NE History & Record of Pioneer Days
Vol VII, no 1 (part 3)
J. A. Smith has a very interesting story of 75 years ago in the Hemingford
Ledger of June 26, 1924, from which the following extracts are made:
"My ancestors moved to southeast Iowa from Ohio in 1837. They traveled in the old Pennsylvania wagons. The boxes were very different from those of more modern times. They were shaped somewhat like boats and very elaborately built. Some called them prairie schooners. The spindles of the wagons of that time were wooden and the wheels were fastened on with lynch pins, as they called them. They used pine tar to grease them with. There was no farm machinery in those times. Nearly every thing was home made and nearly all the food was raised on the farm and in the gardens."
"Like Abraham Lincoln I was born in a log cabin, and like him I have split rails to build fences with. You may never have seen rail fences. You perhaps can find a picture of one or ask some grandparent how they were built. It took lots of timber to make rails enough to fence eighty or one hundred sixty acres of land. It would not be a practical fence in these days. It would cost too much.
"In those times but few, if any, had cook stoves. You wonder how they cooked and baked their food. They had open fire places in their houses and they cooked by these. You can find one or two in town. Could you cook and bake by these? They used bake ovens and frying pans, and iron kettles for boiling. They had no granite nor aluminum vessels. I remember that biscuits and corn pone tasted fine that were cooked in those fireplace utensils. We boys used to roast potatoes in the hot ashes. How good they did taste. If you do not believe they taste better that way than any other, try roasting some by a camp fire sometime. Ask any aged person what kind of fuel was used in those fireplaces; how large the backlogs were and the foresticks and the middle wood, etc. We had no matches then. You ask how we got fires started. Fires can be started in more ways than one. When once a fire was started in those open fireplaces, it was not allowed to die out. Coals of fire were covered with ashes and were used to start fires at any time. If, perchance, the fire went out, it was a common practice to borrow fire from a neighbor. But I have often seen my father start a fire with a flint rock and the flat side of his pocket knife blade. Sparks would fly into some dry timber or flax tow, and would kindle a roaring fire. Matches, came in later. It is said they were very crude affairs when first brought but like all other inventions, they kept on improving them.
"I remember the first school building where we boys used to go to school. Like most buildings of those times in Iowa it was built of logs and its furniture was all home made including a teacher's desk. The seats were made of slabs brought from the saw mill. Holes were bored under each ends and legs put in, no backs. The teacher's desk contained his or her books, a bottle of ink, some goose quill pens and another essential, "a hickory rod." You may know what that was used for. There were two windows, but they were ample. Two logs were sawed out almost the length of the room and frames and glass sash were fitted into the windows were horizontal instead of long way up and down. Along these, long writing desks were placed and high benches to sit on at each desk. We did not have steel and gold pens then. Our writing implements were made of goose quills and it was either the parents' or teachers' duty to keep the children supplied with them. When properly made they would glide over the paper as smoothly as a gold pen. A sharp knife was used to make them, hence the name, pen-knife." Try your skill in making one.
"We had no electric,
gas or coal oil lights. Tallow candles and grease lamps supplied the light
for our homes, also for our places of business or for churches. Our mothers
made the candles. Candle moulds were an essential utensil in every home. You
may think we did not have very good lights. Well, they were the best we had
and there was no complaint.
"Our way of traveling was by wagons and on horse back or go by foot. A span of old Dobbins or a yoke of oxen were the propelling powers. There were but few spring vehicles. A board was laid across the wagon box to sit on and no complaint. My grandfather had the only spring vehicle in the neighborhood and nice it seemed to us boys to get a ride in it.
"We used to plant all our corn by hand. After the land was plowed we would mark it out with a single shovelplow. Then it was ready for planting. The process was for one man or boy to cross mark the field with the same implement, one would drop the corn at each intersection of the furrows and one or two boys follow and cover with hoes. We cultivated the corn with those same single shovels or with a small plow. Later on a double shovel was invented, and still later on a walking cultivator was made that set on wheels and we could cultivate a whole row at once. We thought that was perfection, but later on the riding cultivator came around and then we could ride and work. Corn growing now seemed easy work.
"The flour mills were generally run by water power, being located on some creek or river. They called them grist mills. The farmers would load up a few bags of wheat and shelled corn and go to mill. The one that got there first got his grist first, as each brought back his own flour and meal, ground from his own grain. We had but little or no machinery. We threshed our wheat by tramping out with horses. All good sized barns had a threshing floor. The wheat would be laid on in order and in a circle and tramped out. Then we would clean it up with fanning mills something similar to what we now have. The miller took out his "toll." We did not have the self binders as now for harvesting our small grain. We used what they called a grain cradle. It had a blade and light wooden fingers so attached that when a strong man made a stroke into the standing grain he would swing around and land it in a swathe, and a man or boy would follow with a wooden rake, similar to a garden rake, and rake it up in bunches and bind it with handfuls of grain straw. Ask some old grandparent just how it was done. We had no mowing machines. We mowed our meadows with scythes. Perhaps you can see one at the hardware stores. After mowing a few hours we would use forks and hand rakes and move it into windrows and bunch it up. In later years there was a crude kind of threshing machine came around which was run by two horses. The threshers were run by tread power. Some called this machine a rat killer. It did not separate the grain from the chaff. It was thrown into bins or pens and cleaned up with fanning mills. Later on separating machines came around that were run by eight horses. Those old threshing days were interesting occasions among the farmers. It was a little army of men and boys and most enough horses for a cavalry company. We were always glad when threshing days were over.
"My father used to make the boots and shoes for the family, Most families did the same way. Men and boys wore boots. Only women and girls wore shoes. I never wore a pair of "store boots" till I was fifteen or eighteen years old. As our boots and shoes were home made. you may ask where we got our clothes. They were also home made. Every farmer kept a flock of sheep and raised a patch of flax. The wool of the sheep was made into rolls and the mothers and older sisters spun
them into yarn and wove this yarn into cloth on
home made looms. Our mothers made this yarn into coats and pants for winter
wear. Flax was made into cloth for summer wear. I remember we boys were just
as proud of these home made clothes as we are now of "store clothes." They
also knit our socks and stockings. I can show you samples of home made goods
which were made by my first wife when a girl and by her mother.
"During the Civil war the farmers made their own molasses from sorghum cane. Each home was a kind of manufacturing plant and practically raised everything they eat. They did not need so much money then as now."
excellent article in the Kimball Observer, June 29, 1924, gives a sketch of
Cheyenne county which formerly included the present Kimball county from which
we make the following condensation:
The Union Pacific was completed in the fall of 1867 to a point on Lodge Pole Creek within 100 miles of the Wyoming line. The town of Sidney was platted at that time. Until 1870 the region was attached to Lincoln county as population was sparse. Thomas Kane was appointed in the summer of 1870 to present petitions to Governor Butler for the organization of Cheyenne county. In August the Governor issued his proclamation calling for special session to select county officers. The county records of the first years are very incomplete due to the fact that the various county officers kept their offices under their hats, there being no salaries to warrant any other plan.
Sidney school district was organized in 1871. The first white child born in Cheyenne county so far as known was Fanny, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Fisher and born at Sidney in 1869. The first marriage was Henry Niuman and Miss McMurray who were married in September, 1869 and still live in Sidney. The first newspaper was the Sidney Telegraph issued in May, 1873, by E. Connell.
A military post was established in Sidney in 1867 and the next year this was converted into Fort Sidney which was an important fort during the ten years following years of Indian warfare and adventure. One of the noted Indian fights was that of a surveying party under I. W. LaMunyon in the summer of 1872. They were making government surveys along Pumpkin Seed Creek under protection of a company of cavalry from Fort Sidney. The cavalry undertook an excursion and the Indians promptly attacked the surveyors who took refuge in a hole dug for storing kegs of water. An all day battle took place, the Indians circling around the surveyors and firing from their ponys. The surveyors dropped several of the ponies and some of the Indians from their horses without losing any of their own number.
Cattle raising in Cheyenne county began in 1869 when Edward Creighton of Omaha brought in several thousand head. Water and grass in this region made a splendid field for stock ranches which rapidly multiplied until they covered the entire region. Ranching continued dominant business on the Cheyenne plain until after 1900, when the experiments in the way of dry farming had reached a point which warranted a general settlement and cultivation of the major part of the high plains as well as the valleys.
In the Sidney Telegraph, of June 27, 1924, is another sketch of Cheyenne county, giving a slightly different angle of information. From it we condense:
The first building at Sidney was log, belonging to the ranch of French Louis. This ranch was four miles south of Sidney but the owner moved it into the new town and opened up a store, the principle stock for sale being whiskey.
Discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1876, was followed by a rush to the diggings and serious competition from a dozen different towns, each one claiming to be the best outfitting point for the Hills. It was demonstrated in a very short time that Sidney had the best location, with the shortest and best road to the Black Hills and soon the great body of traffic centered there. This was greatly aided by the construction of the Clark bridge across the North Platte by H. T. Clark of Omaha. The bridge cost over $50,000, but became a mine of wealth for its owner from the beginning. Sidney soon became a city of 1000 and its stores did an enormous business, selling supplies to the vast region as far north as the Yellowstone river. Often more than one million pounds of freight went out of Sidney daily destined for the mine regions to the north and west. Along with the Black Hills rush came a crowd of rough frontier characters who made for Sidney a reputation as a wild town for many years. One of the noted characters of Sidney at that time was "Doc" Middleton. Concerning whose career at that time the following was written:
"It will be worthy of mention that Sidney is the place where the famous outlaw, "Doc" Middleton, now confined in the state penitentiary for life, committed his first crime. In a fight with a number of soldiers he killed one in self defense and, fearing that trouble would ensue, he fled to the unsettled country to the northward and became a highwayman. Occasionally, however, he with his band, came in the vicinity of Sidney. On one of these occasions, in April, 1879, Charles Reed, who was hanged the following month for the murder of Loomis, undertook to betray Middleton and his associates into the hands of the authorities. Middleton and his men had stolen some horses near Ogallala and were pursued by Sheriff Hughes of Keith county with a number of men and with the assistance of Reed, they were discovered in the bluffs west of town and though Middleton escaped, one of his men, Joe Smith, was shot and killed. The next day, Middleton, meeting one of his acquaintances, whom he knew before going to the bad, sent in word that if he could be assured of a pardon for the killing of the soldier in 1877 he would willingly give himself up and stand his trial for the other crimes committed by him. This being refused, he kept up his wild life, till sometime after he was captured by detectives, some sixty miles north of Columbus and taken to Cheyenne, where he was tried for crimes committed in Wyoming and sentenced to prison for life."
old time merchant recalls some of the incidents of life in Nebraska and the
west 30 years ago. In the opinion of the editor of this magazine 40 years
ago would be a better date to give to some of these incidents, but the collection
is a good one and ought to stimulate some of our readers to additions to the
list. Here it is:
"Thirty years ago I remember when eggs were three dozen for a quarter; butter ten cents a pound; milk was five cents a quart; the butcher gave away liver and treated the kids with bologna; the hired girl received two dollars a week and did the washing. Women did not powder (in public), smoke, vote, play cards or shake the shimmie. Men wore whiskers and boots, chewed tobacco, spit on the sidewalk, and cussed; beer was five cents and the lunch free: laborers worked ten hours a day and never went on strike; no tips were given to waiters and the hat check graft was unknown. A kerosene hanging lamp and stereoscope in the parlor were luxuries. No one was ever operated on for appendicitis or bought glands. Microbes were unheard of, folks lived to a ripe old age and every year walked miles to see their friends.
C. J. ERNST, BURLINGTON LAND DEPARTMENT, 1876-1924
EARLY RAILROAD DEVELOPMENT OF NEBRASKA
those far away decades when the editor of this magazine was a small barefooted
boy and the first few settlers were venturing west of the Missouri river into
the Salt Creek basin and into the beautiful valleys of the Big Blue and the
West Blue beyond, the early homesteaders in the region covered by the railroad
land grant act of congress in 1864 found plenty of reasons for grumbling.
One of these reasons was that congress had given every alternate section of
land in three or four wide belts across Nebraska to the railroads. Railroad
surveys had been made, but no track had been built west of the Missouri river
the South Platte region.
Homesteaders taking land within the limit of the railroad grants could secure only 80 acres for a homestead, the other 80 being given the railroad, on the theory that it was worth more to have an 80 acre homestead near the railroad than 160 acres beyond the limits of its
grant. Under a later act Union Soldiers of the Civil
War were permitted to take 160 acres within the limit of the railroad land
grant, but no others. In addition to this a pre-emptor might buy 160 acres
of the government for a pre-emption at $1.25 per acre for land outside the
land grant or $2.50 for land inside the grant.
After a number of years of delay land grant railroads in the South Platte region were built. Then there was fresh grief. For, instead of building their tracks through the center of their land grant they shifted it so that those who took 80 acres in many cases were further from the railroad than those receiving 160 acres for a homestead. So we wrestled, and sometimes wrangled, along through those years. Some of the railroad sections had a supply of timber on them when they were first claimed by the railroad company. The earliest settlers, feeling that the railroads did not need the timber anyway, while the settlers did, very generously appropriated timber from the railroad sections for their own use. They were sometimes threatened with prosecutions for this, but within the range of the writer's childhood recollection no one was ever convicted for taking timber from railroad lands in this region. Trial by jury precluded that.
When the first lines of railroads were built through the South Platte country a great wave of white-topped immigrant wagons came with them and settled, first upon the government land. Towns and schools were started and then fresh grief arose between the railroads and the settlers. The railroads maintained that the railroad lands should be free from taxes until they were patented and the railroad policy was to patent the lands from the government as fast as they could sell them to the new settlers who would then pay taxes on them. During the early 70's the controversy over this question kept a continued friction between the railroad companies and the early settlers.
It was the early policy of the Nebraska railroads, and especially of the Burlington, to find competent settlers to whom they could sell their lands at low prices and on long time. The land departments of the Nebraska railroads became the biggest boosters for the new region. Their immigration agencies and literature reached out around the world in search of the rugged type of farmer who would settle upon their lands, stick through all the pioneer hardships and discouragements and make a civilized region out of the wilderness. No agency was more efficient in settling Nebraska with a strong race of pioneers than the railroads.
We are far enough away from those early years now to begin to appraise and measure and set down in history the story of the part played by the early railroads in the development and settlement of the region west of the Missouri river. It is an important part of our Nebraska history and it never has been fully put into print. It is the purpose of the Nebraska Historical Society to assemble and put into attractive form this part of our :state's history. It happens that one survivor of this early period, Mr. C. J. Ernst of Omaha, is in possession of most important facts arising out of his own experience relating to this time. Mr. Ernst has been requested to make a more complete and detailed account of his recollections and experience in this work. Meanwhile a brief address given by him is herewith published for the purpose of preserving the record and for the inspiration of the old time and new time Nebraskans.
of the greatest, wisest and most successful agencies for the development of
our country, beginning with the State of Illinois and extending Westerly to
the Pacific Coast and Southerly to the Gulf States, was created by Congress
through Railroad Land Grants, beginning in 1850 with a grant to the Illinois
Central and followed up, until about 1865, by a number of similar grants.
I am thoroughly aware of the criticisms made principally by politicians, from
time to time and until comparatively very recent times, against those land
grant acts of Congress and more or less repeated by people either insufficiently
informed or naturally narrow minded and prejudiced. As recently as December,
1919, the Hon. Senator Chamberlain of Oregon, on the floor of the Senate,
spoke of the "wild era of extravagance" on the part of Congress in this matter
of railroad land grants and repeated the statement that has been often made
that "empires were given to railroads. Mr. W. W. Baldwin, one of the Vice-Presidents
of the C. B. & Q. R. R. Co., by the courtesy of Senator King of Utah,
answered these criticisms of Senator Chamberlain, and Mr. Baldwin's remarks
appeared in the Congressional Record of January 12, 1920.
Without wishing to weary you, but for the reason that Mr. Baldwin's defense is so clear, complete and should be convincing to any unprejudiced person, I take the liberty to quote rather extensively from Mr. Baldwin's remarks on that occasion. He said, in part:
* * * *
"The first important Government land grant in aid of the construction of railroads was in 1850, which was a grant of 2,300,000 acres in Illinois to aid in the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad. The father of this measure was Stephen A. Douglas. Prior to 1850 there were no Government land grants. The fact is that in almost every case, the States either owned the roads or were financially interested in them." The State of Michigan, for instance, built and owned the Michigan Central road from Detroit to Kalamazoo, which it operated for years at a loss and sold in 1846 for a small consideration. The land-grant policy of aid to railroads began in 1850 with the Illinois Central grant.
"Because the Illinois Central grant was the first of these Government land grants and embraced the most valuable lands covered by any grant of agricultural land, a correct knowledge of the value of the Illinois Central grant will throw light upon the whole subject."
"In determining the principle represented by the lands we must take account of the actual value of the lands in 1851. The values which the railroad company was to receive for the lands were not foreseen and the State could justly claim, compensation only for the values surrendered. The lands had been offered by the General Government $1.25 per acre without finding buyers, but as soon as the lands were granted to the railroad company the minimum price for Government as well the railroad lands became $2.50. More than this they were sure to bring, but only in case the private corporation should bring the road to develop them.
"What contribution, then, did the Government make toward the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad?
"Senator Douglas and all the other Senators state clearly what was the value of these lands. They had been in the open market for sale for 25 years with no purchasers. The promoters of the road, who took risk of the venture, could have bought this land with no strings on it, no restrictions whatever, at $1.25 per acre. The grant was 2,500,000 acres so that the outside estimate of what the Government contributed was $3,125,000
"The officials of
the road could have bought the land for $3,125,000.
"But what has the Government and the State of Illinois taken from the Illinois Central Co. and its owners in consideration of that land grant worth $3,125,000? It has already taken more than $32,935,000 in money and continues to take at the rate of hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
"In 1876 Congressman Holman, of Indiana, caused to be inserted in the appropriation bill the following clause;
"Railroad companies whose railroads were constructed in whole or in part by a land grant made by Congress, on the condition, that the mails should be transported over their roads at such price as Congress should by law direct, shall receive only 80 per cent. of the compensation otherwise authorized by this section.
"The value of the Illinois Central grant was $3,125,000 and up to this time, it has cost that company in cash $32,935,000 and these charges against its revenues are to continue forever. Any business man would say that the Illinois Central would be in better shape, financially, today if, instead of accepting this land grant, it had borrowed the money and bought this $3,125,000 worth of land outright and owned it free from restrictions.
"Next in agricultural value to the Illinois lands were grants to railroads in the State of Iowa in 1856.
"In the case of the Burlington Railroad Co. in the State of Iowa, it has repaid to the Government in cash by mail-pay deductions alone more than five times the full money value which the Government parted with in making the Iowa land grant.
"Besides this, in carrying the train loads of troops and munitions of war and Government property across the State of Iowa during the 50 years since the road was completed from Burlington to Omaha, at half the lawful tariff rates, that company has repaid several times over the value of every acre of land that was granted to it."
* * * *
I will now pass from quotations of Mr. Baldwin's remarks to matters largely of my own observation and experiences. Exactly the same general conditions related by Mr. Baldwin in regard to railroad grants in Illinois and Iowa apply to such grants to railroads in Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas, Minnesota, etc. With the details of one of those, the grant to the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company in Nebraska, I am personally familiar to the last item. I cannot quote exact figures for other railroads, but the general history, the general immigration and development work, the general results, are practically the same with all Trans-Missouri land grant roads, in which I principally include the Union Pacific, Kansas Pacific (in those days a separate organization) the Santa Fe, the Northern Pacific, Great Northern, etc. The history of the one I know all about will illustrate the history of all and prove the great and successful development work done especially by Land Grant roads. Other railroads also did their part, but not to the same extent, as far as I can at present recall.
I have lived in Nebraska since May, 1868. There were no cheap railroad lands for sale in Nebraska in 1868. There was no systematic immigration work going on, no advertising of the advantages of the State for immigrants either from older States or Europe. My father was warned by everybody except one man, not to venture mare than 10 miles West of the Missouri river, as "nothing would grow" beyond that 10 mile limit. He purchased 160 acres of raw prairie near Nebraska City in 1868, and in the spring of 1869, I, a boy of 14, broke some of the prairie on that 160 acres, not with horses, but with a yoke of stout oxen. For several years my father was unable to buy a team or a single horse, but farmed with oxen. He had a mortgage on his land for about one-third of the purchase price.
In 1871 the Burlington
General Land Office was opened at Lincoln, Nebraska, and the first sale of
land, was made April 1, 1871, and I sold the "last acre" of our Nebraska grant
on October 30, 1903. The railroad lands were at first very unpopular with
people living close to the Missouri River, who adhered to the opinion already
referred to that nothing would grow 10 miles west of that river. Land sales
by the railroad company were slow until 1874 and just as sales were getting
better the first grasshopper invasion arrived from the Rocky Mountains in
midsummer of 1874. Scarcely anybody had paid any "real money" on their land
purchases. The terms of sale were easy, 10 years credit, nothing but interest
at 6% payable annually the first four years. People who at once, or within
2 years, moved onto their railroad land, were refunded freight charges paid
on emigrant movables and passenger fares paid for their families. Another
and very important advantage given to purchasers of railroad land, by the
Burlington, which, to the best of my recollection was not done by any other
land-grant railroad, consisted of a discount of 20% applied on the very first
payments of principal due on set contracts (so that it would pay all of the
first installment of principal due in 4 years from purchase and a part of
the second installment due in 5 years from date of purchase), said discount,
called "Premium for Improvements" being allowed purchasers who within two
years from date of purchase would break up a certain portion of the land and
continue its cultivation until the said premium had been applied. No one,
I think, ever stopped cultivating the land thus entitled to that premium.
The vast majority of those who had purchased land and not improved it prior
to the grasshopper invasion of 1874, having in most cases only paid one year's
interest at 6% forfeited their contracts, scared out by the hoppers.
I entered the services of the General Land Office at Lincoln February 1, 1876, and being able to speak, read and write two languages and in a limited degree to understand and make myself fairly well understood by two or three other nationalities, I was soon given much special work in connection with foreign immigration as well as foreign born land buyers from other states. As early as the fall of 1873 the first large number of German colonists from Southern Russia began to arrive in the United States as a result of the Ukase issued by the Czar of Russia decreeing the abrogation, after ten years, of the treaty made with their ancestors by Catherine the Great, about exemption from military service, taxes, etc., granting them their own separate political and religious status, their own local government, courts, etc. Every Western Land Grant railroad had sent secret agents to Russia to induce these splendid, and in many cases wealthy farmers, Mennonites, Lutherans and German Reformed, to come to this country, to settle on the lands in Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Manitoba. The rivalry between these states and the various Land Grant railroads was keen. During the ten years given these millions of German farmers, living independent of Russian laws in various parts of Southern Russia, to either become subject to all the laws of Russia (or emigrate, which the Czar tried to prevent), they came to the United States in large numbers.
I met them, on advices from Castle Garden, several times by the trainload, and on one occasion swiped a whole trainload from the two Kansas roads, each of which had a special train awaiting their arrival at Atchison, but I stole the whole bunch, except less than a dozen unmarried young men, and carried them all by special train, free, to Lincoln, Nebraska. Those were certainly strenuous days for settling up our prairie states. But I must not weary you with too much of this detail. I will, however, give you some figures, which. in a general and similar way, could no doubt be duplicated from the records of every Land Grant railroad in the Central West.
The Burlington sold many thousand acres of its Nebraska grant as low as 25 cents per acre. Every acre of that particular land is at least valuable grazing land today, worth probably not less than $25.00 per acre -- some of it is farming land worth a great deal more. We sold many thousand acres of other Nebraska land at approximately $1.25 per acre, the minimum Government price prior to the establishment of a land grant. We sold our entire Nebraska grant at an average of $5.14 per acre. Out of the proceeds of that $5.14 per acre we paid --
For preliminary land examinations, to appraise values
For discounts account principal paid before due
For premiums to settlers improving their purchases
For advertising the country and similar expenses
For salaries and office expenses (33 years)
For taxes (on the unsold lands) prior to selling each re-
never sold land to mere speculators, we wanted only actual settlers. We located
large settlements, not only of the German colonists from Southern Russia,
but many other settlements of Germans, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Hollanders,
Bohemians and Polanders, most of them coming from other States where land
was too expensive to enable them to acquire farms of their own. All of these
were first class, industrious, thrifty people. In one county the Irish Catholic
Colonization Society co-operated with us and one of the largest and very prosperous
communities was founded and exists there to this date. In another county a
German Catholic founded a large and prosperous settlement of his people which
was named after him. Most of this development work, not only by the Burlington
but all the Land Grant railroads in the West, was at its height between 1870
and 1890, but the results of it continue on.
I hope that I will not be misunderstood as wishing to give the entire credit for the wonderful and rapid development and in all parts of our great country, to the Land Grant railroads. That is not at all my. purpose. Many great minds among railroad executives, directors and managers, in all parts of the land, East, West, North and South, have contributed their share liberally, to the general development, comfort and prosperity of this nation. Other members of our Association in the general discussion of this subject, which I take it is to follow my remarks, will undoubtedly be able, from their experience or observation, to add much valuable and varied testimony along this line.
Much is being said and argued, and not without reason, about the present unfavorable condition of the wheat farmers. I cannot refrain from adding a few words on that subject. Admitting the well-known facts of the case, but denying all of the various exaggerations of those facts, coming from many directions, principally from politicians seeking the farmers' votes for themselves, their party or their personal friends, I beg leave to briefly say:
Far more failures and actual bankruptcies occur, have always occurred and will continue to occur in mercantile business, both wholesale and retail, and in manufacturing as well, as have ever occurred, are now actually existing or likely to happen in farming, in this country of ours. Temporary disturbances and losses occur in all activities. The farmer of today who has not of very recent years, because of temporary war prices for his products, turned speculator, either by buying additional land at extravagant prices, or spreading out by attempting some get-rich-quick scheme of farming subject to the risk of operating under the uncertainties and increased expenses connected with employing a large force of hired help, is not in danger of either voluntary or forced bankruptcy proceedings.
Those of us, who have
lived in the Corn Belt and Wheat Belts of the West for the last 50 years or
so have not forgotten the grasshopper invasions and terrific destruction therefrom
of the years of 1874 and 1876, nor the years of general drouth of 1890 and
1894, the suffering from which was added to by the panic of 1893. In the early
70's, before the railroads opened up our Central Western country, I personally
recall that one year corn, because of a short crop, sold at $1.00 per bushel
in the crib and the very next year it dropped way down and the second year
10 cents per bushel was all the Nebraska farmer, farming within 10 miles of
the Missouri River, could get for it, and in those days' my own mother, having
a fair flock of chickens and milking two or three cows, making the very best
of butter, paid for all the groceries and clothing my father had to buy for
three or four of us, although compelled to "trade off" her butter and eggs
to the storekeepers at from five to seven cents for a dozen eggs and 10 to
12 cents for a pound of first class butter. Compare that with present prices!
No one ever suggested in those days, nor during the grasshopper invasions or years of drouth herein referred to, the necessity of Congress fixing minimum incomes for the genuinely suffering farmer nor the calling of Congress to meet in extra session for that purpose. I have dwelt upon. the Land Grant feature because it happens to be a feature with which I have been personally and intimately identified; and because it is a subject about which misinformation is widespread, and concerning which politicians have been able to plausibly exaggerate and misrepresent the exact facts, as in Senator Chamberlain's case, and uninformed or prejudiced people have believed and spread these exaggerations and mis-statements, which have been principally made on the one fact of the large acreage covered by some of the grants.
But not only through their helpful Land Grant policies have Western railroads made notable contributions as wealth creators. Their owners did not stop railroad building with the mileage for which the Grants were given by Congress, but pushed on and on into regions that were simply vast areas largely regarded as deserts not habitable for men. Take the grant to the B. & M. in Nebraska; it was made for the construction of the original line from Plattsmouth to Kearney, in round figures 190 miles, but our lines were pushed on to Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, long before there were enough people actually located along those lines to create business enough "to pay for the axle grease." Only after railroads were built could real settlement and cultivation of the land, and kindred business, be properly and profitably conducted, favorable climate and soil conditions, without villages, cities and markets being insufficient for the development of country without adequate means of transportation. The Middle West, and likewise the entire Pacific Coast, marvels of development and wealth creation, owe their railroads, built principally with money of people living in the East, largely people of limited means, much of what they now have and enjoy, however easily they may forget it.
I hope that I have presented at least some share of convincing evidence concerning "The Railroad as A Creator of Wealth in the Development of a Community or District;" it seems to me an undeniable fact that the railroads have been a very large factor in the development of "The Best Country on Earth."
At the conclusion of his paper Mr Ernst was given a rising vote of thanks for his admirable and comprehensive paper.
© 2001, 2004 for NEGenWeb Project by Ted & Carole Miller