to 90 cents during the fall months, but local economic conditions were so discouraging that some stores of Junction City restricted sales to cash transactions. and big fires, so frequent in frontier towns during depressions, were reported. [5] Work relief was advocated as a means of alleviating destitution, but in view of the condition of the city treasury, the editor ridiculed the proposal. [7] The necessity of importing corn from St. Louis drew the comment that "four years ago this was not uncommon, but it seems queer now." [8] The wry humor that has become almost proverbial on the Plains cropped out in the newspaper locals:

The grasshoppers reappeared here in swarms on Wednesday. The object of their visit is not known, as there is nothing here to eat.

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 41

John K. Wright said the other day (when things looked more hopeful than they do now) that he would have had 150 bushels of corn where he expected 2,000. [8]

     But before the year was out, and despite the fact that neither man nor beast could eat them and they could not be used for fuel, Mother Nature made slight amends by contributing a second spring in 1874, and Robert McBranty's lilacs were in bloom in October. [9]

     1875-With the encouragement of rains in September, 1874, an increased acreage of winter wheat was sown for the 1875 crop, and in spite of some grasshopper damage in the spring there was a big wheat and corn crop. The enforced shipments of hogs in 1874 resulted in a hog shortage in 187 5 and corn was shipped as grain. Substantial shipments were made also of wheat and flour. [10] The harvest price of wheat was reported at $1.10, but there was complaint about corn prices. By mid-winter little corn had moved to market because of the _5-cent price, and called out the estimate, probably not fully warranted by facts, that if sufficient hogs had been available the corn farmer could have realized 60 cents. [11]

     1876-During the spring of 1876 the wheat crop promised to be the largest ever grown in the state and central Kansas claimed to be "the wheat garden of the world," but the yield was reduced in June only a few clays before harvest by worm damage so that threshing reports were disappointing. [12] The price for wheat in Abilene during the fall was 30 to 60 cents, but in October No. 3 wheat was reported at $1.10 per bushel. [13] The corn crop was good. A year-end summary of the season concluded that "the year 1876 will be remembered in most places as a year of hard times." [14] This was an unfortunate outcome for the prophets of the spring of 1876 who, after reviewing the days of Kansas Troubles, the Civil War, the panic, drouth and grasshoppers, had predicted that Kansas was then opening an era of solid prosperity-Kansas had arrived. [15] For those who had not sold their wheat early there was good cheer to be derived from the fact that the Russo-Turkish war ran up the price of wheat to $1.90 at Junction City in May, 1871, and much old wheat was sold at prices above $1.50, but the

42 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

artificial price structure broke to about $1.00 by the time the new crop was ready. [16]

     1877-On account of grasshoppers the outlook for winter wheat was discouraging during the fall of 1876 and much was resown, but in Saline county the acreage was reported as fifteen times the previous year. Drouth, wind and dust prevailed in early winter, a snow covering not coming until late December, and despite contradictory reports from optimistic boomers, the wheat went into the winter in bad condition. [17] Serious grasshopper damage occurred again during the early spring of 1877 in addition to dry weather. May was wet and the wheat that had survived made a surprising recovery in spite of rust, the third-successive crop hazard. Corn was retarded but the disaster to winter wheat had resulted in a record corn acreage. The final summary for the year credited the region with a poor wheat crop, much not even being cut, and the corn which promised so well until late summer was so poor in Saline county that farmers had to buy corn before the next crop was grown. [18] It was within this background that a newspaper reader must interpret such a paragraph as this:

"Owners of corn-shellers in Kansas, this year, complain that their machines arc comparatively useless, as the ears of corn are so big they cannot get them into the machines." [19]

     1878-The season of 1878 was almost ideal and a record crop was grown despite rust damage. [20] The early part of the harvest was wet, but a dry period gave an opportunity to save the immense wheat crop although it damaged the corn. [21] New wheat sold in Junction City in July at 60 to 65 cents for No. 2 and declined during August at Abilene to 55 to 58 cents, with still lower prices for the inferior grades. [22] The emphasis on low grades implied that much of the crop had been damaged. The newspapers reported that there was some corn to sell. [23]

     1879-The season of 1879 was most unfavorable, drouth and wind producing dust storms. [24] A large part of the winter wheat was plowed up and planted to corn, which optimists insisted promised a seventy-bushel crop. A wet summer prolonged the

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 43

wheat harvest, and further damaged grain and reduced the yield to an admitted half crop or less. [25] In September the claim was made that early corn had made good, but it was admitted that late corn was almost a total failure. [26] Whatever may have been the truth about the yield of merchantable grain, the yield of tall stories was fully normal:

During the blowing of the gentle zephyrs, on Monday evening, a corn stalk blew down on John Lamb's farm, striking a Mr. Banning who was passing by, and injuring him so badly that he will have to crutch it for a few weeks. Merely the tassel touched him, else the consequences might have been more severe. People should keep away from corn fields this growing weather. [27]

     The prices of grain fluctuated widely. In mid-July the spread was 50 to 75 cents between different grades. In the fall prices rose only to collapse 20 cents in one week to 80 cents, while at the same time corn sold for 18 cents. [28]

     1880-The drouth continued through the wheat season of 1880, wind and dust storms ruining a large part of the crop. [29] One local correspondent wrote, "We are getting so dry that it is almost impossible for us to tell the truth." [30] Late in May rains came and the hope was expressed that some wheat might be saved. As usual under adversity the local papers were contradictory in their reports on conditions, boasting of every good field and putting the most hopeful appearance on a bad situation. [31] Much corn was planted on wheat ground, but drouth and chinch bugs took their toll and in August corn was being cut for fodder. Not even the oldest settler could recall such a year. [32]

     1881-To read only the current crop reports of the late winter and spring of 1880-1881 would be misleading when they ran `Wheat crops chuckling all over with laughter and bouyant with hope. [33] In the main the season of 1881 was a repetition of 1880, with drouth winter-killing, wind, chinch bugs and heat. Some corn was replanted a third time on account of excess rain at planting time and then it burned up by the scorching heat of summer. [34]

     1882-The turn of the series of bad years came in 1882 with the most extravagant reports of wheat yields-47 bushels and 61

44 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

bushels on individual fields. [35] The corn crop was good, but not unusual.

     1883-The season of 1883 was most favorable for both wheat and corn and they sold at fair prices, the most prosperous season up to then in the history of Dickinson county. [36]

WHEAT AND CORN, KANSAS, 1862-1902 [37]

(Winter and Spring Wheat Combined)

  Wheat Corn

18629,630 21.00170,36540.00

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 45


     The wheat picture cannot be visualized clearly even with the aid of available statistical tables of acreages and yields, because the statistical methods of the time were inadequate and the data are unreliable. This applies to the figures of both the state and federal governments. It is necessary, nevertheless, to use such materials as a base, and supplement them with an analysis of samples that will provide some appreciation of the nature of their inadequacies and of the limits to their use. The first table gives the figures for wheat and corn in Kansas that have cone to be accepted as standard and are labeled "harvested acres" in the case of wheat. This table does not distinguish winter from spring sorts, but in general it may be said that spring wheat was in the majority in early years, they were about evenly divided during the early seventies, and by the eighties spring wheat had largely disappeared, except in the northwest counties. Probably very little confidence can be placed in the data for the sixties. There is much uncertainty regarding the methods of determining the data in either the county or state figures after 1872 when the state board of agriculture began to function.

     The report for 1873 stated clearly that the statistics were taken by the county assessors beginning March, 1873, that they represented acreages, yields, and values of the crops planted and harvested in 1872, except winter wheat statistics which were for acre-


YearWinter WheatSpring Wheat
acres per acreacresper acre
1872 247,685 -64,158-
1873 258.393-145,241-
1874 438,17915.66278,026 10.33
1875 505,68119.86237,523 13.32
1876 758,60015.47264,583 10.89
1877 857,12512.60206,868 16.89
18781,297,55520.44433.27 13.38
18791,520,65911.55412.139 7.25
18802.215,93710.61228,497 7.76
18801,974.6939.71208,179 16.31
18821,465.74523.16137.522 13.46
18831,480,20419.5679.098 13.48
18842,151,86821.6985,260 16.06

46 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

ages on the ground in the spring of 1873, but the yields and values were estimates compiled from county reports and market prices obtained from millers and wholesale dealers. This would seem to mean that the statistics in the report for 1873 were for the crops of 1872 except for the winter wheat, which is for the crop harvested in 1873. If that is the meaning intended, then the data for the winter-wheat crop in the report for 1873 should be bracketed with the data for the spring crops to be found in the report for 1874 in order to put together what was actually harvested during the calendar year 1873.

     In the state census of 1875, taken as of March 1, the assessors' blanks called for acres in crops sown in the fall of 1874 and the crops to be sown in the spring of 1875. As the assessor would be making rounds anytime during the two months or so after March 1 the figures often must have actually represented the situation at the time of his visit. This was peculiarly important in seasons when there had been a heavy winter-kill of wheat and spring crops had been planted on the same ground. There is much confusion also on the question of whether the reports printed by the State Board of Agriculture represented sown acres, or harvested acres, or what were nominally accepted under those designations. In the wheat and corn table, the years 1879 to 1884 inclusive seen, to be harvested acres and 1885 to 1890 inclusive planted acres for wheat. After 1890 they seem to have been harvested acres. The figures published in the biennial reports covering current years were harvested acres. In 1890 the quarterly reports illustrated the method of arriving at the production totals,-to multiply the estimated acreage by the estimated average yield on harvested acreage. The extent of winter-kill and other damage resulting in abandonment of wheat acreage was a matter of such contradiction and controversy that no informed person can argue seriously in favor of the accuracy of any set of figures. [39] One conclusion is inescapable, however, that although the annual abandonment varied from year to year, the average was high and was higher than the formal printed records were willing to admit.

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 47

     It was not often that the newspapers gave realistic figures for crop yields. The spirit of boom optimism did not permit such candor and anyone making a low estimate or a pessimistic prediction was almost certain to be branded a croaker. In good years specific figures were printed frequently claiming yields that some times seem fantastic. In bad years little was said usually of crops field. The reports unless attention was called called to some exceptional field. The reports of the state board of agriculture seem to have been based mostly upon harvested acres and there is reason to conclude that they were optimistic estimates. If they were reduced to an average in planted acres they would make different reading. Reports of realistic appearance were printed occasionally as in a case in 1880 where a country community reporter listed the yields of ten neighbors: 10; 5.5; 5.5; 6.5; 12.5; 9; 8; 12; 5.5; 6. This makes an unweighted average of 8 bushels, while the report of state board gave 11 bushels for the county. [40]

     In 1881 one editor in Saline county disapproved claiming 20 to 30 bushels and getting 8 to 10, but thought that on the basis of conditions in May the county average should be 15. The report of the state board of agriculture at the end of the year gave 13 bushels. That same year a local reporter gave the yield of his neighbors at 15; 8; 5.5; 4.75; 4.5; or an unweighted average of 7.5 bushels. [41] It is quite possible, if not probable, that most of the reports of yields scale down on about that proportion if realistic statistics were available. One complainant registered his protest against Kansas crop reports, insisting that in the last six years the Kansas average (excluding the western counties) was not over 12 bushels; that in 1881 an average of 15 bushels was claimed when the actual yield was about 9. [42] As it turned out the state board claimed only 9.38 that year. During this period the state board had averaged from 10.3 to 18.3 for the whole of the state. The conclusion seems warranted that even in the seemingly most realistic reports of yields the estimates were based on harvested acres, but the farmer had to pay expenses on the whole acreage farmed (if replanted, on two operations) and not only on the acres actually producing marketable grain worth harvesting.

48 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     The quality of Kansas wheat during this wheat boom is not to be measured by the same standards as the hard winter wheats The weights per bushel were compiled by J. McFarland, state statistical agent of the United States Department of Agriculture for the years -1876-1883, inclusive:

YearLbs. Per Measured Bushel. [43]
1876           54.10
1877           53.63
1878           55.90
1879           54.64
1880           55.05
1881           53.40
1882           57.29
1883           53.09

     The inferior quality of the crop was admitted on occasion, a large part of the Saline county wheat in 1879 being No. 4, and the most of the crop of 1880 being No. 3. [44] This is more important than is usually recognized, because the prices quoted in the press were often for No. 1 and even when lower grades were quoted there was seldom a hint as to what grades were actually delivered. Farm income could not be bolstered up by nominal quotations, and many of the farmers' price grievances of the period must have their explanation in low grade wheat.

     Before a full realization of the economic condition of the farms of the seventies can be realized it is imperative that these several factors be evaluated realistically. Abandonment of winter wheat acreage ran from only a small percentage to 75 or 80 per cent and probably oftener than not was 25 to 50 per cent. The yields per acre as reported by the state board of agriculture or by the press were probably always optimistic estimates on harvested acres. Lastly, the quality of the grain actually delivered and therefore the price was seldom better than No. 2 and often No. 3 or worse. The situation with respect to corn statistics was probably even less favorable than those for wheat. The farmers' revolt of the seventies grew out of this background, and the traditional historical treatments of the farmer grievance of the so-called Granger period need revaluation on the basis of this kind of a setting rather than the fictitious one historians have provided for it.

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 49


     Before leaving the subject altogether, something should be said of crop yield statistics and the use made of them in discussions of depletion of soil fertility and of efficiency of agricultural practices. The analysis thus far has demonstrated the unreliability of the statistics of yields, and that actual yields were much below the accepted figures, and the disparity would be much wider if yields were based on planted acres. Statistics of yields in either case are not necessarily any index to soil fertility and provide no basis for comparison with later periods. The factors determining actual variation in yields were not primarily fertility, but rather crop hazards, inefficient farming and climatic conditions in relation to the lack of adaptation of varieties and cultural methods. The factor of soil fertility cannot be segregated from these other factors. The varieties of wheat raised in the seventies seem to have been developed with particular reference to high yields, in good years, rather than resistance to Western environmental hazards. The later hard varieties were developed with reference to the latter factors and an average good yield, as well as choice milling qualities. In these varieties, even the highest yields on new land, and under most favorable crop conditions, do not equal some of the spectacular yields claimed in the seventies for the soft wheats. On the other hand their average yields, based upon upland acres over a period of years, are much more favorable than the soft wheats. Aside from the unknown factor of soil fertility there can be little question but that actual yields from planted acres in recent years are much above those of the seventies. That much may be said of the combination of factors associated with adaptation as well as more efficient and intensive agriculture and, for the sake of those who insist upon the soil-depletion argument, in spite of a possible decline in fertility.


     The principal field crop competition was of two types - between corn and wheat and between cash grain crops and livestock. At the opening of the decade corn was still in the ascendancy in Volume of production, was grown as a money crop in excess of

50 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

the market demand, bringing ruinously low prices under the existing freight rate structure, and a further hazard was the critical marginal position of corn with relation to climate. Probably no contemporary stated the case better, except for the livestock interest, than the Rev. John A. Anderson, president of Kansas State Agricultural College, in his "Sketch of Kansas Agriculture" of 1875. [45]

     As in most Western States, corn has been the leading crop; the statistics show that it is far from being either the most certain or the most profitable. . . . [These statistics say] "Don't put all your eggs in the corn basket; put most in the wheat basket, it is safer;" . . . Kansas farmers. . are rapidly changing from the old theory that corn was the crop to the one already indicated.


YearAcresYieldAcresYield AcresYield
18722,512142,3391514,033 --
18732,512--4,346--9,041 --
18743,264156,98;812,593 2
18755,393177,5851215,326 41
18764,640156,5281217,787 40
18773,253105,3001826,764 46
18784,2492210,2621325,424 40
18796,463159,973818,122 45
18805,860124,2821030,691 32
18816,132101,161643,814 17
18824,524241,8011552,203 50
18834,993222,1861442,520 40
18848,215241,1741542,891 43


YearAcresYieldAcresYield AcresYield
18721,617201,528166,185 --
18731,617--2,818--4,996 --
18742,921153,9778.56,219 5
18755,012182,504127,893 40
18767,201152,963107,654 40
18777,910101,546811,118 42
187811,568223,1971011,183 40
187932,744112,636514,991 32
188016,836111,621919,750 33
188112,4787858523,932 26
18829,187234701226,482 37
18839,571221121338,260 28
188416,185261401822,561 35

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 51

Every State has its peculiar conditions of climate, soil and market; and no man in the world is surer to discover them, to adapt his work to them, than the practical American farmer. . . The variations in the fall of rain are apt to occur in those months when the wheat is out of danger, and when the corn is in danger. . . .

     The first reaction to the distress of the early seventies was a clamor for diversification, [46] but the relative success with winter wheat during the mid-seventies brought "the wheat fever" which threatened "to spread all over the State, to the great detriment of other interests and of the commonwealth." The Manhattan Nationalist argued that in twenty years Riley county had never yielded three fair crops in succession, while west of Junction City there had been three crops and it was safe to assume that this


YearAcresYieldAcresYield AcresYield
18725,687152,639139,099 --
18735,627--8,297--10,951 --
187415,030189,3001312,720 5
187532,061224,2581514,750 42
187650,561153,901911,406 46
187763,044117,0912034,711 46
187876,3952219,203830,197 40
187968,042821,524346,353 30
1880101,303123,0111076,238 28
1881102,91492,846372,346 16
188278,909263,3901272,784 38
188376,562249311484,240 45
1884107,212244521387,327 48


18722,356155,0761210,678 --
18732,355--4,571--6,403 --
187412,804169,037917,239 --
187525,697214,5521414,935 42
187632,651164,1961014,111 40
187758,497174,5411823,060 43
187867,7402310,9921023,416 36
187965,6811010,385637,739 35
188089,918111,4557.545,710 20
188189,285131,307445,866 13
188270,540261,4831555,247 30
188369,304223651256,252 28
188493,858221191546,699 39

52 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

would continue, but even at that, a mixed husbandry would be best in the long run because "a failure of the wheat crop would force all of the counties to the west of Davis [Geary] to resort to begging. With half the people it would be beg or starve, and it needs no argument to show that it is not safe for a whole community to run such risks." The article closed with a world wheat surplus argument, the competition of Hindustan which had gone into wheat production and the price collapse which would ensue. [47]

     On December 1, 1876, the Abilene Chronicle took up the discussion on the argument that the speculative attitude was the cause of the farmer's troubles. When the price of a particular product was high, farmers rushed into producing that commodity; thus there had been successive speculations in cattle, wheat, sheep, hogs, broomcorn, etc. The editor advised diversification and the continuance with an adopted program long enough to secure results. Although the county was undoubtedly primarily a wheat county, the farmer should diversify by raising corn and hogs, thereby producing year-round employment and a failure of one would not necessarily mean a failure of all, and furthermore, the production of corn and hogs would not diminish the wheat acreage the individual farmer could handle. [48] The wheat boom spirit was the dominant note of the time, however, both for the region and for individual large producers who were written up as the wheat kings of their respective counties each with his hundreds or thousands of acres. [49] The wheat boom took the place of the corn boom and in the two western counties the phrase "Wheat is King" displaced "Corn is King." [50] The upper Kansas river valley became "The Golden Belt." [51]

     The wheat and corn acreages and yields by counties are given in separate tables from the official statistical sources and are subject to all the limitations already indicated. Riley county was conspicuously different from those farther west, and Geary [Davis] county was more nearly like Riley than like the two farther west. The large spring wheat acreage was a feature of Riley, and in both Riley and Geary counties the winter wheat acreage did not assume dominating proportions, corn remaining king. In

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 53

the two western counties the corn acreage was by no means negligible, but winter wheat was king. The fluctuations in spring wheat acreage during the late seventies are particularly interesting, especially in 1878 and 1879, and probably represent in large part the winter-kill of the fall planting, and if most of it was added to the winter wheat acreages, would represent more accurately than the official figures the area planted to winter wheat at the peak of the boom. Furthermore, if the yields were calculated on these larger figures the story would be conspicuously different and probably closer to the reality.

     On account of the difference in area of the four counties the total acreage in each crop does not bring out the full value of the data. The table giving winter wheat and corn acreages per square mile emphasizes more clearly the conclusions already pointed out. In these terms Saline and Dickinson counties were the first and third ranking wheat counties in the state in 1878, McPherson and Sedgwick holding second and fourth places. Geary and Riley were twenty-fifth and fifty-third respectively among the seventy counties then organized.

     The average winter wheat and corn planting programs for farms of each size-group in Buckeye township, lying north of Abilene, is presented in the accompanying table for the periods, 1875, 1880 and 1885. Not every small farm reported wheat, but practically every farm had corn. The wheat acreage on all sizes of farms reached its peak about 1880 and declined in 1885, while corn expansion continued through the decade. Although wheat commanded the greater acreage in 1875 and 1880, corn resumed


187218751878 1880
wheatcornwheatcorn wheatcornwheatcorn
Riley county(600 sq. mi.)4.223.5 8.925.56.941.2 9.751.1
Geary (Davis)(407 sq. mi.)4.015.2 12.319.428.427.541.3 48.5
Dickinson(851 sq. mi.) 6.710.737.617.389.835.5 119.089.6
Saline county(720 sq. mi.) 3.31484.520.794.132.5 174.963.5

54 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

the dominant acreage position in 1885 on all groups of farms except the section size. This is evidence that corn was still a contender for the crown in Dickinson county in 1885, while data from the preceding table indicated that corn was fully confirmed as king in 1880 in the two eastern counties. The controlling difference was the limestone hills which set off the two eastern counties as a part of the bluestem-pasture region, while the western residual soils higher up in the valley blend into sandy barns and constitute a part of the central Kansas wheat region. [57]

     This emphasis upon wheat in central Kansas should not be misleading, however, as regards the state as a whole. In the very years in which this regional boom was at its peak the state board of agriculture emphasized that "Corn stands at the head of the list of Kansas crops in acreage, product, and the extraordinary increase from year to year." [58]


     During the wheat boom the search for substitute crops persisted especially in the years adverse to wheat and corn near the beginning and end of the period, and was associated with wishful thinking about processing and manufacture of existing and prospective crops. One man suggested a corn starch factory, cannery, cheese factory, tannery, cotton mills, woolen mills, and paper mills.60 During the same year, 1874, the village of Enterprise was utilizing its water power to operate a flour mill and was building a woolen mill as well as manufacturing vinegar from sorghum syrup and barrels for packing its products.61 Junction City had its cheese factory in 1875, Blue Rapids its paper mill in 1875, Abilene its packing plant and soap factory in 1879, and Junction City its packing plant in 1883. [62] Among the more unusual crops included in the range of experimentation were silk, hemp, cotton, tobacco, and castor beans. [63] Flax had its advocates and proposals were made for a linseed oil mill. [64] Sorghum had been recognized in the sixties as peculiarly adapted to the climate and it provided syrup. Each drouth period gave it added emphasis. [65] With the revival of the late seventies the possibilities of sugar manufacture were featured. Five sugar mills were in operation in the state in

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 55

1881 and a general sugar boom was predicted. [66] In Marion county the White Water Sorgo Association discussed the merits of several varieties from the standpoint of syrup and sugar; the three most favorably considered were Red Liberian, Early Amber and Chinese Sugar cane ("old black-top sorgo"), the last named being best except that it lodged and fell down when grown on a large scale. [67] Sorghum was being sown also for fodder, the practice being to plant in a manner similar to wheat and cut when the seed was in the dough stage. [68] Millet and Hungarian were endorsed by the farmers' institute in 1878 for hay in spite of the conviction that these crops depleted soil fertility and harbored chinch bugs. German millet was grown in Dickinson county in 1878, and Pearl millet in Saline county in 1880. By the latter date also, a rice corn boom was under way." [69]

Broomcorn was raised rather extensively in the latter part of the decade especially in the territory tributary to Salina, but by 1883 it was admitted that


Number of Farms and Acreage by Size Groups

Number of Farms

1875     74
1880     78
1885     112

Number of farms having winter wheat or corn by size group

40-acre farm111000 000
80-acre farm322829302328 353035
160-acre farm312725302930 433941
320-acre farm101010161616 212021
640-acre farm-------- ----999
Inadequate data------2 ----4----

Average acreage by size groups

40-acre farm--84-- 00--00
80-acre farm--17.77.6-- 2325--2028
160-acre farm--29.016.3-- 4633--4145
320-acre farm--45.017.2-- 6547--5966
640-acre farm------ --------127125

*In 1870, Buckeye township was a part of Grant township, and the whole number of farms was 48, of which possibly 25-30 were in the portion that became Buckeye.

56 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     Salina had lost its prestige as a market. [70] Of the group of crops only the sorghum as a forage crop became a permanent part of the crop system. The weather extremes of the decade disturbed the balance of nature in the insect and plant world. The severity of the drouth was being discussed before a grasshopper invasion of August, 1874, a diarist pointing out that summer drouth and heat of 1874 were more severe than in 1860, but a counter argument was advanced that to mid-June, 1874, there had been abundant rain while the spring of 1860 had been dry as well as the summer. The drouth had destroyed largely the summer-growing crops of 1874 before the grasshoppers came, and the grasshopper migration was itself a result of the drouth. It is only in retrospect that an exaggerated emphasis has been placed upon the grasshopper who only finished off what was left.

     A committee conducted a survey in Dickinson county, receiving fifty replies to their questionnaire, the seventh question being:

In cases of need and privation to what do you ascribe the cause? State fully.

     The report on the question was that:

A very great range of answers are given. Eight say drouth or dry weather; only four ascribe the difficulty to grasshoppers, and those but partially. The following are the terms embodied in the remaining replies: Indolence and want of management, lack of fore-thought, fast living, lack of snap, shiftlessness, no actual cases, relief from labor, extravagance, credit system, bonds and judgment notes, laziness, bad management, lack of elbow grease, lack of energy, bad whisky, not more than in an ordinary winter, privation very slim, there is none, not more than any winter, one case, sickness, no cases, lack of git up. [71]

     The editor of the Junction City Union was conservative in his outlook and was carrying on a feud with John Davis of the Tribune, a professional reformer, but the Union, April 10, 1875, declared that "All Kansas needs is deeper plowing, and more of it, with less `reform'." Somewhat later, July 24, he declared that "John Davis has about the poorest farm in the county. A good place to begin `reform'." During a period of distress, scarcely any commentator could be altogether objective in his valuations.

     Continuance of grasshoppers brought much greater direct

The Soft Winter Wheat Boom 57

damage than the spectacular invasion of August, 1874, Particularly numerous in the fall of 1876, fall planted wheat was eaten off or planting was delayed with the result that the wheat went into the winter in bad condition to withstand the hazards of the season. A suggestion was made that a meeting should be called at which the old settlers experienced in the hopper invasion of the late sixties might exchange information for the benefit of all. [72] No one knew much about grasshopper controls, however, but many thought they did and every conceivable plan of carrying on the hopper war was resorted to in the spring of 1877, and numerous ingenious machines were built. There were some farmers who took a fatalistic view of the calamity and let nature take her course, and during the early stages of the infestation the press indulged in violent denunciations of all who did not participate in the efforts at extermination. The futility of the hysterical campaign brought a change, and the comment was made that a wheat field was cleared by birds: "We are not sure but faith is better than grasshopper machines." With respect to another field, the farmer lost his crop of twenty acres: "As fine a crop of young hoppers as anyone could wish. . . as fat and pert as the best of them" on Sunday, but on Thursday all were dead. As the ground was covered with dead insects it was concluded the birds did not get them, the cause was unknown, but -

We have about come to the conclusion that the old settlers were about right in this hopper business, and knew what they were talking about, and that we new comers who have talked fight were off on our wrong foot. [73]

     Probably it is wrong to say that the attitude of the old settlers was fatalistic. Possibly they only sensed, without having scientific proof, that in dealing with far-reaching extremes of climatic phenomena there was not much that man could do about it but hang on as best he could until Nature's cycle had changed direction and weather factors had restored the underlying balances among plants, animals and insects. Within certain limits, however, there were cultural practices which might be discovered that would not fight Nature, but rather, would adapt man's operations to fit with some degree of approximation into the restrictions Nature imposed.

58 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     The spectacular aspects of the grasshopper raids have diverted attention from the chinch bug which was currently rated as inure widespread and serious in its ravages. [74] The principal breeding places for this pest were in late maturing spring wheat, and in millet and Hungarian grass. The unusual spring wheat crop of 1877 was the occasion for the special warning not to plant again. In 1879 there was another heavy infestation delaying the planting of winter wheat, and local papers campaigned for weed and grass burning around fields and against the planting of spring wheat and other breeding crops. The Marion Record declared that "the chinch bugs have done more damage this year than those exaggerated pests - grasshoppers - ever did. . . ." [75] Again in 1880, 1881, 1882, the chinch bugs were the subject of repeated complaint. [76]

A local of 1880 is a gem of humor by means of inverse statement:

"The chinch bugs are struggling with the corn crop." Of the three crop hazards, drouth was most serious, chinch bugs were second, doing their damage in part independent of drouth, and third were grasshoppers, always closely associated with drouth cycles.

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1. Abilene. Chronicle, July 11, 1872; Junction City Union, March 29, 1873.
2. Ibid., July 12, August 16, 23, 1873.
3. Prices in Junction City were quoted in ibid.: November December 27, 1873.
Spring wheat55-65 cents85-95 cents
Winter wheat80-l00110-125

4. Ibid., July 4, 1874.
5. Grasshoppers, many settlers on their way East, The Nationalist, Manhattan, August 7, 14, 1874; Junction City Union, August 15, 1871; prices, Ibid., September 12, November 7, 1874; cash and fires, Ibid., August 1, 8, 1874.
6. Ibid., August 22, 1874.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid., August 15, 1874.
9. Ibid., October 3, 1874.
10. Ibid., September 12, 19, October 3, 1874; April 10, 1875; January 8, February 26, April 1, May 6, 20, July 1, 1876.
11. Ibid., August 7, 1875; January 8, 1876.
12. Abilene Chronicle, April 28, June 16, July 21, 1876; Salina Herald, April 15, June 10, 17, July 8, 29, August 19, 1876; Junction City Union, June 17, July 1, 1876.
13. Salina Herald, September 16, 1876; Junction City Union, October 28, 1876; Abilene Chronicle, January 19, 187i.
14. Ibid., January 12, 1877.
15. Atchison Champion reprinted with approval in The Industrialist, Manhattan, April 29, 1876. The Industrialist was the paper conducted and published by the faculty of the Kansas State Agricultural College.
16. Junction City Union, May 5, 1877; Abilene Chronicle, May 4, June 8, 15, 22, 29, July 13, 20, 1877.
17. Junction City Union, September 2, 23, October 2.1, 1876; Salina Herald, September 16, October 28, 1876; Abilene Chronicle, October 27, November 20, December 8, 29, 1876. A rural meeting in northern Dickinson county debated and voted their convictions that the grasshoppers were a visitation of God as punishment.-Ibid., December 1, 1876.
18. Ibid., April 27, May 4, 11, 18, June 8, July 27, August 3, 1877; Salina Herald, May 26, 1877; Enterprise Kansas Gazette, July 13, 1877,reported less than half a crop.
19. Salina Herald, December 8, 1877. 20. Ibid., September 1, 8, 15, 22, October 6, 1877; Abilene Chronicle, January 4, February 1, April 5, June 7, 28, 1878; The Nationalist, Manhattan, March 22, 1878; Junction City Union, May 25, 1878.
21. Abilene Chronicle, July 5, August 9, 18-8; May 16, 1879; Salina Herald, May 24, 1879.
22. Abilene Chronicle, June 28, 1878; Junction City Union, July 20, August 3, 10, 1878.
23 Salina Herald, May 24, 1879.
24. Ibid., March 1, 8, 15, 29, April 12, 19, 1879.
25. The Nationalist, Manhattan, April 25, 1879; Abilene Chronicle, May 9, 30, July 2 51 August 1, 18i9; Salina Herald, August 30, 1879; Junction City Union, June 21, 1879.
26. Ibid., September 6, 1879
27. Abilene Gazette, August 1, 1879.
28. Ibid., July 18, 1879; Abilene Chronicle, October 31, 1879.
29. Salina Herald, September 6, 13, 1879; January 24, 31, March 6, 27, April 24, 1880; Abilene Chronicle, March 5, 12, 19, April 9, 23, 30, 1880; The Nationalist, Manhattan, April 16, 1880.
30. Salina Herald, May 1, 1880, Poheta items.
31. The Nationalist, Manhattan, May 27, June 3, July 1, 1880; Abilene Chronicle, May 28, July 2, 16, 30, 1880.
32. The Nationalist, Manhattan, April 30, June 24, August 5, September 30. 1880; Abilene Chronicle, May 7, August 6, December 24, 188o; Salina Herald, August 7, 14, 28, 1880.
33. Junction City Union, January 22, 1881, and other optimistic reports November 27, 1880, May 7, 1881; Salina Herald, October 30, 1880.
34. Abilene Chronicle, August 26, 1881, "Our Prospects," an article reviewing the whole season.
35. Ibid., July 28, August 25, 1882. The latter figure was challenged by the Salina Herald, August 24, 1882. The Herald, July 27, boasted, however, that the crop was the largest and best since 1878.
36. Abilene Chronicle, September 21, 1883; January 4, 1884.
37. Thirteenth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture ... 1901-1902, pp. 1035-1036. See also "Wheat in Kansas," p. 7, in Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture for the Quarter Ending September 1920, (Topeka, 1921). The bracketed figures for wheat acres and yield in 1885 arc from the latter. For explanation see Chapter ii.
38. Based on Annual and Biennial Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture .. . The acre figures seem to be intended for harvested acres.
39. In 1877 the Kansas City (Missouri) Journal reported heavy winter-kill and grass-hopper damage in Dickinson county, estimating the condition as of early May at probably half a crop. The Abilene Chronicle, lay 18, 1877, replied vehemently that winter-kill did not exceed 5% and hopper damage 1%, and that the yield would be 25% more than ever before. But July 13, the Enterprise Gazette reported from Chapman creek that possibly as much as a thousand acres in Noble township was not worth cutting, and not less than two thousand in Sherman township would be abandoned. In January, 1878, T. C. Henry indicated in his farmers' institute address that he disapproved spring wheat except to replace winter wheat but admitted he would plant 1,000 acres in 1878. Probably this meant over 25% winter-kill. (Abilene Chronicle, February 1, 1878.) In the "Golden Belt" article of 1877 he was credited with 300 acres of spring wheat as well as 700 acres of other spring crops and 3,000 acres of winter wheat. This might mean a 10% winterkill or more. (Ibid., July 6, 1877.) Wheat abandoned in Jefferson and Ridge townships was reported at one-half to three-fourths, which was being planted to corn. (Ibid., May 1 28, 1880.)
In 1880 the Leavenworth Times and the Kansas City (Missouri) Journal both reported the wheat crop in Dickinson county very poor as the result of winter-kill and drouth. The Gazette admitted that some farmers of the county criticized the editor for not telling the people frankly that the wheat crop was a failure. The method of defense used was to list leading farms by name and describe the condition of the crop, admitting that at an earlier date some of the fields seemed to be a failure, but that they had recovered, the yields estimated on the samples under review ranged from 8 to 20 bushels. By way of summary and conclusion, the editor declared that a crop of 8 to 10 bushels was not a failure. In 1881 the abandoned acreage was given by the Abilene Chronicle, June 24, as 5.6% based on the county clerk's figures-assessors' data. The planted acres were given as 108,997 and the abandoned acres as 6,083 leaving the remaining acres at 102,914. Comparison with the report of the state board for 1881, shows the last figure is the one given there. Even here it is not clear whether the Chronicle figures were for the winter wheat acres actually harvested or the acres on the ground in the spring. In Marion county the state board figures were stated to be planted acres. (Marion Record, July 13, 1877). There seems to be no method of determining the practice.
Still another example of divergence of figures appeared in the Abilene Gazette, May 28, 1880, which gave the acres sown in 1878 (1879 crop) at 74,449, and in 1879 (1880 crop) at. 97,000. The first figure is 6,o00 acres higher and the second 4,000 acres lower than the figures in the table. (Second Biennial Report of the State Board of Agriculture,
The accompanying table of abandoned acres is quite unsatisfactory for the years covered but it illustrates the extent of official admissions on the questions at issue


<- /TR>
CountyYearAcres sownHarvested Winter-killed acres
1882____4,524Less than 1%
18829,187Lessthan 1%
1882____78,909Less than 1%
1880_____89,918 Uncertain
1882____70,540Less than 1%

Compiled from the Quarterly and Biennial Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture... .
40. Salina Herald, August 14, 1880.
41. Ibid., July 16, 1881. Poheta items.
42. Abilene Chronicle, September 16, 1881, from the Kansas Farmer.
43. Junction City Union, December 1, 1883; The Daily Kansas Herald, Lawrence, December 8, 1883.-Compiled from reports of millers in Topeka, Kansas City, Atchison and Fort Scott, and from growers.
44. Salina Herald, August 7, 1880.
45. Fourth Annual Report of the State Board of Agriculture . . . 1875, pp. 18-38.
46. Abilene Chronicle, January 16, 1873.
47. The Nationalist, Manhattan, May 26, 1876.
48. A similar recommendation appeared in a letter of T. Dunlap to the editor of the Abilene Chronicle, May 18; 1877.
49. Salina Herald, March 31, 1877, from the Paola Western Spirit and from the Morris County Republican, Council Grove; Ibid., May 19, 1877; Wichita Eagle, May 24, 1877, claiming that next to T. C. Henry, Abilene, C. R. Miller, Sedgwick county, was the largest wheat grower in Kansas; Abilene Chronicle, June 21, 1878, a 3,000-acre wheat field; Lawrence Daily Journal, November 5, 1879.
50. Abilene Chronicle, October 18, 1878; May 7, 1880.
51. Ibid., July 6, August 10, 1877; Salina Herald, August 11, 1877. 52 Compiled from Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture.
53. Ibid.
54. Ibid.
55. Ibid.
56. Computed by the author from statistical data in the Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture . , representing harvested acres.
57. James C. Malin, "An Introduction to the History of the Bluestem-Pasture Region of Kansas," The Kansas Historical Quarterly, 11; 3-28.
58. Monthly Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture . . . August-October 1877, P. 15.
59. Compiled from the manuscript schedules of the Kansas state census, 1875, 1885, and U. S. census, 1870, 1880. The crop statistics in 1870 were in bushels, not acres, and therefore do not fit into this table. The wheat statistics for 188o did not separate spring from winter wheat and therefore they are not comparable with 1875 and 1885. The wheat and corn acreages are respectively acres planted and acres to be planted.
60. Junction City Union, May 2, 1874.
61. Ibid., May 9, 1874.
62. Ibid., May 15, July 3, 1875; November 17, December 15, 1883; October 3, 17, 23, 1885; Abilene Chronicle, September 19, 1879
63. Junction City Union, July-August (silk culture), July 22, 1876 (hemp); Abilene Chronicle, September 7, 1877 (castor beans); First Biennial Report of the State Board of Agriculture . . . 1877-78. The acreage of each crop 1872-1878; inclusive, for each county is printed.
64. Junction City Union, July 22, 1876.
65. Ibid., October 4, 1873; Salina Herald, September 25, 1880; The Nationalist, Manhattan, April 21, 1881.
66. Junction City Union, December 31, 1881; The Industrialist, Manhattan, December 8, 1883,
67. Marion County Record, January 30, 1880.
68. The Industrialist, Manhattan, May 31, 1884.
69. The Nationalist, Manhattan, January 25, 1878; Abilene Chronicle, January 17, 1879; Salina Herald, February 7, 1880 (Pearl millet was also known as cat-tail, Japan, or Horse millet, or African cane); Abilene Chronicle, May 7, 1880 (rice corn).
70. Salina Herald, August 12, October 28, 1876; November 17, December 1, 8, 1877; August 17, 1878; August 31, 1882; October 25, 1883.
71. Junction City Union, March 27, 1875, from the Abilene Chronicle.
72. Abilene Chronicle, November 10, 1876.
73. Ibid., May 4, 1877.
74. Monthly Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture . . . August, September, and October, 1877, p. 13.
75. Abilene Chronicle, September 12, 1879; The Marion County Record, Marion, August 12, 1881.
76. The Nationalist, Manhattan, June 24, August 5, 188o; June 30, 1881; Salina Herald, August 13, 1881; Abilene Chronicle, May 12, 26, 1882.