THE CROP RECORD, 1883-1902

     The two decades 1883-1902 opened with a boom and closed on the threshold of another upswing. Between these termini was a period of extremes of climate, accompanied by a disastrous world-wide economic depression. Central Kansas was past the pioneering stage and was trying to effect a stabilized rural and urban society in the midst of such uncertainties. The agricultural system was still predominantly wheat, corn and livestock, but in fluctuating combinations. Without raw materials and cheap fuel, for an industrial development, the towns were limited to commercial and processing activities which served a strictly agricultural area.

     1883-The winter of 1882-83 was one of prolonged cold, dry weather, continuously severe, and with light snows in January. Much wheat had been sown late on account of a dry fall. [1] In March 1883 the question in everybody's mind was:

What are the prospects for a wheat crop?" Had this question been asked on the first of March eight or ten years ago, the answer, whether favorable or not, would not have elicited much comment. But it is very different now. Then wheat-growing was one of our smallest interests, now it is one of our largest. And when the snow went off, some two weeks ago, and the wheat was looking poorly, a cloud of gloom crossed every face. We felt at the time that it was too early to be over-fearful, and now we are happy to chronicle that the late rains and sunny days of the last two weeks have made a most favorable change in the looks of this important cereal. Of course we cannot say that the coming crop is out of danger, for wheat is never out of danger until it is harvested and in the bin, but the prospects today are that we shall have, at least, an average crop. [2]

     There was winter damage to the more tender varieties and late in May the condition of the crop in Dickinson county was reported as 70 per cent of the previous year. [3] Nevertheless, the wheat was good enough to invite the press to exploit the yields of 25 to 47 bushels per acre claimed in Saline county. The mid-summer was wet, careless stacking resulted in damage, and during August repeated warnings were issued against marketing damp grain. [4] The mid-summer rain was unfavorable to the harvesting and threshing

142 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

of the wheat crop, it was not a good header year, but it insured an unusual corn yield. [5] This illustrated conspicuously that there was no climate perfect for crops of such opposite characteristics as wheat and corn. This second year of good crops, with improved prices, confirmed the cyclic swing into a new era; advancing land prices, a rush of settlers and speculators, large scale wheat and livestock farming, railroad and town building-the boom of the mid-eighties was under way. [6]

     1884-The summer and fall rains of 1883 insured well prepared wheat ground and drew the enthusiastic comment that it was the most favorable season Central Kansas has ever known. [7] There was a sharp swing to wheat at the expense of corn acreage in the four counties, except in Dickinson county where the area of both crops expanded. The summer season of 1884 was similar to 1883, with both the disadvantages and advantages of summer rains, wet wheat stacks and good corn, but the heavier growth of wheat straw had resulted in losses from lodged and tangled wheat. [8]

     To the weather-wise in the subhumid region, more than two good years in succession were not to be expected, but the boom spirit was too general and deep seated to heed the facts of recorded experience. This momentum in the expansion cycle was worldwide for the period, but more exaggerated in new land countries. The expanding horizon was stimulated by the communications revolution in ocean freight and long-distance rail freight carriage through the application of steam, steel and science. The Great Plains was only one of the regions of special activity within this larger cultural framework, but it is a common mistake of historians to appraise the era as a purely local phenomenon of American stupidity and greed operating in a vacuum, and when the crash came to demand scapegoats in the form of bankers, railroads, trusts, grain and livestock gamblers, land speculators, and the political party in power. All of these were a part of the complicated picture, but in themselves they do not constitute an explanation of the era.

     1885-The unfavorable outlook for wheat in 1885 was the subject of comment through the winter of 1884-85, notable for both heavy snow and severe cold. [9] The report of the State Board

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of Agriculture as of March 25, 1885 estimated the wheat condition in the four counties Riley, Geary, Dickinson and Saline at 90, 80, 85, 75 respectively. This optimism was dissipated as the season advanced. By April 23 only a half crop was conceded by the Abilene Reflector but another month changed even that:

The farmers of Kansas are now witnessing the nearest failure of a wheat crop since 1871. . . . The farmers are now much better prepared in every way to withstand the shock of a crop failure than in 1871 . . . . They have been taught the peculiarities of our climate as they bear upon agriculture. . . . They know now (which they did not know in 1871) that there is wealth in Kansas agriculture. . . . [10]

     This contains an important recognition of the differences between pioneer agriculture and the relative maturity of the eighties, but it was not envisioning the capacity of the country to withstand a dozen years in which crop failures or partial failures predominated, to an accompaniment of general economic depression. In the four county area, not much more than half at the most and less than one-fourth of the acreage at the worst was harvested at all, and the quality of the grain was poor, mostly "reject and no grade" with none better than No. 3. There was no milling demand for such poor quality grain and it was said that the crop would not more than meet local seed and bread requirements. One field in Dickinson county was optimistically reported as having paid out within 28 cents of the threshing cost. World wheat prices were declared to be the lowest in 150 years. [11]

     The low price of wheat and the great prospects for a corn crop were said to have made the people somewhat indifferent to the almost complete failure of the wheat. [12] The statistics on corn acreages indicate that much of the winter wheat acreage had been put into corn and final reports on yields were the highest in years.

     1886-The season of 1885-86 was similar to the preceding year in many respects, but the completeness of the winter-kill disaster was apparent by the end of March 1886:

The wheat prospects are discouraging. There are very few fields that will pay to let ripen, but there is one advantage over last year, the farmers have time to plant and sow corn, oats and other cereals.

144 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     The editorial skill for finding consolation in disaster was further displayed in pointing to the world surplus of wheat in storage concluding that "the farmer that raises oats and corn instead will no doubt realize more money from those crops than from a crop of wheat." [13] Both during the spring drouth and during the intense late summer heat and drouth, the customary crop failure remedy was revived,-diversification and new crops. [14] From the agricultural college came a cheering summary of the season; Wheat a total failure from winter-killing, corn promising 50 to 70 bushels per acre, oats 60 to 90 bushels, hay a poor half-crop, millet suffering from drouth and chinch bugs, pasture the poorest in years, "On the whole, the present season has been quite up to the average of productiveness." [15] With the failure of the wheat crop attention turned early to the corn prospects on an acreage much augmented by abandoned wheat land. The promise was favorable until summer drouth, accompanied by chinch bugs that took more than their share, leaving not more than one-fourth to one-half of the earlier expectations. [16]

     1887-By the season of 1886-87 the boom bubbles were bursting under the impact of the third unfavorable year and the second failure of both wheat and corn. The reluctance to admit publicly the extent of the disaster is evident, claiming in June a half-crop of wheat and only in July confessing to failure. But corn, that was a different matter, because in July, corn was king. Before the end of August, however, the corn king was dead. [17]

     1888-The wheat acreage planted in the fall of 1887 showed a third successive decline since 1885, except for Saline county. Professor E. M. Shelton of the Kansas State Agricultural College had argued, but without success, that it was the most favorable fall in three years, that moisture meant strong fall growth to withstand winter-killing, and that two successive failures were approximately the equivalent of summer fallow in accumulated fertility. As the Chapman Courier put it, September 9, Shelton "flies in the face of Providence and Jake Admire. . . ." The Saline County Journal, September 15, said that the increased acreage in that county would be used for pasture to relieve the feed and grass shortage

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resulting from the drouth. In January 1888, the heavy growth of wheat was reported to provide a fine cover against winter-killing, and one editor's optimism was reinforced by the argument that the presidential election years since 1860 had always produced large crops, [18] More potent than politics, or Shelton's theory of accumulated fertility, however, were the spring rains of March and April. The wheat crop was good and the corn crop fair, either on a planted or harvested acreage basis. Saline county, the one furthest west, suffered most seriously in corn abandonment. It was the first of five successive fairly good wheat years, against only two for corn. The fact was not evident yet in 1888, but in retrospect, it is clear that a new stage in agricultural history was in the making, a new confirmation of wheat supremacy in the two western counties of the four. In the perspective of the history of wheat in the country further west on the Great Plains, this vindication of wheat was still more. [19]

     1888-1890-The season of 1888-89 was favorable for both wheat and corn but particularly wheat. A survey of Dickinson county in August of 1889 reflected from every community the enthusiasm for wheat and a prospective wheat acreage increase for 1890 of 25 per cent to triple that of 1889. [20] The sowing conditions were ideal and a large expansion was realized, although not so spectacular as the report of intentions indicated. The growing season, 1889-1890, was sufficiently dry to produce only a short straw, a good year for header harvesting, but a heavy yield of high quality wheat much of it No. 1, and an expectation of a rise in price to one dollar. [21] It was a vivid illustration that a perfect wheat year may mean a corn failure. One hundred degree heat, the accompaniment of a dry summer, ruined most of the corn, and as other feed was scarce, farmers were cutting every acre possible for fodder. [22]

     1890-1891-The fall and winter of 1890-1891 were favored with rain and snow, and more than normal moisture for March and April 1891. In some counties further west, half the wheat was abandoned, but the Dickinson-Saline county area gave the best promise in years. [23] Hazards follow the wheat crop, however, even to market. Black rust appeared in June just as the grain was matur-

146 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

ing and reduced yield and quality which deteriorated further as the result of a wet harvest. The local press reviewed the grain grading rules for the farmers' information, but grading troubles were conspicuous. [24] In spite of these reverses, the wheat crop was noted as one of the big ones, the harvested acreage in Dickinson and Saline counties being reported as more than 50 per cent greater than the preceding year. The small acreage in Riley and Geary counties had expanded by two to five times the preceding year. [25] Along with the wheat there was a fair crop of corn. The year-end summary commented upon the beautiful crops of fruits and cereals: "Following a year of discouragement and poor returns the past season was a benediction and a pleasure. Taken all in all there has not been for a decade so prosperous a year." The city of Abilene had suffered no disasters, the review continued, the low point in the depression had been passed the previous year, the effects of the boom were still evident, but this had been the first year of real advance since that disaster. [26] The street car tracks might have been listed among the effects of the boom no longer evident as a physical reminder of past indiscretions. [27]

     1891-1892-Although the year's rainfall for 1891 was above normal, the fall was dry and the wheat made only a light growth affording no pasture. [28] The proverbial optimism of the region, in spite of high winds and dry weather, insisted that with some winter snow it "will come out all right as usual." It did, but with some winter damage, and yet in March 1892 was said to have been in the best condition in years. [29] By June wheat enthusiasm could no longer be controlled:

Never since the old wheat king times when railroad trains slowed up to see T. C. Henry's 3,000 acre wheat fields has there been a more bountiful harvest. Dickinson county is almost a continuous wheatfield and on every hand is the grain, rank, even and heavily filled.
The farmers of Kansas will gather one of the largest--if not the largest wheat crop that was ever raised in the state.

     Estimates of yields reached 35 to 40, but calmer councils suggested a probable average of 22 bushels per acre. [30] The reduced area of harvested acres and increased corn acreages indicated that

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part of the winter-killed wheat had been planted to corn. Midsummer drouth and heat, however, took their toll. Yields in Riley county appeared larger than usual, but to the westward, each successive county showed decreasing production with only 11 bushels per acre credited to Saline county. [31]

     It was this five year period 1888-1892 that marked the high point of the Farmers' Alliance in Kansas and in 1892 the National peoples party was launched. Mary "Yellin" (Elizabeth) Lease had been telling the farmers to raise less corn and more hell. Assuming that her picturesque phrase had any bearing on the agricultural as distinguished from the political situation, she was talking in terms of the corn rather than the wheat tradition. The eastern third of Kansas was not so well adapted to wheat, but the farmers of the western two-thirds were attaining their salvation through more wheat rather than more hell.

     The rain makers of 1893 and 1894 failed to change the Kansas climate, thus sharing the same fate as those who would create prosperity by legislation. [32] Wheat ground was prepared late in the fall of 1892, and sowing continued well through the winter. A short period of wet weather was followed by more drouth and winter damage and some seed had scarcely sprouted. Farther west the situation was much worse. Although. not admitting application to Central Kansas it was said the "wheat that was sown last October lies in the drill rows dry and unharmed, not even swelled by moisture. This is what is meant sometimes when the westerners say that the `wheat is not hurt any'. [33] Nevertheless, hope sprouted each spring ahead of the grass:

It is time for the annual wheat scare. There always comes one about this date. From heat or cold or wetness or drouth there is sure to go out the report that the wheat crop is ruined. This time it is the alternate freezing and thawing combined with lack of rain that is, according to some, doing the mischief. [34]

     It proved a poor crop year all around and the statistics of the State Board of Agriculture did not indicate the extent of the failure so clearly as the Dickinson county comment that what wheat was harvested made about 10 bushels. Specific yields on fields actually cut were given as 5, 14.5, 7.5, and to bushels per acre. [35] A larger

148 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

view is more important, however,. because this unfavorable year was the first of four successive seasons of low yields, as well as lower prices, which impaired for a time the confidence central and western Kansas were placing in winter wheat.

     1894-The fall of 1893 was dry, wheat sowing was delayed, winter-killing was serious, resulting in wide diversity in yields. [36] The climax of perversity of the weather then provided a wet harvest. The average for the portion harvested was given by the State Board of Agriculture as 10 and to 20 bushels per acre respectively in Dickinson and Saline counties. The Kansas State Agricultural College reported an almost complete failure on the college farm, the result of a cold March and a late freeze May 20. [37] The price of new wheat in Abilene was 39 cents. [38] The two month drouth in late summer, and twenty days with temperatures of 95° and above, ruined the corn crop, much of it being cut for fodder. [39]

     This was a year that called for taking stock of the foundations of "permanent prosperity;" wheat, livestock, creameries, chickens, butter, "and every year sees less fluctuations because the farmers are learning what to engage in and how to handle it." The argument cannot be taken too seriously, however, because it was a case of "whistling in the dark" and closed with a summary of a proposed scheme for extensive irrigation of the Smoky Hill bottoms. [40]

     1895-The next year was much more discouraging; a dry fall, winter-killing. In April "Kansas is [was] redeemed again by its wind and dust storms," about two-thirds of the acreage was to be plowed up in Greeley township of Saline county. In late May came a report and an inquiry: "The same kind of weather as we have been having for the last seven weeks, will it ever end." In late June came "one of the seven wonders of the world. We haven't had a dust storm for a week." "The average height of the wheat is about 8 inches and some weeds are five to six feet high." "George Miller is cutting his wheat with a cradle."41 Abandonment in part of Saline county was estimated at 75 per cent and in Dickinson county upwards of half of the acreage leaving a yield of about four and one-half bushels per acre on the remainder, about enough for

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seed and food for the county. [42] A more optimistic report was 70 per cent of a crop. [43] Another observer described the variations; that South Dickinson county "will gather its wheat with a road scraper, farther north a mower will be used, in Buckeye a header and in Cheever a binder." In Cheever township many fields were estimated at 20 bushels per acre. The county also had much kaffir corn and sorghum acreage for feed. [44] A revised estimate stated that 18 bushel wheat in North Dickinson county was exceptional and that most fields would make 5 to 8 bushels per acre, and that of No. 3 quality. [45] The corn was reported in June to be growing about as fast as the weeds. In July came a big flood over the Smoky Hill bottoms and toward the end of July near Assaria: "It [the corn makes such a racket growing a person cannot sleep. <45. ] Much srghum was being sown in June. The final reports for the year credit these counties with both a big acreage and yield of all three crops as substitutes for wheat. [47]

1896 -- Again the fall of 1895 was dry and so was the winter, but some moisture came in the form of a general snow in mid-March. Immediately optimism mounted to boast that prospects had not been so favorable for two years. At the beginning of April admission was made that the wheat was spotted, particularly Logan and Ridge townships in Dickinson county. John Taylor lost 400 acres out of 600 as a bad dust storm climaxed the unfavorable weather:

The first real dust stores of the season made the air black with dust Friday [23 March] and made the population prone to indulge in unparliamentary language. It was a stiff southwester and with the ground so thoroughly dry it had full swing.

     A rain, a soaker, was reported the second week in April:

The heavy winds which drifted the fields and made it seem certain that much grain must be plowed up have been followed by the best rains in ten months and experienced farmers consider the wheat outlook the best in several years. The last week in April found the Smoky Hill river bottoms under water from Abilene to Chapman. [48] The contradictory nature of these reports and interpretations suggest that environment had confirmed the Plains generally in the failing which one

150 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

correspondent had admitted facetiously in 1880: "We are getting so dry it is almost impossible for us to tell the truth." In June grasshoppers took their toll, as well as worms like those of 1878. The local mill estimate on the eve of harvest was a half-crop, or about 10 bushels per acre, but of high quality as in 1894. Three weeks later the first wheat threshed by the same family weighed 52 pounds and graded No. 4. [49] Among conflicting reports was a protest and an estimate for northeastern Dickinson county; no 35 to 40 bushels as some claimed, but nearer 20 as a maximum and 6 to 10 as an average. In September the highest threshing report was 25 bushels per acre. [50] The corn crop was fair in spite of a hot August. This was one presidential year that had not produced big crops. 1897-The fall of 1896 was wet and except for a sudden freeze which did damage in November, the growth was favorable until May, which was dry, and June, which had hot winds and drouth, with seven days of high temperatures of 100° or above. [51]

     Conflicts are apparent in the reports of yields. The agricultural college farm wheat was poor, but the State Board of Agriculture reported an 18 bushel yield for Riley county. Big individual yields were reported in Saline, Dickinson and Marion counties. In the latter a tract of 1700 acres averaged 32 bushels per acre of 61 and 62 pound wheat. Many Dickinson county fields were rated at 30 to 60 bushels per acre. Some Saline county fields were very poor, others very good, 30 to 40 bushels per acre. A county average of 20 bushels per acre was claimed in July. The wheat crop of 1896 had been so short that the Hoffman Mill at Enterprise had closed. It reopened in July 1897 to grind the big crop. [52] The reports of the State Board of Agriculture were not nearly so favorable. The condition of the wheat in Dickinson county in June was given as 78 against a state average of 83, and the final report of yield was 14 bushels per acre for Dickinson county, but 18 bushels for. Saline. The winter-killing must have been substantial, but in Saline a loss of only about 10 per cent was admitted, and an attempt was made to revive interest in spring wheat on the argument of improved seed and better milling machinery, but without

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success. [53] The yield on one field of spring wheat was reported as 40 bushels per acre, but few acres were planted, and in mid-July a report was made on the convention then in progress of the "Independent Order of Chinchbug Endeavorers." [54] A large part of the winter-killed wheat land was planted to corn. This accounts for the enlarged corn acreage which produced a fair crop as far west as Dickinson county. July heat of 110° inspired a locals editor in Saline county to quote the couplet:

We look away across the plains
And wonder if it ever rains.

     Late July rains revived hopes for late corn and then in August five days of hot winds made "roasted cars out of the corn." [55]

The year 1897 gave several evidences that a substantial boom was under way and one of the principal manifestations in this area was the feeding of livestock. The pasture areas had been receiving range cattle during the spring for summer grass, but this year the number of train-loads of stockers from Texas called out special comment. In the late summer and fall, large scale cattle feeding, and to a lesser extent, sheep feeding were competing with wheat. [56] The long depression was not yet a thing of the past, but the general and the local recovery were definitely on the way.

     1898-The month of September 1897 was dry and hot, delaying wheat sowing. There was rain in October; November was dry, but December and January snows were ample. [57] In February the wheat was reported to be magnificent but on March 22 a heavy freeze did damage delaying ripening and then on June 17 black rust hit it. [58] As a result of these peculiar hazards, there were wide variations from field to field in both yields and quality: 15 bushels and shrunken, and 30 bushels of 60 pound wheat per acre. One private estimate set the county average for Dickinson county at 17 bushels, others ranged from 18 to 22, but the one reported to the State Board of Agriculture was 20 bushels.

     The corn crop was planted late on account of the spring rains and the weeds got a start which was not generally overcome. July was hot and was the driest July since 1894- Only a half crop was

152 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

conceded by the official estimates about the first of August. Some fields made big yields but the half-crop average was a liberal estimate and much was cut for fodder in connection with cattle feeding operations. [59]

     1899-In the fall of 1898 wheat sowing was delayed by a dry first half of September. There was a substantial loss from winterkilling. In April A. L. Hollinger was plowing up about 10 per cent, the report of the State Board of Agriculture gave 15 per cent, and the remainder in 78 per cent condition. By June the losses were revised upward to 23 per cent abandoned and a condition of 56. A wet June and harvest drowned out much bottom land in Saline county, and rust nearly ruined some of the remainder. The harvest was so wet that machines were operated only with difficulty and much damage resulted from wet shocks and stacks. [60] This was a bad wheat year, but by the same token it was a good corn year. Late July estimates predicted the largest corn crop on record, exceeding even the crop of 1889-"King Wheat must take a back seat this year. King Corn has the supremacy."

     Although these estimates were premature, the crop was large and was enthusiastically celebrated by a "Corn Carnival" October 12. [61] The corn yielded fabulous stories as well as grain. Late in August farmers were warned about losing livestock in the corn fields because three calves had been lost and "when they are discovered they will doubtless be full grown and unrecognizable." Sometime afterward a small boy was said to have gone with his father to help husk corn and wandered off. The whole neighborhood reputedly searched all night and into the next day in a cold November rain before he was found. [62]

     1900-The wheat crop of 1900 received a record snow of 18 to 24 inches in late February and mid-April rains, so that the reports announced the best prospects in years. [63] Extravagant predictions in mid-June of 30 bushel yields were challenged, substituting 12 bushels as nearer the truth. There was some concern over Hessian fly damage, and by mid-July more conservative estimates were confirmed. The Hollinger-Taylor neighborhood in eastern

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     Dickinson county was reported at a 12 to 14 bushel average with better fields estimated at 18 to 22 bushels per acre. [64]

     A hot July had the usual consequences with the corn crop, which was quite short in Saline county. Cattle and sheep feeding was still an important activity and for the first time the sand hill watermelon area west of Abilene proposed to ship its product by the carload to eastern markets. [65] New evidences of social maturity were achieved in the inauguration in August 1900 of the first rural free delivery of mail and in December of city delivery.

     1901-The crop reports for the spring of 1901 contained the familiar claim of prospects of the best yields in history. There was a greenbug scare, chinch bugs made their appearance and June brought dry scorching weather and the Fourth of July was celebrated with a 106° climax. [66] A Kansas record wheat crop of 100,000,000 bushels which was claimed in prospect in mid-April was cut to between 50,000,000 and 70,000,000 by the first of June, or a 12 to 15 bushel average. The condition of the wheat in Saline county was good at that date and final yield reports were good. There was a wide variation in Dickinson county reports. There was Hessian fly damage, but for individual farmers, claims were made of 30 bushel yields, and a county average of 20 bushels was claimed as against an 18 bushel average in 1900. The quality was said to have been the best ever produced, running 60 to 64 pounds per bushel. [67]

     The drouth of 1901 was historic, rivaling that of 1894. By August 1 many farmers were in their corn fields cutting the corn with wheat binders to save something for rough feed. The threatened shortage of corn started the shipment of cattle and hogs to market early in July. [68]

     The corn crop of 1900 was short, this was a failure. Cattle already on pasture were shipped as grass fed if in condition, instead of being held for full feeding. Those not in condition were forced on the market for eastern feed lots where corn was available. Some farmers fed wheat. The year's operations meant a serious loss to the banks that held cattle paper as well as to the operators. The big sheep feeding yards south of Solomon were closed and

154 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

the property sold for wheat farming. [69] King Corn was dethroned again and King Wheat had no rival in eastern Dickinson county, that critical transition county between the Bluestem Pasture to the eastward and the central wheat plains to the westward. In Saline county the trend had been more decisive and at an earlier date.

     During the latter part of the summer of 1901 every effort was concentrated on preparation of ground for wheat. The drouth made plowing difficult or even impossible. A large portion of the corn land was cleared. Corn binders were used where the corn was large enough to, be handled that way; and for smaller corn, wheat binders were pressed into service. Such land was sown to wheat without plowing, often without any form of cultivation,-"the wheat acreage will be the largest ever known." [70] A crop planted in dry ground under such conditions could hardly be expected to make a crop and the yields of 1902 were a disappointment. The long period of prevailing dry years had accentuated the search for other crops, especially forage and grain crops that would serve as a substitute for corn, and two such types had established themselves firmly by the turn of the century; the sorghum group and alfalfa. Neither of these crops was new, but both were the beneficiaries of new developments.

     Sorghums had been grown since the settlement of Kansas in the fifties, but primarily for syrup. As a forage crop it was valuable as a substitute for corn, but its seed was not particularly palatable. The principal newcomer in the sorghum group was kaffir, belonging to the non-saccharine or grain sorghum type. Statistics were first gathered on this crop in 1893 and the subsequent years show rapid expansion of acreage in the face of drouth. The African and Asiatic backgrounds had provided these varieties with a plant history of adaptations to highly diversified conditions especially dry heat such as prevailed in the central prairie-plains region of the United States.

     Alfalfa was likewise not new to Kansas in the final decade of the nineteenth century, but the discovery of the function of soil

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bacteria and the possibilities of soil inoculation gave it a new importance. In 1891 for the first time the state board of agriculture made provisions for collecting statistics. The interest was centered especially in production without irrigation, but it was highly responsive to irrigation on the Plains.

     Although the emphasis of this study is upon the wheat regime in these east central Kansas counties, the livestock interest remained a major factor, having undergone its process of adaptation in the domain of corn culture, supplemented by the sorghums and alfalfa. The two decades 1883 to 1902 confirmed the dominance of wheat in Dickinson and Saline counties and completed the transition from soft to hard winter wheat. The evidence of the wide fluctuations in wheat yields, both quality and quantity, call attention to the importance of improvement in varieties, cultural methods and the milling industry. The problems of grading, marketing and pricing of wheat lie outside the scope of this study, but their repercussion on the prosperity of the wheat region were important.


     The statistical problems for, this period are similar to those of the earlier period discussed in Chapter 4. During the eighties there was some attempt to distinguish between planted and harvested acres and this added confusion to some of the wheat statistics. The wheat table in Chapter 4 for 1862-1902 gives figures for the years 1885-1888, and 1890 which prove to be the suns of the planted acres of winter wheat plus the acres of spring wheat but with one exception. For the year 1885 the Fifth Biennial Report gave 1,999,723 planted acres, which must have been considered a typographical error for 1,199,723, because the figures in the table are that number plus the spring wheat acres for 1885. So far as can be determined the other figures in the table are the sum of so-called harvested acres of winter wheat and spring wheat acres. The current biennial reports for those years gave a different set of figures. (The Fifth and Sixth Biennial Reports). They were derived by adding the so-called harvested winter wheat acres to the spring wheat acres. The revised set of figures, planted acres plus spring wheat acres, appeared for the first time in the Seventh Biennial Report.

156 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

     The high degree of uncertainty in acreage and yield statistics is vividly illustrated by the year 1889-1890. The report of the state board of agriculture for the first quarter ending March 31, 1890 estimated the acres sown the preceding fall at 1,925,338 but the Seventh Biennial Report gave them as 2,144,065. Similarly the Report for the second quarter ending June 30, 1890 gave the harvested acres at 1,605,230, while the Seventh Biennial Report gave 1,900,588.

     The most that can be said for the best of Hose crop statistics is that they indicate in a general way whether there was a good or poor crop, and over a period of years they indicate roughly the expansion of the wheat and corn acreage. It is evident, however, that the defects in such statistics are so serious that they are of no value for certain purposes. Some soil conservationists have made the most flagrant misuse of crop yield statistics in their attempts to prove alarming loss of soil fertility. The inadequacy of the statistics should be sufficient answer to all such absurdities of propaganda and this further analysis only reinforces what was said on this subject in Chapter 4. What is said here is not to be interpreted as minimizing the importance of maintaining soil fertility as the basis of a permanent agriculture. A sound soil program can be expected to receive support of practical farmers only when it is supported by facts. Sensational propaganda discredits rather than promotes sound policy.

     There is a tradition that soft winter wheat winter-killed badly, but that hard wheat was immune against such losses. It is important to correct that misrepresentation of the wheat situation. The winter resistance of hard wheat was only relatively better than the soft wheats, but the percentage of winter-killing for the hard wheats was high, and the ten-year average for 1911-1920 is important; Eastern third of the state 8.5 per cent (a large part was soft winter wheat); Central third of the state 18.3 per cent (all hard winter wheat); and Western third, 34.4 per cent (all hard winter wheat); with a state average of 19.9 per cent. [71] One reason why these figures are so high is that the methods of gathering crop statistics were far more accurate than formerly. Otherwise, the more winter-resistant strains of hard wheat, Karkov and Kanred, should have made a better record for the central third of the state, also the better tillage of the second decade of the twentieth century should have contributed to a reduction of losses. It is only reasonable to assume that losses prior to 1900 were far higher on the average than are indicated by any statistics available.

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Winter Wheat Spring Wheat
Acres BushelsYield
1883----1,480,20428,958,884 19.579,0981,066,05213.5
1884----2,151,86846,681,321 21.785,2601,369,11016.0
1885[1,199,723]*8.61,049,458 9,784,3959.3 90,826987,78610.9
18861,674,8908.2982,02913,580,592 13.883,503990,44111.8
18871,298,6196.6936,1998,616,244 11.675,296662,2578.8
18801,078,943936,36916,135,12017.2 41,176589,59714.3
1889----1,505,94734,130,048 22.6818,3381,189,80313.5
18902,144,065--1,900,58827,940,401 14.7177,048860,8134.9
1891Winter-kill 2%-- 3,582,00656,170,694 15.1151,90.42,379,95915.7
189219% East Third------ --------
-- 3,820,01370,035,980 18.3309,8164,502,92614.5
189314%--4,909,97274,634.414 5.0200,901193,1090.9
189414%--4,675,70428,175,656 6.2165,18830,0440.18
1895----4,056,51415,512,241 3.8115,457488,8194.2
1890----3,193,63527,153,365 8.5164,092601,5233.6
1897----3,318.76350,040,374 15.7125,601986,2307.8
1898----4,505,45959,674,105 13.2119,2721,116,5569.4
1899----4,796,12942,815,471 8.9192,823871,5424.5
1900----4,268,70476,595,443 17.9109,829743,6486.8
1901----5,248,54790,045,514 17.167,935287,5814.2
1902----6,254,74754,323,839 8.646,293325,3977.O_

*The bracketed figures for wheat acres and yield in 1885 are derived from "Wheat in Kansas," 7. Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture for the Quarter Ending September, 1920. (Topeka, 1921).

RILEY COUNTY (617 square miles)

YieldAcres YieldAcres
18834,993222,186 1442,520
18848,215241,17415 42,891
18856,452121,43710 48,028
18862,008111,43710 48,028
18872,714101,6124 13,395
18882,336191,05616 56,634
18894,2712224516 57,998
18902,2702095 9,795
189114,327172614 57,187
189212,354186015 58,755
189315,7926.634-- 67,111
18949,11810.92-- 66,931
18958,8475.5---- 75,632
18963,72016---- 86,823
18974,41418968 85,825
18984,86013119 80,632
18996,10012---- 94,339
19002,70821---- 82,700
19015,179231712 78,859

158 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

GEARY (DAVIS) COUNTY (407 square miles)

Winter WheatSpring Wheat Corn
YearAcresYieldAcres YieldAcresYield
18839,57122112 1338,26028
188416,18326140 1822,56135
18856,8456259 628,53140
18862,13211685 1034,41020
18873,2106226 67,11610
18884,38323-- --37,38625
18897,66624251 2040,98341
18909,9181017 817,7294
189121,1751351 1231,97222
189217.4942210 1832,23325
189321,1977449 --37,50024
189415,58612.85 --39,2486
189513,3035204 --54,08326
18969,9481610 --45,28330
189710,32218252 1044,10623
189813,872162 1041,25018
189915,94416-- --47.02531
190012,86419-- --41,36511
190116,59024-- --38,6006
190220,25616-- --38,11930

DICKINSON COUNTY (851 square miles)

Winter WheatSpring Wheat Corn
YearAcresYieldAcres YieldAcresYield
188376,56224931 1484,24045
1884107,21224452 1387,32748
1885229,5395454 8101,30340
188614,34315967 10115,73725
188718,2,9693.8 1068,94620
188829,89819493 6119,35517
188947,16921465 11125,599248
189063,605211,415 815,54310
1891103,4321650 1598,73228
189284,815202 15100,04615
1893103,74461,157 -96,03514
189495,8151217 --93,8331.5
1895104,1325-- --130,63830
189683,6991156 694,87827
189784,7271464 11122,34018
189889,6811910 1295,64316
1899107,7361230 9109,03337
190094,86818-- --95,20511
1901105,35320-- --83,9783
1902122,1119-- --84,87432

The Crop Record 159

SALINE COUNTY (720 square miles)

Winter WheatSpring Wheat Corn
YearAcresYieldAcres YieldAcresYield
188369,304223651256,252 28
188493,858221191546,699 39
188522,4585216859,463 50
188628,390161931070,876 25
188732,827810829,887 12
188862,8801712629,887 12
188987,73223451859,780 48
189088,2001710486,500 8
1891125,067123401036,100 30
1892100,14021140184,912 11
1893109,4486.445-44,942 10
1894108,83110.445-44,942 10
1895108,831*4.644-64,525 35
189689,056957--65,190 25
189789,61718202070,407 9
1898118,30416111152,377 12
1899125,400106662,652 28
1900129,87219----54,715 8
1901139,75819---41,894 3
1902154,1727---74,008 30

160 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas



Riley188753,58213.395 3,012
188857,20656,63428.7 29
189018,139*9,79513.5 25
Geary (Davis)188735,5847,116 2.010
189839,35437,38623.7 25
189035,45817,7292.0 4
Dickinson1887137,89268,946 10.020
1888131,159119,35515.4 17
1890111,02115,543 1.410
Saline188780,48220,120 2.510
188871,16029,887 5.012
189050,0006,5001.0 8
     * Incomplete returns.


188418911899 1902
WheatCornWheatCorn WheatCornWheatCorn
Riley county
(617 sq. mi.)
13.369.5 120
Geary (Davis)
(407 sq. mi.)
39.755.4 52.078.639.2115.549.8 93
(851 sq. mi.)
175.9102.6 122.8116.0126.6128.1143.6 99.7
(720 sq. mi.)
130.464.8 173.750.1174.285.6214.1 99 102


SorghumKaffirSorghumKaffir SorghumKaffirSorghumKaffir
188397---- ------237----
188463--97 --43--1,382--
188533--62 --40--250--
188633--77 --138--196--
1887111--105 --62--675--
1888255--285 --146--890--
1889174--237 --1,107--3,002--
189030--112 --51--1,245--
1891104--21 --1,297--1,422--
1892166--101 --1,112--2,723--
189323931169 1422,4321,5491,815132
1894255203409 2934,1764,8452,568519
1895934565754 3807,6014,8942,568519
18961,1531,9681,095 1,10310,8149,0816,7032,431
18971,1001,8541,433 1,4288,26911,7315,1324,237
18981,1862,8083,345 2,9378,90422,8774,4496,937
18992,1084,2511,897 4,2229,03222,8775,2446,383
19002,9495,2681,663 6,0769,04124,5425.2397,860
19013,6096,9111,013 5,5268,41921,3155,8556,649
19022,6279,1731,134 5,5553,43911,3454,3404,117

The Crop Record 161

ALFALFA (acres) 1891-190275

YearRileyGearyDickinsonSaline State
1891136167031,090 34,364
189249734113263,361 62,583
1893942524 2,1213,252 75,200
18948356222,3103,957 90,825
18951,2466502,4053,957 139,878
18961,4754881,8775,810 155,949
18971,9275591,7455,269 171,334
18982,8067232,0006,228 231,548
18994,0889772,6557,353 278,477
19004,4949002,9767,181 176,008
19015,6251,1304,8436,906 310,142
19028,1811,9437,6809,553 458,493

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1. Salina Herald, September 14, October 5, l2, November 16, 1882, February 22, 1883; Abilene Gazette, January 19, 1883; Abilene Chronicle, April 6, 1883; Junction City Union, October 21, 1882, January 27, 1883.
2. Junction City Union, March 3, 1883.
3. Abilene Chronicle, April 6, 1883; Abilene Gazette, May 25, 1883.
4. Salina Herald, August 2; Abilene Chronicle, August 17, 24, 1883.
5. Abilene Chronicle, November 14, 1883. See tables of crop yields at end of chapter.
6. Junction City Union, August 3, 11, 25, September 22, October 20, 1883.
7 Abilene Chronicle, September 21, October 26, 1883 Abilene Chronicle, September 21, October 26, 1883.
8. Ibid., July 4, 18, 1884; Salina Herald, July 17, August 7, 1884.
9. Abilene Chronicle, November 21, 1884; Junction City Union, January 2y, March 28, 1885.
10. Saline County Journal, Salina, May :8, 1885.
11. See tables at end of the chapter on wheat and corn planted and harvested. Junction City Union, July 18, August 1, 1885; Saline County Journal, July 2, 1885; Abilene Reflector, March 25, 1886, in a comparative statement commenting upon Hessian fly damage in 1885. The Liverpool prices on wheat were summarized in the Abilene Reflector, January 28, 1886.
[12.] Junction City Union, July 18, 1885.

13. Abilene Reflector, March 25, 1886.
14. Saline County Journal, May 13, August 19, 1886.
15. Industrialist, Manhattan, August 21, 1886.
16. Junction City Union, May 23, June 6, 1886; Saline County Journal, July 15, August 19, 26, 1886.
17. Saline County Journal, June 23, 1887; Abilene Reflector, July 7, 1887, "Not over 1o percent of the wheat harvested and corn is king"; Industrialist, Manhattan, August 20, 1887, corn cut for fodder.
18. Chapman Courier, January 6, 1888.
19. James C. Malin, "The Kinsley Boom of the Late Eighties," Kansas Historical Quarterly, 4 (February and May 1935) 23-49; 164-187; "The Adaptation of the agricultural system to a subhunlid environment .. ," Agricultural History, 10 (July 1936) 118-191.
20. Abilene Reflector, August 29, 1889.
21. Chapman Courier, July 26, 1890; Enterprise lndependent, July 31, 1890; Saline County Journal, June 19, 26, July 3, 10, 24, 31, 1890; Salina Republican, August 14, 18g0.
22. Chapman Courier, July 26, 1890; Enterprise Independent, July 31, 1890; Salina Republican, August 14, 1890.
23. Saline County Journal, August 7, 14, 23, 1890; July 16, 1891; Abilene Weekly Reflector, January 8, March 26, April 23, 30, 1891.
24. Saline County Journal, July 16, 1891; Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 23, December 23, 1891.
25. Saline County Journal, July 16, 1891; Cf., the tables at the end of this chapter.
26. Abilene Weekly Reflector, January 7, 1892.
27. Ibid., May 7, 1891.
28. Ibid., December l0, 1891; Saline County Journal, December 3, 1891.
29. Abilene Weekly Reflector, March 25, 1892.
30. Ibid., March 25, 1892.
31. Ibid., July 28, August 25, 1892; Enterprise Journal, October 13, 1892.
32. Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 26, 1894. They were operating at that time in Solomon, Herington and Marion.
33. Ibid., January 29, June 15, 1893.
34. Ibid., March 2, 1893.
35. Ibid., August 10, 17, 1893. The Enterprise Journal, July 13, 1893 maintained that the crop was fairly good.
36. Abilene Reflector, September 14, 1893; June 14, 21, 1894.
37. Experiment Station Bulletin, No. 47; Abilene Weekly Reflector, June 21, 28, July 12, 1894. The Reflector's wheat experts predicted 15 bushels, some fields yielding up to 4o bushels.
38. Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 19, 1894.
39. Ibid., July 26, August 2, September 6, 27, 1894.
40. Ibid., September 27, 1894.
41. Salina Herald, April 19, May 24, June 21, 1895.
42. Abilene Weekly Reflector, November 29, 1894, May 23, 30, June 13, 20, 1895; Enterprise Journal, March 21, 1895.
43. Salina Herald, July 5, 26, 1895; Enterprise Journal, May 30, 1895.
44. Abilene Weekly Reflector, June 27, 1895.
45. Ibid., July 25, 1895.
46. Salina Herald, June 21., July 12, 26, 1895; Abilene Weekly Reflector, June 20, 1895. 47 Tenth Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture ... 1895-96.
48. C. C. Georgeson, "Experiments in Wheat," Experiment Station Bulletin No. 59, Kansas State Agricultural College, Manhattan, reported a favorable wheat season. The press reports for Dickinson county were quite different. Abilene Weekly Reflector, March 19, April 2, 16, 23, 30, 1896.
49. Abilene Weekly Reflector, June 4, 11, 18, July 9, 1896.
50. Ibid., July 2, September 10, 1896.
51. Experiment Station Bulletin No. 71, (July 1897). Kansas State Agricultural College; Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 8, 1897.
52. Salina Union, June 1.8, July 9, 23, 1897; Salina Herald, July 16, 1897; Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 15, August 12, September 16, 1897.
53. Abilene Weekly Reflector, March 4, May 20, 1897; Salina Herald, July 16, 1897.
54 Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 22, 1897.
55. Salina Union, July 9, 16, 23, 30, August 6, 1897
56. Abilene Weekly Reflector, May 20, August 19, 26, September 2, 9, 16, 23, October 14, 21, November 18, 1897. Chapman Standard, July 8, 1898.
57. Abilene Weekly Reflector, October 7, 28, December 2, 16, 1897, January 27, 1898.
58. Press bulletin No. 1, (August 2, 1898). Experiment Station Bulletin No. 86, Kansas State Agricultural College; Abilene Weekly Reflector, February 17, June 30, 1898.
59. Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 21, August 4, 11, September 8, 15, 1898.
60. Ibid., September 15, 1898, April 13, 20, June 15, July, 13, 1899; Topeka Daily Capital, June 21, 28, July 5, 12, 1899. Eastern Dickinson county was described in an article by John N. Halliard, "Bringing in the Sheaves," Ladies Home Journal, September 1899 with kodak scenes taken by C. Willett Taylor on the Taylor and Hollinger farms.
61. Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 20, October 12, 1899.
62. Ibid., August 31, November 9, 1899.
63. Ibid., March 1, April 19, 1900.
64. Ibid., June 14, July 12, 1900; Topeka Daily Capital, June 2, 1900.
65. Abilene Weekly Reflector, June 14, 1900.
66. Ibid., May 2, July 4, 1901. Topeka Daily Capital, June 2, 1901.
67. Topeka Daily Capital, June 2, 1901; Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 4, 11, 1901.
68. Abilene Weekly Reflector, July 11, August 1, 1901.
69. Ibid., September 5, October 3, 1901.
70. Ibid., August 15, 1901.
71. Wheat in Kansas (1920) 78-80.
72. Compiled from the several Biennial Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture. . . . The Ninth Biennial Report 1893-94, pp. 310-313 gives crop summaries 1885-1894 inclusive.
73. Harvested acres are used. The planted acres are not available for but five years, 1885-1888 inclusive, and 1890.
74. Compiled from the Biennial Reports of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture. Sorghum data in this table are limited to that planted for forage or seed, and do not include that planted for syrup or sugar. Kaffir corn data were collected for the first time in 1893.
75. Alfalfa was first reported upon to the Kansas State Board of Agriculture in 1891. This table is compiled from the Biennial Reports for the years indicated.