In 1874 the Kansas State Agricultural College selected Edward Mason Shelton as Professor of Agriculture and Superintendent of the College Farm. Under his direction, 1874-1890, experimental work was carried on under the college organization and the transition was made to the Agricultural Experiment Station under the federal aid act of 1887. Born in England in 1846, his family arrived in New York state in 1855, in Michigan 1860, and he was graduated from the Michigan agricultural college in 1871. For a year, 1871-72, he was superintendent of the agricultural experiment farm at Tokyo, Japan, returning by way of the Greeley colony in Colorado to Michigan for further study. On leaving Kansas, January 1, 1890, he spent seven years as agricultural adviser to the government of Queensland, Australia and his last years were spent in the Puget Sound region of the state of Washington. Shelton's Kansas interests were directed especially to the problems of mixed farming. Livestock and tame grasses claimed most of his attention, but wheat experiments were a part of his program. The college farm had much the same uncertainty with the soft wheats as other growers, one variety doing well one year and failing the next, a record that instilled caution in making commitments to any one variety. In the drouth year 1881, Shelton stressed the Early Red May as the most popular Kansas wheat. He reviewed the passing favoritism for one variety after another, but pointed out that eventually the farmer always returned to the May wheat. [1]

     During this crop year 1880-1881 the college farm included in its list a variety called Russian No. 2, a red wheat with large compact heads, which was almost completely destroyed by rust; a Russian No. 9, a smooth wheat, also badly rusted; and a Turkey wheat, amber [not red] colored, small, bearded, no rust. In connection with this report, however, no varieties were singled out particularly for commendation. [2]

     In the early reports on the progress of the crop of 1881-1882,

180 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

emphasis was placed upon early maturity which would insure safety from the hot winds and drouth of the latter part of June. On this basis the leaders were listed as Zimmerman, Orange, Early May, Egyptian and Fultz. [3]

     In the fall of 1881, eighteen varieties of spring wheat were planted to determine how many would survive. Six lived through the winter, but only two, White Fife and Odessa wintered well.

     Seventy varieties of winter wheat were used, the seed being secured from Ontario, Canada Agricultural College, Ohio State University, Colorado College of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture. Wheats with Southeastern European names included Russian No. 2 and No. 9, the latter bald, both rusted; Hungarian White Chaff, a red bearded wheat free from rust and apparently very productive; Sandomirka, a small, amber, bald wheat; Siberian, a small, bald wheat with a strong straw; Theiss, an amber, bearded wheat, variable head and not promising; and Turkey, an amber wheat with small bearded compact head, medium strong straw, and no rust. The Zimmerman was listed as the earliest and others in order of ripening were Orange, Early May, Egyptian and Fultz (Red Clawson). [4]

     The number of winter varieties retained for 1882-1883 as reduced to seventeen. In April of 1883, the report on survival of the winter rated the varieties in order; Early May, Turkey, Orange, and Zimmerman and called attention to the fact that, except for the Turkey, all were old Kansas varieties. This was made the occasion for the first explicit comment from the college on the hard wheats. Under the discussion of Turkey it was said that This sort, we suppose, is cultivated in some sections as the 'Bulgarian.' Certainly, the name `Turkey' gives it no more than a local significance, as a large number of widely different sorts bear this favorite cognomen. Our Turkey seems to be a very hardy, vigorous sort, which sends forth many peculiarly fine, glistening blades. Although sowed late in October, it has passed through the winter without injury and now promises a large yield. Evidently, it is well adapted to late sowing. [5]

     This is a significant statement on the Turkey wheat question and one which seems to have escaped writers on the history of the Turkey wheats. All the historical accounts of Kansas wheats have

The Agricultural College and Hard Winter Wheat 181

assumed that prior to the importations by M. A. Carleton of the United States Department of Agriculture in 1900, Kansas hard ,heat was derived from a single strain of Turkey wheat which possessed from the beginning all the excellent characteristics recognized in the twentieth century, after the hard winter wheat belt had arrived. Attention should be called to the fact also that in using the color names amber and red, Shelton had described Turkey as amber. In this report of 1883, he did not state the color. It is possible that the multiplicity of strains disseminated under the names Russian, Turkey, Bulgarian and Hungarian, possessing varying degrees of hardiness and quality, may help to explain the unfavorable opinion often expressed and the slowness with which the hardy and more desirable strain or strains emerged eventually to a position of dominance. The reference to Turkey wheat was noticed editorially by the McPherson Independent, April 25, 1883, as follows:

Turkey wheat is among the three varieties out of seventeen, that came through the winter all right at the agricultural college. This variety was obtained from McPherson county, where it is raised more extensively than any other.

     It is evident that Shelton was not very strongly impressed with this hardy strain of Turkey wheat. The May variety had been the standard on the college farm for many years but in 1883 he changed to Zimmerman for the 1883-84 crop season and it was retained until 1891 when C. C. Georgeson shifted to Currell. Earliness of ripening and yield were the characteristics emphasized in college farm reports of this period and apparently the Turkey was not sufficiently distinctive in these respects.

     In the fall of 1887 fifty-one varieties of wheat were sown, including varieties under the names of Hungarian, Red Odessa and Red Russian, but none under the name Turkey. Among those badly winter-killed, fully half in most cases, were the Hungarian and Red Russian. The conclusion arrived at was that the Kansas farmer can depend only upon the fine, early ripening red sorts-often of southern origin-of which Early May and Zimmerman are types. These are usually reckoned light-yielding sorts, but in Kansas

182 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt. of Kansas

soils, during favorable seasons, they often yield enormously. The coarse growing, late maturing sorts, like Clawson, Lancaster, and Egyptian, some. times do remarkably well, but much oftener they fail miserably. [7]

     In reporting on the crop season of 1888--89 Shelton commented that

The position of wheat raising in Kansas agriculture has always been a peculiar one; almost from the first the acreage has been subject to wide fluctuations, unknown in the case of other staple grains, and due largely to the changing opinions of farmers themselves. . . . The great wheat fields [of the seventies] gave place to even larger corn fields, and a system of mixed farming. The short crops of '85, '86, and '87 intensified the general prejudice against wheat raising, until in many of the counties of the State, like Riley, wheat has ceased to cut any considerable figure as an agricultural product. Lately, many signs of returning interest in wheatraising are visible; the crop of last year was a very large one, and as the prices were good, it was highly remunerative; as a result, farmers talk of `going into wheat' very much as they did in '75 and '76. . . . All this seems to me a good deal unfortunate. Wheat is undoubtedly, taking the years together, a very profitable crop in Kansas when grown in connection with other crops, and as part of a system. It is equally true that to cultivate is as a specialty is to certainly invite all the disasters that resulted from the excessive wheat raising of twelve years ago.
     Few will question that Kansas soils, in general, are preeminently `wheat' lands. It may well be doubted if another State in the Union can show so large a proportion of its soils that are well adapted to the cultivation of wheat. Moreover, wheat is, in many respects, well suited to the peculiarities of our climate. The usual abundant rains of early spring and summer come in ample time to mature the crop, while by its time of ripening it escapes the July drouth and the hot winds which often work so much damage to late-growing crops like corn.
     Wheat raising upon a large scale and carried on as a specialty deserves condemnation in Kansas, as elsewhere; but when the crop is grown as a part of a system of alternation with corn, oats, grass, and other crops, it is almost certainly a profitable one to the farmer. It is one of the few crops that give returns in actual cash, and this cash comes at a season when ordinarily there is little upon the farm that is salable. [A wheat boom seems eminent.] One of the most discouraging facts to those who are striving for real and substantial progress in agriculture is the almost constant need of attackingI old fallacies in practice which it had been thought were safely disposed of j years, perhaps generations before.

The Agricultural College and Hard Winter Wheat 183

     The varieties tested during the season 1888-1889, nineteen in number, included Red Russian, secured from Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania, but no Turkey, Hungarian or Bulgarian was used. Confidence was expressed again in the old varieties:

I am inclined to think that the Little May, Big May, Red May, Zimmerman, and perhaps others, are but local names for one and the same variety which quite likely shows slight variations, due to local causes. The merits of these were that they stooled enormously, ripened early, yielded heavily, endured hot, dry weather and possessed excellent flouring qualities; "its weak point, perhaps, is a susceptibility to winter-killing, from which it often suffers severely."
     The wheats that are really successful in Kansas, for a series of years, so far as my observation has extended, are reds, soft and hard, and all agree in the possession of the qualities, earliness, hardiness, and compactness of habit. The early ripening sorts are liable to escape our too fervent suns of late June and the ravages of the first brood of chinch bugs while their compact habit and abundant stooling furnish the dense moist shade, which repels the mature `bugs' by which alone these varieties are likely to be damaged. [8]

     The report of 1890 was the first from C. C. Georgeson, Shelton's successor, and represented a continuation of his work. The best varieties on the basis of yields were singled out, Currell taking the lead and ripening June 13, one day earlier than Zimmerman, and four days ahead of Red May which ranked fourth in yield. The comment was that "the Currcll is so far ahead of all others as to be strikingly conspicuous." Red Russian was among the varieties tested and was described as having long heads, large, flat, some partly bearded, others not and chaff a dark brown. It had suffered a 50 per cant winter-kill. Turkey wheat was not listed. [9]

For the crop year 1890-1891 the stationed used 240 varieties in its experimental plots, a large number having been secured from Ohio and Maryland experiment stations. It is evident that those stations were already testing the wheats of Southeastern Europe. In the accompanying table are tabulated the wheats tested in Kansas bearing names of that geographical area or identified

184 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas

by the Clark wheat classification guide as belonging to that group, None of these made any particular impression, and on a yield basis, certainly the Turkey sample was discouraging. The variety that was singled out for top honors was Currell with a three year yield record of 39.33 37.50; and 41.42 bushels per acre. It had a smooth head, a dark amber, soft kernel, a strong thick straw in spite of which it lodged some but was better than most. It ripened early; on June 13 in 1890 and June 26 in 1891.
This very promising variety deserves a special notice. It has now been grown on the farm for three years, and each year been so entirely satisfactory that it has been decided to adopt it as the standard variety here after. It is very hardy, tillers well, and is a vigorous grower. While growing it is a dark green color. It ripens medium early.

     The crop year 1891-1892 seemed to confirm the choice of Currell and the report stated that beginning with a few pounds in 1889 "it has given so uniformly good results as to merit the first place among wheats on the farm," and the demand for seed exceeded the supply available.

     The experimental work for 1891-1892 continued varieties bearing Southeastern European names.

     For the following year, 1892-1893, varieties yielding less than 35 bushels were eliminated. This reduced the 240 varieties to 47, plus 35 Australian varieties sent by Shelton and 14 new ones.


HindostanBeardedOhioJuly 1 37.85 bu.
June 29 37.62
MennoniteBeardedOhioJune 29 12.06
Red OdessaBeardedOhioJuly 1 28.77
Red RussianSmoothOhio
July 1 39.13
Red RussianSmoothKansasJuly 2 40.46
RusisanBeardedOhioJune 29 15.86
Russian No. 2SmoothOhioJune27 16.18
Russian MaySmoothOhio June 27 31.15
SiberianSmoothOhioJuly 115.05
SmoothJuly 242.13
TheissBeardedOhioJune 2925.98
TurkeyBeardedSteckJune 2914.96
No. 4
BeardedOhioJuly 150.31

The Agricultural College and Hard Winter Wheat 185

     The Australian wheats all winter-killed completely. Currell survived in good shape as did all the others from the old list, although some were lost as a result of the dry spring. The highest yield was made by a Turkey wheat, 28.36 bushels per acre, but another Turkey or Russian bearded wheat made 12.84 bushels and a Bulgarian bearded, 10.71 bushels per acre. On the basis of a three year average however, the best Turkey strain was well down on the list with 30.41 bushels per acre; compared with Andrews No. 40.10; Dallas, 34.57 Currell, 33.67; Red Fultz, 33.60, and seven others. The yield test and the unfavorable weather had reduced the number of wheats with Southeastern European names to four, plus two new-corners, both of which made a relatively unfavorable record. [11]

     Another unfavorable season 1893-1894 was unusually cold in March and on May 20 there was a freeze when much of the wheat was in bloom. The yield record for the year went to Turkey at 27.41 bushels. Even more significant, however, was the fact that


NameRipenedYield 1892
Yield 1891
HindostanJuly 942.6337.85
HungarianJuly 628.5339.17
MennoniteJuly 744.6712.06
Red OdessaJuly 738.6428.77
RussianJuly 831.3715.86
Russian hardJuly 731.24__
Russian MayJuly 428.1131.15
Russian 2July 827.3316.18
SiberianJuly 643.1615.05
July 813.8642.13
TheissJuly 442.9025.98
TurkeyJuly 748.0214.94


3 year
ave. yield
No.99 BulgarianBearded10.71--
No. 40 TurkeyBearded28.9630.41
No. 106 TurkeyBearded12.84 --
Andrews No. 4Bearded20.8840.10

186 Winter Wheat in the Golden Belt of Kansas


Yield 1894
Average yield
Andrews No. 4--4 year average33.35
Bulgarian10.352 year average10.00
Currell12.895 year average29.51
Fultz17.004 year average27.84
Hindostan10.414 year average28.11
Early May6.333 year average21.67
Red May14.505 year average28.58
Theiss17.834 year average27.28
Turkey27.414 year average29.68
Zimmerman54 year average29.32

during these dry years the Turkey had been building up a high average yield as well at the expense of its rivals and had a four-year record of 29.68 against the favorite Currell's five-year record of 29.51.

     For the first time since 1883 the Turkey was singled out for comment:

The Turkey stood the March freeze better than any other variety, it being somewhat tardy in its growth, and, in consequence, it shows the best yield. . . . This variety is held in high esteem in many parts of the state, and it may properly be classed with our most productive wheats.,,, . . . Although the Currel suffered badly, we still consider this our best wheat, and shall continue to give it the leading place on the farm. [13]

     The wheat crop of 1894-1895 was a complete failure at the agricultural college, on account of winter-killing, and no report was published, but the following year the record of that season was told:

The Turkey wheat is rapidly coming to the front as a heavy yielder. It has, moreover, the merit of being, perhaps, the hardiest wheat of any we have tested. Of some 40 varieties under test last year, the severe winter of 1894-1895 completely killed all except the Turkey, the Zimmerman, and a variety called Reliable Minnesota. The latter showed a few green spears in the spring. The Zimmerman showed a stand of about 10 per cent, while the Turkey had about 25 per cent of the plants alive in the spring. . . The Turkey is a bearded wheat, and therefore, somewhat less pleasant to handle than a smooth wheat, and it is sometimes discriminated against by dealers on account of being a hard wheat.

     The season of 1895-1896 was favorable and all yields were high but the Turkey gave 42.28 bushels per acre, making a six year

The Agricultural College and Hard Winter Wheat 187

average, 1891-1896, of 32.20 bushels per acre. Without any further reference to varieties the bulletin summary closed: "The best yielding varieties, based on an average of several years, are the following, in the order named: Andrews No. 4, Turkey, Valley, Tasmanian Red, Ramsey, and Currell." [14]

     The wheat crop of 1897 was unsatisfactory. The Currell was a complete failure, Zimmerman, 5.85 bushels; Turkey, 11.15 bushels; and Crimean, 13.66 bushels per acre:

The test of varieties is of special interest the present year, in that it shows the comparative hardiness of some 50 leading varieties grown at the station for several years. Out of the whole number, only the Turkey, Tasmanian Red and Crimean withstood the severe freeze in November so as to yield at the rate of 10 bushels or more per acre. [15]

     The year 1898 was again unfavorable, a heavy freeze March 22 having contributed to retarding maturity about two weeks, and then June 17, black rust struck it and in three days reduced a promise of 30 to 40 bushels to little or nothing. The highest yield of Turkey was 18 bushels per acre and it was specified as "our standard hard wheat," while the highest yield of Zimmerman was 28 bushels per acre, "Our standard soft wheat." This year was a milestone in another respect as the announcement was made that the chief work in wheat was in crossing varieties to increase yield and gluten-3,000 crosses had been made that summer and would be planted in the fall. [16]

     From the standpoint of the hard wheat record it is noteworthy that the factor that at long last turned the attention of the experiment station to Turkey wheat was winter-hardiness in 1894, 1895, 1896 and the acceptance of it as "our standard hard wheat" came only in 1898. Prolonged adversity worked hardship on the state during the decade of the nineties, but apparently it was that painful era that was necessary to convince the agricultural experts that, of the three factors; yield, earliness and winter-hardiness, the last named was the most important.

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1. Abilene Gazette, June 3, 1881, reprinted from the Industrialist.
2. Industrialist, Manhattan, September 9, 1881.
3. Ibid., May 27, 1882.
4. Ibid., May 27, September 9, 1882.
5. Ibid., April 21, 1883.
6. Cf. Chapter 16. In commenting on deterioration of hard wheat in the late nineties, the contrast was drawn between the original red and the deteriorated yellow berry.
7. E. M. Shelton, "Experiments with Wheat," Bulletin No. 4, Experiment Station of the Kansas State Agricultural College. Printed also in the Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture for the months of August and September, 1888, pp. 18-23.
8. E. M. Shelton, "Experiments with Wheat," Bulletin No. 7 (July 1889) Experiment Station, Kansas State Agricultural College.
9. C. C. Georgeson, "Experiments with Wheat," Bulletin No. 11, (July 1890) Experiment Station, Kansas State Agricultural College; also in the Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture for the month of July, 1890.
10. C. C. Georgeson, "Experiments in Wheat," Bulletin No. 20 (July 1891), Experiment Station, Kansas State Agricultural College.
11. C. C. Georgeson, "Experiments with Wheat," Bulletin No. 40, (August 1893), Experiment Station, Kansas State Agricultural College.
12. Only Some of the more familiar varieties are included here for comparisons. Others had higher average records than some given here.
13. C. C. Georgeson, "Experiments with Wheat," Bulletin No. 47 (August 1894), Experiment Station, Kansas State Agricultural College.
14. C. C. Georgeson, "Experiments with Wheat," Bulletin No. 59 (August 1896), Experiment Station, Kansas State Agricultural College.
15.. C. C. Georgeson, "Experiments with Wheat," Bulletin No. 71 (July 1897), Experiment Station, Kansas State Agricultural College.
16. Farm Department Press Bulletin No. 1. August 2, 1898. Reprinted in Experiment Station Bulletin No. 86, (June 1899), Kansas State Agricultural College.