In the presentation of the problem of adaptation of agriculture to a subhumid environment, the thought has been kept constantly in mind that a good case may be spoiled by claiming too much, by over-statement, and failure to make careful discrimination. Certain things are characteristic of all frontiers or of agriculture anywhere in temperate climates; others are peculiar to subhumid environments alone; still others affect both types of environments, but differently, being usable or convenient for living in the humid environment, but essentials to the subhumid environment in order to survive at all.

     In the humid, timbered Eastern portion of the continent the most substantial part of the necessities for the making of the farm home of the first pioneers was a free gift of nature, already on the ground, and available only at the cost of man's labor in utilization. The labor cost was heavy and in consequence life was not idyllic but time and labor did not cost money. There was little surplus produced for outside markets, but nature, with some encouragement, provided the means of transportation-livestock might be driven or commodities moved over waterways. In the subhumid region, however, nature supplied only the land, and allowing for I the transition belt between humid and arid, man was required to provide all the materials and facilities by artificial (man devised) means, or mostly by importation from other regions, commodities and services which required out-of-pocket capital, and even though only in small amounts in each individual operation; ; the sure total was substantial. For dwelling purposes timber was imported from outside. For fences, after using for a time Osage orange hedge fences in the transition country, barbed wire was invented and imported from outside, and even posts had to be imported. Natural fuels were either negligible or were quickly t exhausted, and dependence upon coal from outside was impera-

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tive. This accounts for the enthusiasm with which every indication of coal, however slight, was always exploited in the press. It meant the possibility of essential fuel and the elusive hope of industrial development to process commodities at home and to free the region from paying tribute to the outside world for all essentials. It is this that gives significance to the decision of Salina in 1889, so vehemently expressed after the failure of the industrial boom, that it was useless, with existing resources, to talk of manufacturers until the fuel question was solved. The Henry Oltman "coal bank" was ridiculed when urged as a new source of fuel-the editor spoke from experience in pointing out that about every five years for at least the last twenty this same "coal bank" had been promoted in a similar fashion-the development of fuel requirements called for capital not wind, he reminded his readers, and Salina should bore for gas or coal in hopes of locating an adequate fuel supply. [1]

     As late as 1877 a Manhattan editor was discussing the question of "What Shall We Burn?" in terms of wood and coal.

The indications are, that at no distant period, the denizens of Manhattan will discard the use of wood for fuel, almost altogether, and burn coal. To the great neglect of their fortunes, the farmers prefer to sit around the fire on stormy days, when any number of cold-looking men may be seen prancing around town, ready to sacrifice their last nickel for a load of wood. On a bright day, there is plenty of wood in town, but the average Manhattanite thinks he does not need wood just then, which leaves the disgusted countryman to stand around nearly all day, knocking his heels together, and swearing that he will be "gol dummed" if he ever brings another load of wood to town. The next stormy day finds the citizen trading off his wood stove for a coal burner and making a business call on Mr. Howard. This will be a good thing for promoting the growth of timber in this country, and the development of the mining interests. Many dislike the use of coal for cooking purposes, as it makes such a dirt; but ultimately the bulk of our coal will come from Colorado, which is free from dirt, hard and shiny, easy to kindle, and gives out a bright, clear, heat. 011, hardware dealers report an increased sale of coal burners, and it will not be long before king coal will drive our present friend, wood, almost entirely from the market. [2]

104 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     The views expressed in Wichita on the relation of fuel and transportation were equally applicable throughout central Kansas:

Fuel is the great desideratum in this prairie country. Cheap fuel is an absolute necessity. What we want and what we must have is competition in coal. Canon City coal must cone in competition with Cherokee and Missouri coal at every railway station in Kansas. Osage City dirt must not control the prices of coal in this state. [3]

     Attention was called likewise to lumber rates which were fully as significant to the development of the Plains.

     The subhumid environment meant fewer and fewer natural springs and streams such as had provided water in the humid climate. The conquest of the subhumid upland in. particular was even more dependent, if it were possible, upon specialized machinery to make available an adequate supply of water than upon materials for housing and fuel. The drive well and pumps came first, and then the windmills, with the opening of the decade of the eighties. This substantial achievement of adjustment to a working basis, was assured by the outlawing of the drive-well patent and the emergence of mass production of windmills at a price level low enough to be within the reach of the farmer. [4]

     Large machines, drawn by horses at this stage of development, were an essential, not merely a convenience, in subhumid agriculture. Soil must be worked quickly while moisture was sufficient and with a view to conserving what was available. Lower yields per acre and more frequent crop failures, particularly before experience had shown the way to greater certainty, enforced a cheaper per acre expenditure on crops and a larger acreage. The economic solution of that problem in production was to increase the machinery and horse power investment and reduce the-labor charge, spreading the machinery cost over the larger number of acres which machines made practicable.

     Capacity to produce its own food had been the test of the desirability of any country where measured iii terms of traditional humid environment. Most of the staple vegetables, fruits, berries and nuts upon which Americans had lived were native to humid climates. Only a few of them were adaptable to a subhumid

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 105

region and at successive points in the transition from the humid to the arid one plant after another passed the point critical to its survival. The occupation of the subhumid country was dependent, therefore, to varying degrees upon the outside for certain foods, that dependence being controlled by the degree of moisture deficiency and accompanying climatic factors. A traditional subsistence was not possible as a regular system, and in years of cash-crop failures, when subsistence was critical, these crops had usually already failed. They were conspicuously less drouth resistant than the field crops. A subsistence agriculture was not even available under these circumstances as a crop insurance. This emphasizes one of the important deficiencies in environmental adjustment, inasmuch as most attention and the greater success has been associated with the cash crops and as yet relatively little intensive experiment has been devoted to such reserve subsistence food crops. Possibly the botanical world does not have plants with a sufficient range of adaptability to meet this challenge.

     All these forms of equipment, supplies and services could be furnished at a price cheap enough to permit development of the Plains only when the industrial East had reached a true mass-production basis with its resultant low cost per unit. [5] By the decade of the seventies this stage had not been fully attained and the resultant costs were beyond the capacity of the West to finance successfully. It was that problem of meeting these cash capital costs that became another test of survival in the Plains environment.

     During the early formative period of settlement successive new farmers brought cash which was spent in the community for improvements, current supplies and subsistence until crops matured. The cash of these newcomers invested in land purchased from first hands, the government and railroads or non-resident investors, did not augment. the community fund of capital. Land sales served this function only in commissions to local dealers and when land was held and transferred within the community by residents, especially to non-residents. The settler who sold out

106 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

and moved on took his capital with him, his receipts being reflected locally only to the extent that he paid local debts as a result of receipt of new money. Capital advanced from the East to new purchasers on mortgages likewise was reflected only slightly in terms of the community pool of capital. Another important source of new cash was construction of railroads, private buildings and public works and wages paid by business enterprises using outside resources. After a community reached a stage of relative stabilization many of these cash sources were cut off. Clearly the key to the capital problem was the production of sure cash crop and the volume of balance due to the East meant that the cash crop must be produced on large acreages per farmer and at the minimum of cash outlay per acre. Crop failures meant that the limited supplies of cash were soon absorbed in fixed charges payable in the East; interest, insurance, transportation, food. New capital imports ceased, new immigration fell off, land sales, ceased or were made at forced sale at reduced prices, wiping out capital gains, the fruits of labor expended, and the increase in value attributable to community development. Cash transfers even within the community diminished or ceased-tax payments, wages and salaries. The vicious cycle quickly brought destitution to all who were without substantial cash reserves, and most new settlers came with scarcely enough capital to meet expenses until the first crop should have matured. The settler with cash reserves sufficient to weather one or a series of adverse years might survive and prosper over a period of years. Emphatically, one key to survival was some means of subsistence together with a setting up of reserves that might serve as a sort of crop insurance to the rank and file.

     Kansas climate was such that the inhabitants were kept constantly aware of it, only at some times more vividly than at others. The recognition of peculiarity which was so clearly in evidence among the first comers of the fifties and sixties `persisted, but was tempered increasingly by the growing conviction that the climate was changing for the better. Thus there were two schools of thought, those who insisted there was no long time change and

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those who held the opposite, but with the climate-change sentiment in the majority in the seventies and particularly during the mid-eighties. T. C. Henry was in the former group. Others who have been less recognized were Professors E. M. Shelton and E. Gale of the agricultural college. Shelton's importance to the problem of agricultural adaptation has not been adequately appreciated in Kansas. He should be known for his work with live stock; grasses, especially alfalfa, and wheat. His realistic point of view is best expressed in his own words as showing his understanding of Kansas climate:

They argue that this is the way the thing is done in the East. Now, no eastern farmer can live in Kansas a couple of years without learning a good deal; but what he learns is as nothing compared with what he unlearns. I have got so far in this myself that I feel like commending from the first, any agricultural project of which it can be said "They don't do so in the East." [6]

     T. Dunlap, a farmer in the Willowdale community, Dickinson county, summed up his conclusions on crop experience in 1881:

We have got to adapt ourselves to the country we are living in. There are several kinds of crops that we know will grow here in Kansas, one of them is sorghum or sugar cane, which grows right along through drouth, hot winds or grasshoppers, and will no doubt soon be a profitable crop for a farmer to raise. Another is the sweet potato which we had better raise pretty largely next year and let the potato bugs rest one year. Another crop that grows well here is peanuts, and still another is broom corn. While wheat, corn and hogs may be the leading crops, these other ones may be mixed in so as to help fill out the programme. As dry as this season is it will not interfere with the cattle and sheep business. [7]

     Gale's interpretation of climate as unchanging was presented in a convincing manner as the result of his study of tree rings from the timber of the Republican river valley and the vicinity of Manhattan. He formulated a tree ring calendar from 1760 showing growing years and unfavorable years concluding:

That for a period of one hundred and fifty years, at least, the wood growth of our native forests, in the variableness of its successive seasons, is almost a perfect repetition of what we have witnessed for the last twenty years. . . It remains for man, so far as he has the power, instead of in-

108 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

dulging in quixotic dreams of cosmic revolutions, to counteract on the one hand unfavorable influences, and, on the other, make all possible provision for the contingencies of the climate. We may also come to the conclusion that it is not wise to infer, because we have enjoyed three or four bountiful years, that the order of nature has been changed, for the testimony of the forest is that there were years, long ago, just as fruitful, before the white man had come with his plow, and smoke, and electricity. [8]

     Among those who believed climate was changing the principal arguments were that the plow opened the soil to absorption and retention of moisture, that trees induced rainfall and that rainfall followed civilization. [9] Wishful thinking fell in with this theory of the favorably changing climate just as political considerations during the nineteen-thirties sponsored an opposite view of the effect of cultivation of the soil and presented it to the public in the government sponsored film, "The Plow That Broke The Plains," and Tugwell's prediction that within 306 years the eastward march of the desert would bury St. Louis in oblivion under a blanket of sand,-unless, of course his program was adopted. [10]

     The periods of particularly unfavorable weather resulted in giving concentrated attention to adaptation problems. Periods of favorable weather meant a return to the customary procedures of the humid agriculture. With the next recurrence of a dry year the farmer was the victim of weather, unprepared to meet the emergency. This uncertainty makes the transition region between the definitely humid and the permanently subhumid areas the critical region which usually was harder hit in years of drouth than the less humid country which was committed exclusively to dry farming methods. In this respect it is clear that the transition country did not necessarily provide the means of a gradual process of achieving adaptation and the most optimistic interpretation must recognize these limitations.

     Neither the plainsman nor his climate can probably ever be understood by an Easterner. In 1881 a review of the season recounted a succession of disasters, but concluded with the perennial note of hope:

The gloomy forecasts in respect to the wheat crop is more than justified by the daily returns of the threshing machines. Taking a fair view

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of the whole county, the yield of wheat will not reach half a crop. There is a Wide diversity of success in different localities, but the above estimate is a safe average. The late spring, cold, frosty winds, excessive rains; burning, blighting winds; violent storm, and the vast army of chinch bugs, have all combined to destroy or diminish the wheat harvest; while the present excessive dry weather is playing sad havoc with the growing crops. This has been an extraordinary, and in many particulars a disastrous year. Cyclones, tornadoes, rain and hail storms combined with freshets, have been particularly destructive; the electric fluid has been the occasion of an unusual loss of human life; the intense cold of last winter has had a match in the excessive heat of this summer, and the hardship to man and beast has been uncommon and discouraging. But, on the whole, those of us who escape under these adverse circumstances with our lives, health, and a good share of our property, should feel grateful, and be prepared to forego the large crops we expected this year, and hope for better success in the years which are to follow. [11]

     Another instance from 1880 formulated the "true philosophy" applicable to Kansas zephyrs which was characteristic:

The Kansas Zephyrs blew with unusual force on Monday and Tuesday, the wind being from the south. Real estate was lively, and a few persons were somewhat inclined to grumble. We have always felt friendly toward the zephyrs. We have enjoyed an immense amount of happiness by trying to look on the bright side of life-and especially upon the bright side of the sighing, singing, musical zephyrs. We prefer a bouyant, active and breezy atmosphere in Kansas, to the dark, rainy, dismal, muddy, chilling weather of other less favored States. This is the true philosophy, and every live Kansan ought to adopt it-and be happy. [12]

     Such reactions were still characteristic of the Kansas Plains in the drouth decade of the nineteen thirties:

When God made Western Kansas, He held it in reserve for a great people. The conditions imposed try out men's souls as with fire. We are poor as the Lord Himself, was. We are buffeted with winds, burned out with drouth, pounded out with hail, froze out with wintry blasts, baked with summer heat, starved out by the grain gamblers and yet through it all, with faith in the future and a hope that next year conditions will be better, we spit on our hands, stiffen our backbones, give our overalls a hitch, smile at the hardships of life and tell the world that we are ready for whatever comes next. [13]

     Some Easterners are so unkind as to call this stupidity--Plainsmen call it courage.

110 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas


     The problems of machinery have appeared in numerous forms in the history of the Plains, but have not been interpreted adequately. The machinery costs were a frequent subject of complaint and controversy as has been seen in connection with the exchanges arising out of the "Golden Belt" episode of 1877, and T. C. Henry's recognition of the issue in his Farmers' Institute address of 1878. Walking plows were advertised at from $12 to $24; a sulky at about $60; and a binder at about $250. A country locals writer, in 1879, commented upon the number of binders being taken out by farmers to harvest a half-crop, which he argued could not more than pay for the interest on the machine. [14] Another reference was made to the problem in complimenting certain men who had bought a binder and had cut enough wheat for others, the first harvest, to pay for it:

There is a good deal of talk indulged in about buying machinery being the ruination of farmers, but we reckon it is bed management and not the machinery. Of course, if a fellow buys a costly machine merely to harvest a little dab of wheat for himself, and then leaves it out doors to the merciless weather, it will "get away with him," as it ought to. [15]

     At this stage of developments there would seem to be no basis for charges of monopoly. Advertisements show that there were several lines of all types of implements available to the community and the larger dealers handled frequently two or more competing lines. The prices were high, but is the case of harvesting machines in particular, a rapid evolution was in progress from the self-rake reaper through the harvester, the wire binder to the twine binder, all in the course of approximately a decade. Most of these machines were experimental, inefficient, short-lived, an changes outmoded them even when they were not worn out from use. Many of the companies manufacturing such machines were inefficient, inadequately financed, mismanaged or unscrupulous in sales methods, and farmers buying from them often lost most of their investment. Whether it is necessary or not, every new, important industry has gone through such an experimental, mushroom stage of instability. The decade of the seventies was

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notoriously a period of inventive fertility and mechanical experimentation, and the user of the output was both the beneficiary as well as the victim of phenomenal, technological change.

     In all parts of the country mechanization was in progress, but in the subhumid West the environment tended to emphasize machinery as a means of producing money crops-something to ship out-to pay the balances chargeable against the region. The climate further emphasized machines, and for that era large machines, as a means of completing large scale operations rapidly while the necessary moisture was available; or harvesting rapidly to save large acreages of grain ripening at one time.

     All of these new machines of the seventies were horse-drawn and the period marked substantially the passing of strictly hand operations and ox-power. This change extended largely to the practice of the operator riding the machine instead of walking. Of course, many could not afford to buy the more expensive riding equipment and many conservative farmers refused for years to accept the machines, but the younger generation came more and more to insist upon them. One comment in 1883 insisted that "the average Kansas granger don't propose to hoof it around his fields for any purpose if he can find a machine that will permit him to ride." [16] In corn growing one farmer compared 1877 with fifty years earlier. Then a farmer with two or three boys worked from sun-up to tend ten or twelve acres, but in 1877 with horse machinery one man alone could tend sixty to seventy acres and not go to the field until seven o'clock. And in special comment on a new cultivator he remarked that now all that was needed was a sun-shade of canvas over the driver. In some machinery advertisements even that deficiency was remedied. [17] An interesting instance of conservatism was supplied by a farmer who possibly did not plow his own corn: "We use the common walking cultivator, as we consider this the best, at least when boys and hired men are used as drivers." [18] Wheat growing was particularly adaptable to riding machinery. Corn growing still required hand harvesting, both husking and cutting, and no doubt that fact contributed to the attractions of wheat over corn farming.

112 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     During the early seventies oxen supplied much of the farm power used, but they were too slow-moving for successful operation of the new power machinery and besides, saving of labor was only one of the reasons for these machines. One of the most compelling reasons for using such machinery in a sub-humid environment was the necessity for speed in completing the job while conditions were favorable. Horses and mules were more satisfactory. Many horses were brought west by the wagon immigrants. Horses were driven in from Texas or other range states. Most of these were small and a realistic survey of the size and quality of the horses casts grave doubt upon many of the claims made with respect to the depth of plowing practiced. Two and three-horse teams seem to have been the standard and the patent three-horse evener salesman, as well as lightening rod salesmen, appear to have been among the major rural pests of the late seventies. A sulky plow used three horses, a gang plow three or four, in the latter case probably tandem, the eight-hoe drill two horses, the eight-foot header two horses. As speed in completing operations was one of the most pressing factors in successful farming in the region, the fact must be recognized that even horse machinery in such sizes and pulled by such power fell far short of requirements for most efficient results.

     The necessity for better horses was recognized. In 1876 they were being shipped in from Missouri. Later in the decade and in the early eighties emphasis was placed more and more conspicuously upon the breeding of Normans (Percheron), Shires, and Clydesdales; larger, fast stepping draft horses. [19]

     In humid climates, title to and control of land was considered the essential of an agricultural system. In the desert, land is worthless without water and therefore control of water came to be accepted as the key to occupation of arid regions. If there is any one factor which occupies a similar place in the semi-arid country, it is dry-farming machinery-mechanization, through power machinery eventually, but at this stage, horse power. The only function of a generalization is to focus attention upon a controlling factor in a situation and it is valid only to the degree to

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which it serves that purpose. It is not intended to mean that this factor of mechanization as applied to a semi-arid country is universal and without exception-only that it is both important and significant to an understanding of the basis of regional development of the Great Plains area.


     In the subhumid interior region, without natural waterways, the railroad was essential to transportation. It was not, as in the humid country, merely a more efficient system. On the basis of wagon-train transport, commercial agriculture had been all but impossible. In its early stages, after the first rail lines were completed, the cost of service was only a little less expensive, so the great benefits anticipated by the first enthusiasm for railroads turned into disappointments. One of the early reactions to this outcome was the narrow-gauge boom for "the people's road," which crystallized in Kansas during 1871, continued through the mid-seventies and resulted in the building of the Leavenworth and Western on a route north of the Kansas river. There was only confusion as a result of this "craze" because another school of thought insisted that the combined influence of the narrow gauge agitation and the depression of 1873 discouraged the building of standard-gauge lines. This group insisted that cheap rail rates would come only through more railroads and competing lines. A third approach was the advocacy of governmental regulation.

     The Union Pacific railroad had reached Junction City in 1866, and the first competing road by way of Emporia in 1870. This had brought the first reduction in rail rates, but the one town Junction City, the point of intersection, was the principal beneficiary. In 1875 the two roads came under the same control and rates were raised, to be reduced again only in 1879. In 1883 the inauguration of state regulation brought further reductions. Other factors were even more fundamental to the situation, however, in the increased efficiency resulting from the gradual change from iron to steel in railroad construction and equipment, making possible larger locomotives and cars, longer trains and greater speed. A car of wheat in 1875 was said to be 340 bushels; in 1882,

114 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

400 bushels; and in 1883, 500 bushels. [20] In 1879 a train a half-mile long broke a record on the Kansas Pacific and consisted of 15 loaded and 58 empty cars, requiring two engines, one at either end, to move 102 miles in nine hours. [21]

     In a new country one of the first concerns of both the farmer and the railroad was something to ship out. The accompanying table of incoming and outgoing freight at Salina, Junction City and Manhattan during the spring months of 1869 emphasize concretely the one-way nature of freight traffic and the fact that rates on incoming freight must pay largely the operating costs of trains both ways.


SalinaForwarded 485,72848,111 312,302
Received 750,487485,728 265,833
JunctionForwarded 881,282 933,947191,088
CityReceived 2,215,4163,924,477 3,332,557
ManhattanForwarded 197,314373,950 780,583
Received 554,260486,293 490,982

     Of course a large commercial crop to be marketed in the East might balance or even reverse the account, but in any event such a condition must await the development of agriculture to surplus status unless some non-agricultural commodity might be produced to supply something to ship out. [23] During the seventies prolonged general economic depression presented little demand in the East for Western commodities of any kind. Contrary to the Texas cattle trade traditions, that business did not provide either a very large or consistent volume of business, and it was seasonal. Frequent crop failures did not insure uniform volume of outgoing freight even after the wheat boom had provided such traffic. The Kansas Pacific railroad was fully aware of the importance of the problem and during the crop failure year of 1874, R. S. Elliott, its industrial agent, was investigating the possibilities for processing gypsum near Solomon City, but a profitable business was dependent upon Eastern railroads giving Kansas the same rates as from Iowa to St. Louis. It was in this connection that the re

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mark was made that "There is so important to this country as finding something to ship out."23 This comment had an application broader than the welfare of the railroad and one which was long recognized. The Lawrence Republican had discussed "the true basis" of prosperity in Kansas in 1859 in the following terms:

Frontier towns always enjoy a season of commercial sunshine not at all of their own creation. It is during the time when, from myriad avenues, there flows into the common centre streams of foreign wealth. It is the point in their existence when speculation is rife, when the fever of buying lots today for one hundred dollars and selling them for a profit of one hundred per cent to-morrow, runs highest, that time when much is fictitious and uncertain. But all this is temporary. The show of prosperity is there, but the sources of it are extraneous.
It is perfectly well settled that no place can rise to permanent importance without producing the elements of that importance within itself. The proposition may not hold invariably true with respect to large commercial emporiums, . . . though even in those instances there is in a limited sense a production of wealth growing out of their natural position and ability to meet the demand for that transfer of productions. [24]

     The conclusion of the argument was an assertion of the necessity of manufacturing and especially the processing of local raw materials at home.

     From the standpoint of transportation another aspect of marketing must be emphasized. The Junction City Union declared in 1869 that "our market is west; when it isn't right at the farmer's door." As respects the home market it was asserted that:

For five years to come, every man who cultivates a farm can safely calculate on the fact that the new and neighboring settlers will gladly purchase his crop, and not even trouble him to hitch up his team.

     As respects the markets west, it was admitted that they were prospective because at the time the junction City area was shipping in not out. When the mills were improved so as to produce a superior flour, the prediction was made that the market would be in the west. [25] In 1874 the Fogarty mill was shipping flour to Texas, the next year to Mexico by way of Colorado, and for a number of years thereafter large shipments followed. [26] In this way processed products were contributing something to be ship-

116 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

ped out, but only in years of good crops and even then such shipments as went west and south, by dividing the outgoing traffic, did not improve the east-bound freight situation.

     As soon as the farmers of the valley began producing a substantial commercial surplus of grain they were confronted with the newly developing agencies for marketing. Elevators were first established in connection with mills; at Junction City in the fall of 1874. [27] Two years later a public meeting was called to consider the building of an elevator and the claim was made that a saving of five cents per bushel would result. [28] During 1876 five elevators were built in Dickinson county, one of them by the Grange. [29] During the following winter a storm of protest was raised against the requirement imposed by the railroad that all grain be shipped through elevators and this resulted in the building of a farmer's elevator at Salina. [30] Direct shipping by farmers was in operation again the next crop year and comparative risks of the different methods discussed in the background of sharply fluctuating grain markets. [31] Again in 1882 there were protests against the requirement that grain be shipped through elevators. [32] The farmer complained against the weight given by dealers at local shipping points for both grain and livestock, and demanded installation of public scales. [33] Dealers had their grievances also against weights and shortages on cars shipped to terminal markets, [34] and against conditions existing at the Kansas City stock yards.35 The fluctuation in local prices as repercussions from speculation on the futures markets were noted from time to time and the losses resulting to local dealers and farmers stimulated an interest in reports of agitation in the New York legislature to abolish futures trading. [36]


     It would seem that some measure of prosperity and contentment should have been derived from this decade of the winter wheat boom with its phenomenal development, both rural and urban, from an early pioneer scatteration of farms and villages to a fairly substantial, closely settled agricultural system with cities of 2,000 to 3,000 population. Such was not the case, how-

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment. 117

ever, and the period of economic dissatisfaction._ which the decade opened crystallized into the mushroom-growth of the Grange (Patrons of Husbandry) during 1873 and continued through the mid-seventies. John Davis of Junction City, a veteran of labor and other reforms, argued that agriculture was in a transitional state. In the past, he said, the object had been to increase quantity and quality, but in the future it would be necessary to study the art of selling and buying; marketing, not production, was the issue. [37] The farmer convention, in the fall, raised the political issue in the mind of the old line party editors who insisted that the convention was a hoax, and that all the nominees were professional politicians. [38] Cooperative stores and elevators were widely established and ran their course through the mid-seventies.

     Politically, a new phase of farmers' discontent crystallized in the late summer after the wheat crop failure of 1877. The great outcry was against monopolies and a Workingman's Greenback party organization took shape which meant agitation of the money question and a declaration of purposes "that they [the workingmen] may compete with and overthrow monopolies, and all combinations that are enslaving the laboring class." [39]

Early in 1878 the Western Rural of Chicago, a farm paper, ran advertisements in Kansas newspapers announcing that "it advocates equal rights to all classes, and strongly opposes the encroachments of capital and the grinding monopolies which tend to get a foothold in our land." [40] It was this paper that became sponsor of the National Farmers' Alliance in 1880-1881 inaugurating the first phase of the Alliance movement which culminated at the end of the decade. By May 1881, fourteen counties in Kansas had five or more subordinate Alliances. [41] One of the most active local questions was weighing of farm products, but the principal state and national issue was monopolies, a term that meant railroads and all other alleged monopolies. [42] By 1882 the Alliances were definitely in party politics with the usual result in Kansas. So long as such an organization representing discontent was non-partisan it received support, irrespective of party, and the

118 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

dominant republican party made concessions in both platform and nominees. But upon entering politics as a party, the full force of the republican organization was turned against it. [43] By 1883 the Alliance was sending delegates to a convention in Chicago to launch the Anti-Monopoly party as an independent political party. The call declared the existence of an "irrepressible conflict" between monopolies and the people. The four-point platform declared for restriction of the power of corporations, reservation of public lands for settlers only, suppression of gambling in necessities of life, and opposition to combinations which fixed prices contrary to the natural laws of trade. [44]

     The representative in Congress from the fifth district was John A. Anderson of Manhattan, former president of the Kansas State Agricultural College and a republican. He made definite overtures to conciliate the farmer discontent one of which was a bill to establish an agricultural commission to investigate the movement of agricultural products from the point of production to their final market. [45] The bill failed to pass but was an interesting anticipation of many similar projects more than a generation later when problems of marketing and distribution had become more insistent. In local Dickinson county politics the return of a good crop year worked in favor of the spirit of conciliation which was sufficiently strong by the fall of 1883 to persuade the county Alliance convention not to nominate a county ticket because the republican ticket was largely drawn from farmers. [46]

     To what extent did these grievances have any reality and to what degree could the suggested remedies have alleviated conditions: The Grange remedies; the money remedies, greenbacks and silver coinage; cooperative buying and selling; anti-monopoly and railroad regulation; and reform of the land system? Unquestionably, there were real grievances, and likewise there were applications where certain of the remedies would have afforded a limited benefit, but it is equally certain that none of them separately or in combination could have made the region prosperous. The tendency of historians has been to over-value reforms proposed or adopted which depended for their execution upon poli-

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 119

tical agencies. It is again the .common error of mistaking noisy activity for accomplishment.


     During these years of the wheat boom the region was emerging from the primitive pioneer stage and was anxious, possibly impatiently overanxious, to improve its standard of living. Comment shows that the people were explicitly conscious of this transition. In describing the Fairview community in Dickinson county in 1880, a writer said:

Any one would hardly believe the story of the change that has taken place in less than ten years. What was then one wild unbroken prairie, is now turned into beautiful farms, with forest and fruit trees planted, and there are several nice orchards in the district. Some apple trees that bore apples last year, peach trees that have borne several crops, and the hedge lined roads, the large fields of green wheat, all taken together form a great contrast between the present and the past. [47]

     From Cheever township came a similar description:

Eleven years ago, . . . the first house of convenient size was built, also the first well was sunk. . . If the original owner of that house and well was to return now, he would experience some difficulty in recognizing his old homestead, it is so much changed by the valuable improvements which surround it on every side. . . He would discover also, that all his old neighbors except three or four, had pulled up their stakes like him-self and departed elsewhere. Ten years of unwearied patient toil does work wonders in a new settlement; how it changes the bald, monotonous face of a Kansas landscape. How it covers its bare surface with handsome farms. . . . [48]

     In Geary county there was an important variation in the story. It had been settled earlier and having built fences around its fields resisted the herd law until late in the decade. The social conflict between the old settler and new settler was the subject of a significant editorial in 1884 describing "Creek bottom rule:

The plow is doing a great stroke of business in Kansas this Spring, but no where were its labors more visible than in the Republican river bottom between junction City and Fort Riley, and for some distance up the stream. It should have been done, this plowing, years ago, but the county of Davis [now Geary] is, or was, unfortunate in its topography. The county, for a little one, had too many small creeks for its own good,

120 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

and was subjected for many years to what might be called creek bottom government. The first settlers occupying the narrow valleys and surrounding a few acres with pole fences, constituted and set up for a sort of close agricultural corporation. A new-comer in Kansas has no conception of the lofty scorn with which these gentlemen regarded the settler on the high prairie. He was given a limited number of years to starve out, and was considered an alien and a stranger. Creek bottom rule for years fought off the herd law, and retarded the development of Davis county. By some fortunate turn the ancient dynasty was subverted; the herd law adopted and thousands of new tilled acres attest the beneficiences of the change, The wheat grows close and green over the once despised uplands now; and by a sort of poetic justice the march of improvement has reached the lowlands last. But the once bitter herd law controversy is now being settled in favor of both parties by the barbed-wire fence. [49]

     C. K. Holliday wrote from Topeka to his wife in 1854, expounding the clean shirt and good living philosophy of Kansas development:

Our washing we get done as we can. For myself I am wearing today a shirt that I put on two weeks ago and scarcely know when I will get a clean one. But this is all right. I would not exchange Kansas and its dirty shirt for Penna with all its elegance and refinement. "Clean shirts and good living will come after a while. . . .

     To some the dirty shirt became permanent. Sam Wood's gained state-wide notoriety and the mere mention of Sam's shirt made one editor want to scratch. [50] With most, however, it was different. One of Sam's neighbors facetiously expressed the Kansas ambition thus in 1881:

Everything growing fast and the prospects are good and we hope to be able to buy a box of blue ointment and a fine tooth comb and pass out of that primitive state known as a `lousy homesteader', and become a respectable citizen, and with one more such year we expect to be raised to that sublime degree of civilization called "sorghum lappers". [51]

     The outward evidence of the coming of the higher standard of living appeared at different localities at somewhat different times and the notices of them in the press are not necessarily indications of their first arrival. It meant only that for some reason the fact of the innovations and changes attracted the attention of the local editors. It is significant, however, that in so many

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 121

different places the press became conscious of the same type of change at about the same period. In 1878 the sales of organs reached such large figures as to become cause for comment and sales of pianos were made in smaller numbers. Of more practical utility were the sale of sewing machines and furniture. [52] In Chase county when a similar development was noted a writer of country locals boasted about organ sales: "Say Toledo is not being civilized." [53] In 1879 another locals editor in Dickinson county wrote: "The pony fever has broke out. Mr. E. A. Bartle has bought him a team just for pleasure, and Orin Zible has a team for the same purpose." [54] Of course ponies called for buggies which were shipped in by the car load by 1880. At Peabody the large buggy sales called out the comment: "The old farm wagon period is rapidly passing away." A similar development was recorded in Chase county when Fox creek reported: "Our Creek seems to have taken buggy fever of late." [55] Abuses of the new social conveniences led an editor to protest:

Some of those who drive teams in the city are too careless in turning the corners. There is no reason why they should come around like Jehu, endangering the lives of pedestrians. Some complaints will be made if it is not stopped. [56]

     It was during the seventies that the Grange inaugurated what was quoted approvingly in Kansas as the "rebellion of farmers against drudgery," through the two fundamental objects of the organization which are "social and intellectual culture." [57] Although the Grange was diverted to other paths during the decade, probably its most significant contribution was in this direction. Likewise, investment, as soon as their financial outlook seemed to permit, or even a little earlier, in those conveniences which made rural life more satisfying, was in itself a rebellion against drudgery.


     The settlers who established themselves earliest in the upper Kansas river valley during the late eighteen-fifties built their log cabins out of the materials available on the ground. In 1872, when E. W. Hoch arrived in Marion, the town "consisted of a

122 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

few straggling stores and a small 'scatteration' of dwellings, largely log cabins." [58] Sometimes the log cabins were soon replaced by better shelters, but one case was noted in Geary county in which a thirty-year-old log cabin was not replaced by a frame house until 1885. [59]

     Stone which was plentiful in much of the region was of soft type which hardened after exposure so it was relatively easily worked. The houses in the German community on Lyon's creek were largely stone," [60] and those in the Swedish settlement to the northwest of function City were built largely of stone. [61] A summary of improvements being made in Riley county during the late sixties emphasized stone as a building material. [62]

     Saw mills were brought in to work up lumber for buildings and fences and were still operating during the late seventies. [63] The prairie farms were dependent upon timber for limited uses from near-by wooded lands, but the railroad was the means of bringing in lumber. The upland Fairview community of Dickinson county about 1871 was described as consisting of "only a few box-houses, a number of sod-cabins, and a few dugouts." The first school was held in the winter of 1872-1873 in a little shanty. As there was difficulty in finding water on the ridge, houses were moved to points where successful wells were dug. This meant, of course, that the houses were box or frame houses; "seven were moved and some of them twice or more." [64] In another community the description as of 1874 was that "here and there was a patch of breaking, and little box-houses with no trees to protect them from the sun and wind." [65]

     These box houses and shanties were built of sawed lumber, either from local sawmills or shipped in by rail, and were the forerunners of the more pretentious frame houses which replaced them. The Catholic priest, Father Hayden of Solomon, advised immigrants coming to Kansas that the minimum capital requirements must be sufficient for a team and wagon, "a frame building," and the means to subsist until the first crop was saved. [66] The dug-outs and the sod-houses were present, but there seems to be no reason to assume that relatively there were many of them. In

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 123

1883 it was said that "The day of the dug-out and sod-house in this portion of Kansas has passed away forever." [67] In this the commentator was speaking figuratively, because what he meant was that in houses as in the case of organs, pianos, buggies and such evidence of a higher standard of living, the farmers, large and small, were building new homes, many of them houses of substantial character, of lumber, brick and stone.

     With a good crop year attention was directed again and again by the editors in central Kansas to the new improvements. In 1887 it was rare to pass a farm "that does not show new lumber somewhere." [68] And in Marion county it was said that "it is surprising how many new farm houses there have been erected . . the past year. Go from the city, any way you will. . . . and from five to twenty new farm houses will cross your vision at a single glance." [69]

     Among the great farms of the area a few may be described. John Taylor and his son lived twelve miles southeast of Abilene and in 1876 had five farms of 960 acres each. The two home farms had two-story stone houses and the other three, one and a half-story frame houses. Four of the farms had stone barns. [70] On the son's farm in 1879 was a massive three-story stone barn, 39' x 86'. In 1884 Taylor was building the largest barn in the county 50' x 150' and of stone. [71] In 1879 J. S. Hollinger, another large farmer, was said to have had the largest stone barn in the state, and he was then building a new house, the best in the county, and as local pride would have it, probably the best farm house in the state, constructed of brick and cut stone, two stories, with slate covered mansard roof and cupola. He had a massive stone barn seventy feet square of the Pennsylvania type and in 1882 was building another of two stories, 70' x 100'. [72] The Miller brothers, north of Junction City, occupied two stone houses, connected by telephone, on their large stock farm. [73] That was an age when family and home still possessed a hold upon a substantial portion of the American people. Accumulation of surplus wealth was put into homes; a fine home, together with surrounding grounds, enclosed

124 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

by a fence. As E. W. Hoch put it "a residence never looks homelike until enclosed with a nice fence." [74]

     In dealing with the housing problem, it is conspicuous that, in both materials and design, the people of the transition country were following essentially the pattern familiar to their eastern humid environment. The relative scarcity or even absence of timber imposed only a handicap upon customary housing habits without imposing the necessity for the invention of new mediums. With the building of railroads, lumber was available, but at a price that imposed heavy burdens upon the population. Too much should not be made of this, however, because at the same time the exhaustion of timber resources was imposing upon most of the United States a similar burden of a high price for the raw material and in addition a heavy transportation cost.


     In coming to Kansas to make homes, a large proportion of the settlers planted orchards as a matter of routine development of their farms. Agriculture was largely a subsistence proposition. A few embarked upon commercial orchards. "Welcome" Wells, just east of Manhattan, enlarged his 160-acre farm to 400 acres, 1861-1872, established an orchard of 3,000 trees, and in 1872 his apple and peach production was estimated at about 500 bushels each, besides pears, apricots, cherries and other fruit. [75] In addition, there were other substantial orchards in Riley county. By 1878 the question of commercial orchards was being argued through the columns of the newspapers in Dickinson county. A Riley county grower with a 40-acre orchard (Wells was probably meant) was cited as having realized $4,000 each year in 1875 and 1876, and over $10,000 in 1877. Successful orchard men of Dickinson county were asked to dispel the idea that apples were a failure, and ten were called out by name. [76] This particular round of discussion led by W. Ramsey, Solomon City, who called apples a failure, and the defense was led by John W. Robson, an orchard enthusiast who had come from near Galena, Illinois, in November 1871 and settled in Cheever township. [77]

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 125

     In the Abilene Chronicle he published a series of twelve articles. "Horticulture for Farmers," beginning December 27, 1878, and then was engaged to conduct a regular column, "Farm, Orchard and Garden" beginning April 11, 1879, which ran for five years. When the leading farms of the region were described in the local press a large orchard almost invariably had its place in the story, [78] and when an editor made a tour of Saline county in search of subscribers in 1880, of 36 farms described in some detail, most of them quarter sections in Eureka, Solomon, New Cambria, Greeley and Gypsum townships, an orchard figured in 15 of them. [79] In 1883 a description of 37 farms included orchards on all but 10. [80]

     Viewed in retrospect the importance of these orchards diminished in later years and most of them disappeared, but it would be to miss a most significant aspect of this early pioneer period to fail to appreciate the extent to which fruit trees entered as essentials into the thought and planning for the future of Kansas. It was on the tree question, both fruit and forest trees, that probably the subhumid climate of the prairie plains country touched the tenderest spot, both sentimentally and as a matter of thrift, in growing one's own food and wood. However far they might follow a wheat, or corn or cattle or sheep boom, among many of the recent immigrants from the East, to be without wood, fruit and vegetables produced on one's own land went against a fundamental cultural heritage of the race. No doubt it was by such a spirit an editor was moved to write; "There is nothing a man of small means could do that would enhance the value of his farm as to plant from five to twenty acres of timber." [81] And Hoch commented in 1882 on "the almost universal desire for a grove of trees on each farm." [82] Many even of those of the more speculative type, who expected to hold the farm long enough to sell at a good profit and move on, paid lip service at least to the tree and garden formula. The tree question can be exaggerated, however, by not discriminating between wishful thinking and reality, as many farmers lived for years on their farms without planting a single tree. [83]

126 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas


     Data are not readily available for a comparative statistical study of the number and size of farms in these four counties at different dates. [84] The federal census material for 1880 is summarized in the accompanying table for the four counties and for the state as a whole. Although the average in each of the counties is somewhat above the state average it is not conspicuously so in any one, and is largest in the pasture county of Geary. It is regrettable that the size group 100-499 acres is not broken down into quarter, half-sections and three-quarter farm-size groups, because the point that would be of particular interest is the number who would fall into the traditional quarter-section group. Attention should be called, however, to the number of 40-acre and 80-acre farms.

     The results of a study of Buckeye township, Dickinson county, are presented in tabular form in the accompanying table. These are based upon the manuscript federal and state census returns,


Total -33-910-19 20-4950-99100-499500-9991000+ Ave.
Geary-------- ----------
(Davis)767--767128 41238452124 170
Riley1.333101463 348875203164
Dickinson2,308-611 817311,427439168
Saline1,986--124 445961,295323160
State138,561629971,658 9,53911,07893,8231,169235 155


 1875 1880  1885 
FarmsNo.&No.&No. %
40 acres11.4000 0
80 "3243.33038.337 33.1
160 "3141.83139.943 38.4
320 "1013.51721.81 18.7
640 "--------10 8.9
No Data--------1. 9
Total7410078100112 100.0

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 127

farm by farm for the years 1875, 1880 and 1885. The prevailing size of the farm units, based upon operation, not ownership, were the eighties and quarter-sections. The increase in the total number of farms of each group on account of more intensive settlement conceal the size trend which becomes clear when reduced to percentages. The eighty and the quarter-section sizes were on the decline throughout the decade, but only at a slow rate, and at the end of the decade the larger sizes were only a little more than one out of four. For practical purposes it can be said that this county had been settled after the Civil War, the railroad serving it for the first season in 1867, so this evolution of the land system to 1885 represents the situation approximately twenty years from first settlement.

     A historical sketch of the Fairview School district, Dickinson county, in 1880 reported 35 owners in the three-mile square district (36 quarters), seven farms called large were enumerated; one of a section, one of 400 acres, and with slight variations five averaged half-sections, the remainder being eighties and quarters. [86]

     The fact of these prevailing sizes raises the question whether they were sufficient for a family living, and whether the operators were satisfied that these sizes were suitable. The reading of farm notes for the period leaves the impression that few thought of the problem in terms of an ideal size. In taking government land each took the largest size unit available under the law, and in buying land the largest he could buy with the money available. Few thought of the farm in terms of a permanent home, even for a lifetime and probably none to be handed down from generation to generation in the family, but rather as a speculation which would be improved and developed with a hope of a sale sooner or later at a profit. Not infrequently the successful farmer added a land and the purchase of 480 acres making a total of over 2,000 acres in one case drew the admiring comment, "He will have a farm yet." [87]

     On two different occasions one rural correspondent did discuss explicitly the question of ideal farm sizes and adequacy of

128 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     rural living. The first occasion was in 1879 in consequence of general discontent over a bad year. Farmer T. Dunlap wrote:

I have become satisfied that we as farmers of Dickinson county are trying to farm too much land. We must sell off part of our land, go on a smaller scale, and farm a good deal better. Farming has not paid very well this season as far as the wheat crop is concerned, but we must not depend wholly on wheat, nor on corn, hogs and wheat, but we ought to have. something to fall back on. A farmer should not have any more land than he can make use of either for culture or for pasture, for the taxes will be a burden to him.
Admitting that farming does not pay every year, still I think the farmer is much better off than our loose men that are roaming around the country seeking for jobs and helping to create strikes. [88]

     Two years later meant the accumulation of two severe years, and yet the same writer stood his ground:

What a country Kansas is for stock. And what a chance there is for the young man or the middle-aged man with a family, that has any desire to settle down on a farm, and is willing to work for a living, to secure himself a good home. For several weeks past I have been led to wonder at the `gold fever excitement,' that has taken so many of our young men, and even married men, who leave their families behind them, off west to try and make a fortune in the mining country. A man with a family, with 160 acres of land in Dickinson county, (with a contented mind, and a will to work,) is far better off than the Astors or Vanderbilts, or even President Garfield, as far as the real substantial enjoyments of life is concerned. Why is it that men who have a competency, enough to make themselves and family comfortable, are not willing to `let well enough alone,' but will sell out and risk all they have got in some new venture, and will in probably forty-nine cases out of fifty, come home strapped, broken down in constitution and in morals, to spend the remnant of their days in poverty and want. [89]

     When T. C. Henry attacked the federal land system, advocating the repeal of the homestead and preemption and other acts, and insisted that 160 acres was not sufficient to support a family west of Fort Riley, J. W. Robson came forward in -defense of the land system and the quarter-section farm, half grass and half crop-land, as one on which a farmer could live in comfort and luxury. [90] In response to the Topeka Commonwealth commentary on his address, Henry withdrew his quarter-section farm statement as applied to Dickinson and similar counties. The Atchison

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 129

Champion had insisted upon the adequacy of the quarter-section farm and the Saline County Journal had been more specific in defending the eighty and 160 acre farm in Saline county. [91]

     In 1881 a descriptive picture was drawn of the statistically average Dickinson county farm based upon the assessor's rolls for the year. This imaginary farm consisted of 160 acres, grew 50 acres of wheat, 36 acres of corn, one acre of potatoes, 3 or 4 acres of other crops, kept 4 horses or mules, 7 or 8 head of cattle, 12 hogs, 6 sheep and had an orchard of 30 apple trees, 60 peach trees, 12 cherry trees, some plum and pear trees and raspberry, gooseberry and blackberry bushes, besides some grape vines. [92] This is the kind of farm that should have made Dunlap and Robson happy. There was an unreality in these discussions, however, which was already becoming evident in 1881, but a few years more were to teach many of these farmers in the school of stark reality. Robson called attention to the fact that "the range for stock is rapidly diminishing. Most of us who have been depending hitherto on the `commons' adjoining our homes for pasturage, will soon have no commons." [93] This was an admission that undeveloped railroad and absentee-owned lands were serving an important function which was not candidly recognized by the, land reformers who made outcry against land monopoly. Robson thought mistakenly that tame grass culture would supply the pasture deficiency, but the sale of these raw lands and development by resident owners was gradually forcing an increase in farm size in self-defense and the squeezing out of the smaller farmers. [94]

     A second factor injecting error into the statistical picture of farm sizes was the "sidewalk" and absentee farmers of whom there were an undetermined but substantial number in the region. As they did not maintain a farm establishment, but had all their farm work done on the contract system, their operations only serve to confuse the object of this discussion, which is the size of a self-maintaining farm unit best adapted to the environment and the requirements of the prevailing system of agriculture. [95] The picture was obscured further by the widespread conviction that climate was undergoing a change favorable for agriculture

130 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     as practiced in humid climates. It was this factor more than any other that caused confusion between the two interpretations of the nature of the problem of the region-was it merely a new frontier like any other encountered in the westward march across the continent and therefore only experiencing much the sane growing pains, or was it, not temporarily but permanently, a new environment to which adjustments must be made fundamentally different from anything heretofore experienced by the race? On many things the environmental view was accepted, but even where accepted for some things it was not consistently and logically applied to all aspects of the situation. The adjustment had to be arrived at the hard way by experience in each and every department, one place at a time.

     By way of conclusion the fact should be stressed that there was clearly no popular demand for congress to change the laws relative to size of the farm unit under which government land was being distributed. Furthermore, it is evident that there was no general agreement in the region itself that a change in size was necessary to adapt more accurately to the requirements of subhumid environment. The conviction that the land laws were wrong in this respect did not become general until a later period and any such conclusion changed with technological innovations, particularly mechanical power farming. It is equally evident also, that the rank and file of the farmers did not have the capital to invest in larger farms, and if they had acquired them, even under liberality of the land laws, they did not have the capital to meet the operating charges, especially machinery and horse-power on larger farms. The most intangible, but certainly not the least important factor in success any where commercial agriculture is practiced is that of managerial ability and business judgment. Some have it-a sort of sixth sense-some do not. Some can manage a large farm, some a small one, and others can farm excellently under capable and sympathetic direction. One is tempted to assume that the management factor is more critical to farming success in a subhumid environment than elsewhere, but possibly that cannot be proved. The question of the size of

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 131

farm was much more, therefore, than that of size theoretically adequate to maintain a farm family in the subhumid environment. There could be no such absolute ideal size. There could be only successive practical adjustments by which men of limited resources, agricultural skill and managerial ability could somehow make some kind of a living, sometimes out of crops produced, sometimes out of earned increment in land values realized through sales, and there were always many who failed.


     The populations of frontier communities were largely on the move. [96] Of the farm operators in Dickinson and Saline counties in 1865 only 43 percent remained in those counties five years later. For the base years 1875 and later, the population turnover data have been compiled for a single township in. each of these counties; Buckeye township north of Abilene and Walnut township south of Salina. The accompanying tables give the numbers and percentages of those continuing in the township or represented by a male descendant. For the years from 1875 through the first quarter of the twentieth century there was not much change in the rate of turnover, but beginning in 1925 a high level of stability was attained. Note should be made of how little rather than how much the depression of 1930-40 and power farming undermined community stability in comparison with the depressions of pioneer periods. It was a very different thing to have sixty per cent leave within five years as in the pioneer period and have sixty per cent remain as in the last decade. The pioneer period was a time when there was a truly great body of migratory farmers, both in total numbers and in percentages of the whole number of faun operators. The press admitted that "a few people are going East, and some of their friends claim they are deserting the country. But like the raw recruit, `they are only going to the rear to rally." [97] Such rapid turnover of farm operators in the pioneer period necessarily meant that the larger part of them were always new men inexperienced in farming in the new environment. As Shelton pointed out they spent their first years unlearning what they thought they knew about farming. This

132 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

could only retard adjustment and stabilization of agricultural practices and of community life. In the background of such rapid change in the composition of society, the remarkable thing is the degree of survival and continuity in the various activities of the community which depended upon the cooperation of the social group, schools, churches, granges or other organizations.

     As there were no census data on land tenure until 1880 there is little that can be drawn from that source. In 1880, of 79 farmers in Buckeye township 71 were listed as owners and only 8 as tenants. After five years only 46 of these land owners remained and none of the tenants. Conclusions drawn from this single sample would be misleading, however, because in several other samples from other parts of the state the persistence of tenants in a community was approximately equal to owners, and samples have been found where the tenants were the more persistent portion of the farm population. [98]

     The total number of farm operators in each of the townships under consideration fluctuated in cycles reaching the high point in 1885, 1915, and 1935 and it will be noted from the tables that a great percentage of turnover always followed such extremes. Naturally there are several factors interrelated in these situations, but two considerations are of special significance. Instability was always higher among new comers than among seasoned residents. The fact of the number increasing to a peak at these dates meant that replacements of new settlers had exceeded departures during the years preceding these dates. In other words, at such peaks the community was composed of a larger proportion of new and unadjusted settlers than at any other time. The second important factor is the reduction in the size of farms which necessarily resulted from increasing the number of farms in a given area. These two factors, new unadjusted settlers and small farms added up to community instability. By contrast, in periods of depression when community replacements had been few, farm sizes increased, and land was in strong hands of seasoned residents, the turnover was relatively low.

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 133

     The high rate of turnover of farm population together with the inefficiency of agricultural management suggest that there would not have been necessarily any virtue in stability. In view of the quality of so large a portion of the migrant farmers it was not a misfortune to a particular community that they quickly moved on. If their places were filled successfully by better quality, the exchanges were clear again. The community as a whole did develop, but there was probably little improvement in status of the individual farmer who moved on from place to place. Sonic who remained did not learn effectively the environmental adjustments necessary to success, and continuity in development rested substantially, therefore, upon the few who could lead in re-education of a succession of new comers.

     Whenever the unstable native American came into competition with the immigrant stock of Germans, Swedes, and Bohemians, the American lost out and many of these newcomers to America were settling in the Kansas and Smoky Hill valleys during the decade. The American did not possess the tenacious love of the soil for its own sake that was so conspicuous among these European stocks. The histories of the land policies of the United States are replete with references to plans for providing land and a home to the poor actual settler as distinguished from the speculator. Such studies as this reveal, however, that actual settlers who were desirous of land upon which to establish a home for their life time and for their descendants to the first, second and third generation were virtually nonexistent. With few exceptions, an American was always ready to sell at a profit in time of prosperity. In times of depression he frequently sold out on any terms from necessity or discouragement. Many moved to the towns. A vivid example of competition with the foreign stocks occurred in western Marion county when the Mennonites moved in and the railroad was built from Marion to McPherson providing for the founding of the new town of Hillsboro. The Risley township locals reported "About two thirds of the American population of Risley are talking of moving to the new town to go into business." [99] Much has been written about migrant American

134 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

farmers, but historians have ignored the villages and small towns and the rate of mortality of business enterprises launched by these Americans who abandoned the soil, for whatever reason, for the even greater, but unknown hazards of the supposed rise in social and economic status attendant upon getting into some business in town.


     The average quality and efficiency of farming operations necessarily fell far below the best that was theoretically possible under existing conditions, and the poorest must have been bad indeed. The Manhattan Nationalist quoted an unidentified Kansas exchange describing a type of farmer asking "how many Riley county farmers recognize themselves?"

     He `houses' his farm implements in the corners of the fence; his fowls roost in trees during the storms of winter; his manure pile leaches into the roadside ditch, and, wiping his nose on his coat sleeve, he makes plaintive complaint that `farming don't pay'. [100]

     The fact that some farmers, possibly most of them, were always behind in their work, plowing for wheat and sowing wheat, is evident from the frequent comment in the press during the summer urging early plowing and sowing, and later recording late operations and then early in the spring the admission that some would not get their corn out in time to plant a new crop. One editor said, "These are the farmers who are fond of coming to town, sitting around in grocery stores, and complaining of the hard times." [101] Whatever may have been the reason, there was no exaggeration about husking corn in March, because country locals recorded such practice nearly every year there was a corn crop.

     Admiration for Pennsylvania barns was the occasion for a plea for better farm management. Such barns were built on two levels, the lower floor for livestock and the upper for storage and some large enough to drive a team into and turn around:

Whenever Pennsylvania barns are seen all over our prairies, we shall not fear insect pests, or any other disaster, for our farmers will always have enough in store to tide a bad year. [102]

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 135

     It Was one thing to argue theoretically on how farming should be done, but it was quite another to do it at a profit with the facilities at hand. The adjustment to crop and tillage had not been fully accomplished; the type of managerial ability necessary to efficient farming was scarce in the type of migrant pioneer settler who constituted the rank and file of operators; and capital


Turnover of Farm Operators, 1875-1940

Upper Line: Number of Farm Operators; Lower Line, Percentage

186012*5*--- ------- --
-56.3*41.6*--- ------- --
186574*----- ------- -
-100*----- ------- -
1870------ ------- -
1875734232-22- 13-106645 5
-10057.543.8-30.1 -17.8-
18807946-33- 18-16121110 107-
-10058.2-41.8- 22.8- 12.712.78.9-
1885108-47-29 - 2119191515 15--
-100-43.5-26.9 -19.417.617.613.9 13.912.0--
1890------ ------- -
------- ------- -
1895100-38-29 2925212017-- --
-100-38.0-29.0 ---
1900------ ------- -
1905100-46-37 35292621--- --
- 100-46.0-37.0 ---
1910------ ------- -
191513083625148 36------ - -
-10063.847.739.235.4 27.7------ --
192010688676247 ------- --
-10070.463.649.637.6 ------- --
1925117777052- ------- --
-100 65.859.844.4-- - -------
19301047557-- ------- --
-10072.154.8-- ------- --
193511168--- ------- --
-10061.2---- ------- -
194098----- ------- -
-100----- ------- -

     * Whole county.

136 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

available to most was not adequate to finance land and machinery. There was no reasonable course open even to the best farmers, but to spend as little cash as possible under the uncertainties of pioneer agriculture and of climatic hazards. At a farmers' institute session at the agricultural college in 1881, the question was put explicitly whether it would not pay to adopt more expensive


Turnover of Farm Operators, 1875-1940

Upper Line: Number of Farm Operators; Lower Line, Percentage

1860----- ------ --
------ ----- --
186570*30*--- ------ --
-100*42.9*---- ------ -
1870----- ------ -
------ ----- --
1875703982-- -1413787 85
-100 55.745.7-- -20.018.610.11.10. 8.67.1
18808850--- 20.- 10.8
-10056.8--- 227-182136114125 1149.1
1885140---35 -321815 13 11 1-
-100---25.0 -16.412.910.9.37.9 7.-
1890----- ------ --
------ ----- --
1895----- ------ --
------ --- --
1900----- ------ --
------ ----- --
190591-4237 89 252320-- --
-100-46240.731.9 27.525.322.0-- --
1910----- --------
------ ----- --
191510469444185 31----- -
-10056.742.339.433.7 29.8---- --
19209754443934 ----- -
-100 55.745.440,235.1 ----- -
192582594939- ----- --
-10071.959.847.6- ---- --
1930825941-- ----- --
-10071.950.0-- ----- --
19359460--- ------ --
-100 63.8--- ------ -
194088---- ------ --
-100---- ------ --

     * Whole county.

Rural Life and Subhumid Environment 137

and scientific methods. Of course, the primary purpose of holding the institute at all was to encourage better farming, but Professor Fairchild met the query with a practical answer; "This [is] a question of time and place," and in making this reply he was not evading the issue. [103]

     The more substantial type of citizen was impatiently desirous of a higher standard of living available to him only through more consistent profits which the agricultural techniques of the time were not yet capable of producing. Partial adjustments to environment had been accomplished but in the opening years of the eighties more time must elapse for confirmation of the validity of those already under trial, and several major changes were yet to be introduced. Only then would there be justification for extensive capital investment in scientific farming and a reasonable expectation of success.

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1. Saline County Journal, Salina, February 7, 1889. Abilene claimed small quantities of gas and oil in the "city hole" at 300 feet. Ibid., March 15, 1888. Halstead was prospecting for coal, gas or salt on the theory that "It is certainly entirely within the hounds of reason to suppose that there is something under ground worth working for." Halstead Independent, October 12, 1888.
2. Manhattan Enterprise, January 24, 18i7.
3. Wichita Eagle, February 21, 1884.
4. E. W. Hayter, "The western farmers and the drivewell patent," Agricultural History, 16 (January, 1942), pp. 16-28; Manhattan Nationalist, May 12, 1876; Topeka Daily Commonwealth, January 4, March 2, 1880; Wichita Eagle, April 1, 1880; Wichita Beacon, April 28, 1880.
5. Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains. (Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin Company) p. 271.
6. Industrialist, Manhattan, January 11, 1877. Lecture on "Grasses."
7. Abilene Chronicle, September 9, 1881. In other places Dunlap committed himself to the climate-change theory, but his statement here is significant as emphasi2ing the necessity of adaptation.
8. Nationalist, Manhattan, February 22, 1878. See Gale also in the Nationalist, February 24, 1881. A biographical sketch of Gale is found in the Manhattan Enterprise, September 27, 1878. Born in Vermont in 1824, educated to the ministry, he had been interested in horticulture and had lived in Kansas since 1864. Gale's construction and use of a tree-ring calendar in 1878 is interesting because such calendars are usually associated in the public mind with Dr. A. E. Douglas, for work published in the second quarter of the twentieth century.
9. "Civilization and Rain," Lawrence Republican, August 16, 1860; More seasonable climate, Salina Herald, October 20, 1877; Desert vanishing, Atchison Champion, quoted in the Industrialist, Manhattan, January 19, 1878, and in Salina Herald, April 12, 1879; Climate changes, 1874-1887, Salina Journal, July 14, 1887.
10. Speech delivered at Albany, May 15, 1935, A. P. report in Kansas City (Missouri) Times, May 16, 1935.
11. Abilene Chronicle, August 26, 1881.
12 Abilene Gazette, April 16, 1880.
13. Greeley County News Tribune, quoted by the Kansas Stockman, Topeka, February 1, 1932.
14. Marion County Record, Marion, June 27, 1879.
15. Ibid., July 20, 1883.
16. Salina Herald, March 29, 1883.
17. Abilene Chronicle, June 22, 1877. T. Dunlap, "Willowdale Items." The Marion Record, August 18, 1876 gives advertisements of sulky plows with umbrellas.
18. J. S. Foster, Jewell County in Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture. for the Quarter Ending March 31, 1887. (Topeka, 1887) 24.
19. Saline County Journal, Salina, July 13, 1876; Junction City Union, March 30, December 7, 1878; June 7, 1879; Manhattan Nationalist, May 7, 1880; February 74, 1881; Abilene Gazette, December 2, 1881; Marion Record, February 15, 79, 1884.
20. Chase County Leader, Cottonwood Falls, September 30, 1875; Junction City Union, July 22, 1882; Marion Graphic, February 2, 1883. It was not until 1889 that seventy-pound steel rails replaced the first light-weight steel rails on the Union Pacific (Kansas Pacific) main line up the Kansas Valley.
21. Junction City Union, February 16, 1889. 21 Saline County Journal, Salina, February 20, 1879.
22. Junction City Union, July 17, 1869.
23. Junction City Union, July 18, 1874.
24. Lawrence Republican, April 14, 1859.
23. Junction City Union, September 11, 1869.
26. Ibid., July 25, 1874; August 7, 1875; April 1, 1876; November 17, 1877; July 27, 1878; February 15, 1879.
27. Ibid., September 5, 1874.
28. Ibid., July 15, 1876.
29. Abilene Chronicle, January 12, 1877.
30. Salina Herald, December 23, 30, 1876; January 13, June 9, 1877.
31. Ibid., November 3, 1877; January 25, 1879.
32. Marion Record, July 21, 1882.
33. Abilene Chronicle, March 24, 1882.
34. Junction City Union, October 22, 1881, based upon Topeka Commonwealth articles.
35. Topeka (Daily) Commonwealth, January 26, 31, 1882, in commentary on charges of the Lawrence Journal.
36. Saline County Journal, Salina, January 17, March 28, 1878. Topeka (Daily) Commonwealth, April 30, 1882.
37. Junction City Union, May 3, 1873.
38. Ibid., November 1, 1873.
39. Marion Record, August 31, October 26, 1877.
40. Salina Herald, February 23, 1878, and other papers of same period.
41. Abilene Gazette, May 27, 1881, March 10, 1882.
42. Abilene Chronicle, March 24, December 1 5, 1882
43. Salina Herald, September 7, 1882; Abilene Gazette, December 8, 1882.
44. Abilene Chronicle, May 11, 1883.
45. Junction City Union, December 16, 1882. Text of bill.
46. Abilene Chronicle, August 31, September 7, 1883.
47. Abilene Chronicle, March 12, 1880.
48. Ibid., January 20, 1882. A similar story was written for northern Marion county (Marion Record, May 5, 1882), and one for McPherson county in 1883 (McPherson Independent, June 6, 1883). In fact many a newspaper representing a community in a like stage of development had a similar word picture to paint.
49. Junction City Union, April 26, 1884
50. Kansas Historical Quarterly, 6: 249
51. Chase County Leader, June 16, 1881, Highland notes.
52. Junction City Union, August 3, 10, 1878.
53. Chase County Leader, Cottonwood Falls, August 31, November 2, 23, 1882.
54. Abilene Chronicle, July 25, 1879, Walnut Grove Items.
55. Abilene Chronicle, January 9, 1880; July 18, 1884; Chase County Leader, July 6, 1882; Marion Record, July 19, 1878.
56. Salina Herald, August 30, 1883.
57. Marion Record, August 30, 1873, from Lippincott's Magazine

58. Marion Record, March 23, 1883.
59. Junction City Union, May 23, 1885.
60. Ibid., August 28, 1869. "A trip up Lyon's creek."
61. Ibid., November 14, 1868.
62. Manhattan Independent, August 10, 1867.
63. Abilene Chronicle, December 14, 1877. The sawmill at Solomon was referred to as making excellent lumber.
64. Abilene Chronicle, January 20, 1882; March 12, 1880.
65. Abilene, Chronicle, August 25, 1882.
66. Abilene Chronicle, November 16, 1877.
67. Salina Herald, April 12, 1883.
68. Halstead Independent, September 15, 1882.
69. Marion County Democrat, May 17, 1883.
70. Junction City Union, May 6, 1876.
71. Abilene Chronicle, June 6, 1879; Abilene Gazette, July 4, 1884.
72. Abilene Chronicle, June 6, 1879; June 16, 1882.
73. Junction City Union, August 26, 1882.
74. Marion Record, June 13, 1879.
75. Topeka Daily Commonwealth, July 7, 1872.
76. Abilene Chronicle, May 17, 1878. The reader must bear in mind that these figures may not be any more accurate than other boom statistics.
77. Chronicle, April 26, May 17, June 7, 1878. February 27, 1880. March 31, 1882. Junction City Union, May 9, 1874.
78. John Taylor, Sr., and Jr., J. S. Hollinger, in Chronicle June 6, 1879. August 22, 1884.
79. Salina Herald, January 10, 24, February 7, 21 1880.
80. Saline County Journal, July 19, 1883.
81. Abilene Chronicle, March 29, 1878.
82. Marion Record, May 5, 1882.
83. McPherson Freeman, October 4, 1878.
84. The federal census for 1870 is seriously deficient. The author has not had available the trained clerical help nor the means of financing the necessary studies of whole counties based upon the state census data of 1875 and 1885. Only one township in Dickinson county has been given such treatment.
85. United States Census 1880, 3: 86-89.
86. Abilene Chronicle, March 12, 1880. Possibly a part of the land belonging in farms of the district lay outside of the three-mile square.
87. Abilene Chronicle, March 7, 1879.
88. Abilene Chronicle, July 18, 1879.
89. Abilene Chronicle, June 3, 1881.
90. Abilene Chronicle, February 10, March 3, 1882.
91. Topeka Daily Commonwealth, February 4, 1882. Saline County Journal, February 16, 1882.
92. Abilene Chronicle, June 24, 1881.
93. Abilene Chronicle, May 13, 1881.
94. James C. Malin, "An Introduction to the History of the Bluestem-Pasture Region of Kansas," Kansas Historical Quarterly, 11 (February 1942) y, 12.
95. An unsigned article of 1879, Atlantic Monthly, 44 (December 18 9) 717-725 at 722, referring to south central Kansas, particularly along the Santa Fe railroad system, said some estimated that half the wheat was raised by the contract farmers. Probably this was an over-estimate, but conditions varied. There is no reason to believe that such a situation prevailed in Buckeye township or the Fairview district of Dickinson county.
96. James C. Malin, "The turnover of farm population in Kansas," Kansas Historical Quarterly, 4 (November 1935) 339-372
97. Salina Herald, May 10, 1883.
98. Unpublished study by present author on "The relation of land tenure to the turnover of farm population."
99. Marion Record, March 7, 1879.
100. Manhattan Nationalist, April 12, 1878.
101. Salina Herald, March l0, 1877.
102. Saline County Journal, March 7, 1873. Exchange.
103. Manhattan Nationalist, February 24, 1881.