The Mennonite settlements of 1874 in Marion county that are associated particularly with the traditional account of Turkey wheat introduction were located in Risley township, a municipal township at that time twelve miles square, lying on the west side of the county. The town of Marion, the county seat, lay to the east, Florence to the southeast, Peabody and Newton to the south, McPherson to the west and Abilene directly north. The nearest railroad was the Santa Fe, with Florence, Peabody and Newton as the principal points of entry. The Gnadenau village, Russian style, was established in July 1874 on section 11, township 20 south, range a east. Marion was the closest town, about ten miles east, the towns along the Santa Fe railroad being about fifteen to twenty miles distant. The Marion County Record, the county seat newspaper, came into the possession of an able editor, E. W. Hoch, in October of 1874. The real estate firm of Case and Billings, of Marion, A. E. Case and Levi Billings, was agent for the Santa Fe railroad lands, and had been active in locating the Mennonite colonies in the county.

     In the summer of 1873 Billings wrote to the Record on the theme "What is the best variety of fall wheat?" His letter of July 24 asserted that:

This question is being daily asked by our farmers. . . Few. . . can tell from their own experience in wheat growing, or from reliable statistics of Southwestern Kansas farming. I think it a pressing necessity for a careful canvass of this subject, doing the best we can this year and prepare for the next.

     To stimulate interest he offered premiums for the best five pound samples of winter wheat submitted by October 15, $10 and $5 respectively for first and second prizes. The samples were to be accompanied by full statements concerning yield, land, time of sowing, yield of flour, if possible, and other pertinent facts, and if the response justified, an article would be prepared reporting such information as would be of value to the public. [1]

Recognition In Marion County 169

     The report did not appear until May 30, 1874 when Billings wrote that no samples of winter wheat had been submitted, but several of spring varieties had come in. The prize had gone to William Bates for Tea wheat. A fine wheat had been entered, which was rejected because it was considered too hard for the best flour. Billings had been a resident for ten years and closed the report with an affirmation of faith in Marion as a wheat county and a recommendation to sow winter wheat "almost entirely." He pronounced Early May the best variety; short straw, did not lodge, and produced good flour equal to white wheat on the St. Louis market. Among the white wheats mentioned favorably were Bluestem and White Genesee. With respect to new varieties, he urged their trial on a small scale, retaining dependence on the known sorts: "Now for the important point. Sow early on ground well prepared; use a good wheat drill if you can get one. I shall probably want more samples this fall."

     In the meantime, editor C. E. Triplett, had invited his subscribers to exchange views through the columns of the Record. In accepting the invitation a writer claimed proficiency in the old states but "I think that experience will convince the most of us that a change of practice will be necessary here in Kansas." Among other things he specified the importance of determining what was to be the staple crop and getting to raising it, and in all these matters the old settlers' failures were as important as their successes in guiding new settlers. [2]

     In 1875 Editor Hoch called out Colonel R. C. Bates to give an account of his experience with the several varieties he was growing; Lancaster, 45 bushels per acre; Gipsey, 37 bushels; May on sod, 25 bushels; White Genesee, (red chaff), 26 bushels; White Genesee, (white chaff), 25 bushels. [3]

     In 1876 a lively controversy developed over Gipsey wheat. A Risley township farmer reported it a failure, and others came to its defense. [4] Later a farmer living 4 miles northeast of Marion advertised the Deal variety for seed, and about the same time Case and Billings advertised for 500 bushels of May seed wheat. [5] The wheat crop of 1877 was near a failure, some fields were not cut

170 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

but some were saved without injury from the rust and floods. Risley township reported that the "wheat is badly shrunk." [6] An observer, travelling through Canton township in McPherson county, bordering on Risley township on the west, commented on the wheat crop; one farmer had mostly white wheat which was a failure and fifteen acres of red wheat which was good, another had white wheat, the best white wheat seen on the trip. [7] Later in the summer Risley township reported on Odessa, and the same variety was advertised for sale in Newton for seed wheat. [8]

     In mid-May 1878 Editor Hoch went with Case and Billings on a tour of inspection of their wheat. They had 300 acres of their own and held an interest in "unnumbered acres," having furnished the seed to owners, and the prospect was for yields of 30 to 40 bushels per acre. [9] At the end of August, Case and Billings called for reports on wheat yields, but whatever the response, there was no record of the subject in the press. It should be noticed that the yield of the wheat was the object in both of the above items, but in neither was a word said about varieties. The year 1879 was a partial or total failure for many; the stand was thin, but the heads long, well filled, and the berry plump. During the summer of 1879 a railroad was built from Marion west to McPherson, passing through the center of the Mennonite settlements and the new town of Hillsboro was established some two miles northwest of the village of Gnadenau. [10]

     Two years later, 1881, and the third successive drouth year, Editor Hoch directed another message to his farmer readers inviting them to use the columns of the Record to discuss matters of interest to them, and suggested wheat as a good subject for a start. In this invitation, it is important to emphasize, occurred the first mention found in the Record of Turkey, or Russian, wheat:

Valuable information might be imparted especially as to the kind of wheat which does the best here. A gentleman said to us the other day that he had tried Turkey or Russian wheat, for four years, simultaneously with Red May and some other varieties, and that the Turkey was superior to all the others. What is the testimony of other farmers as to the best varieties to sow? Let us hear from you, friends of the farm. [11]

Recognition In Marion County 171

     The four year's experience referred to in this editorial meant that his informant had sown Turkey, or Russian, wheat for the first time in the fall of 1877, allowing four crops, 1878, 1879, 1880 and the fourth then ready for cutting in 1881. The editorial invitation received no response and August 12 he raised the question again, having discussed the subject of Turkey wheat during the week with W. H. Vining of Lehigh, the next town west of Hillsboro.

     He said his experience was such as to fully confirm the recent opinion of the Record concerning the Russian wheat. He had tested a field of that variety, surrounded by other varieties, and it not only showed superior exemption from the ravages of the chintz bugs, itself, but adjacent corn fields conspicuously attested the same fact. In this connection we will state some additional facts. We have seen a field of wheat (the variety we have forgotten) which was almost destroyed by the bugs. After doing the mischief there the pests passed through a strip of Russian wheat several rods wide, adjoining, doing but little damage to it, and then vigorously assailed a corn field on the other side.
     These facts are worthy of attention. The chintz bugs have done more damage this year than those exaggerated pests-grasshoppers-ever did, and if there is any variety of wheat less liable to their depredations than others, the fact should be generally known.
     What say the farmers? Have any others any experience to relate concerning the Turkey or Russian wheat, either confirmatory or adverse to the matters we have stated? [12]

     Again there was no response to Hoch's prodding. Some weeks later the Lehigh column's local editor mentioned that Vining had rented a farm and was planting 100 acres of Russian wheat. In the same column there was an attack on the report of a rival locals writer who had made an adverse report on Turkey wheat:

That P. M. correspondent must be mistaken in the variety of wheat. I have given the Russian variety (of which he speaks as being `badly bugged',) a fair test, and would also relate the experience of a practical farmer, who is also a P. M., who says if he had sown the Russian variety last year he would now have five hundred more bushels of wheat and two hundred more bushels of corn than he has.

     The Lost Springs column of locals in the same issue made this significant observation:

172 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

The Russian or Turkey wheat is turning out from 10 to 16 bushels per acre in this neighborhood, and quite a number of farmers from Dickinson county have been getting seed from our farmers. [13]

The significant conclusion to be drawn from these items is that the Russian wheat found definite recognition in a home county in 1881 and not before, and the spread to adjoining counties was taking place at the same time.

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1. Marion Record, July 26, 1873.
2. Ibid., January 31, 1874.
3. Ibid., August 6, 20, 1875.
4. Ibid., June 2, 9, 23, 1876.
5. Ibid., August 11, September 1, 1876.
6. Ibid., April 13, June 15, 22, July 6, 13, 1877. The continued stream of Mennonites from Russia were being recorded in these issues also.
7. McPherson Independent, July 26, 1877.
8. Marion Record, September 14, 1877; Newton Kansan, November 15, 1877.
9. Marion Record, May 17, 1878.
10. Ibid., June 13, July 4, August 12, 1879.
11. Ibid., June 24, 1881.
12. Ibid., August 12, 1881.
13. Ibid., September 23, 1881. Lost Springs was in the northeast corner of the county, adjoining Dickinson county.