Letter/IconOTH Bryant and Parker discerned with prophetic eye the potential agricultural riches of the Nebraska country. After passing through northeastern Kansas and southeastern Nebraska along the valley of the Blue, Bryant remarked that, with the exception of the single objection of want of timber, "the country appears to be the most desirable, in an agricultural point of view, of any which I have ever seen. It possesses, such natural wealth and beauties, that at some future day it will be the Eden of America. When that epoch arrives, he who is so fortunate as to be then a traveler along this route, may stand upon one of the high undulations, and take in at a single glance, a hundred, perhaps a thousand villas and cottages, with their stately parks, blooming gardens and pleasure grounds; their white walls seen through the embowering foliage, and glittering in the sunbeams from every hilltop and slope of these magnificent plains." Even the cynically inclined. Kelly's prejudices were melted by the charming prospect of the country along the two Blue rivers:

    Knolls of gigantic dimensions, covered with fine timber in young foliage, being irregularly scattered over the plain, which was intersected with numbers of streamlets, all tributaries of the Little Blue; clumps of trees standing here and there in the different angles formed by their courses. All it required to complete its pastoral charms being the flocks and herds, and the neat but unpretending cottage of the shepherd peeping from the shady grove.

   But in the dimmer distance of 1835 Parker was moved to enthusiastic prophecy at sight of the fertile land between the Elkhorn and the Platte. "This amazing extent of most fertile land will not continue to be the wandering ground of a few thousand Indians, with only a very few acres under cultivation . . . The herds of buffalo which once fattened upon these meadows . . . and the deer which once cropped the grass have disappeared; and the antelopes have fled away; and shall solitude reign here till the end of time? No. Here shall be heard the din of business, and the church-going bell shall sound far and wide." Mr. Parker insists that unless the Indians are brought under civilization and Christianity they will continue to melt away. He was not sociologist enough to see that the contact and competition with the race that should teach them the new faith and bestow the new knowledge would hasten rather than prevent their extirpation.
   All of the early travelers from the '30s to the '50s speak of the heavy rain-storms which they encountered all the way from the Missouri river to Fort Kearney. Their reports seem to corroborate the most authentic records upon this subject, that there has been no change of climate in regard to rainfall since those times.
   Though Father DeSmet's spiritual vision was all pervasive, yet it did not interfere with his material insight which was far keener than that of his literary contemporaries; for this is the picture he paints of the Plains of 1851:

   Between the Nebraska and the Wasecha, or Vermillion, for about four hundred miles, the forests are vast and beautiful, often intersected by rich prairies of turf and verdure. This contrast delights the traveler. Every time he enters the desert he cannot refrain from admiring this succession of forests and plains, this series of hills which encircle then, and present such a variety of forms -- here and there covered with trees and underwood of a thousand kinds, sometimes rising, bold, rugged cliffs, to the height of one or two hun-



dred feet, and then noble plains, ascending gradually, with scattered groves, so pleasing to the sight that Art seems to have crowned the work of Nature. We wonder that we do not see farms, barns and fences . . . Nature seems to have lavished its gifts on this region; and without being a prophet, I can predict a future far unlike the past for this desert . . . . These plains, naturally so rich and verdant, seem to invite the husbandman to run the furrow, and promise an ample reward to the slightest toil. Heavy forests await the woodman -- and rocks the stone-cutter . . . Broad farms, with orchards and vineyards and alive with domestic animals and poultry, will cover these desert plains, to provide for thickcoming cities, which will rise as if by enchantment, with dome and tower, church and college, school and house, hospital and asylum. I speak here principally of the region from the mouth of the river Kansas to that of the Niobrarah or Eau qui coule, and extending beyond the Black Hills, continuing along their crest to the Rocky mountains, thence it follows southwardly the already existing limits of Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. This region contains several large rivers, . . . the principal of which are the Platte, the two rivers just named, and the head-waters of the Arkansas, Osage, and Red . . . This great territory will hold an immense population, destined to form several great and flourishing states.

   It has already been observed that, for reasons pointed out, the social beginnings of Nebraska were factitious and not a gradual growth like the settlement of the eastward states; and for several years after the political organization of the territory the political field was cultivated with much greater assiduity than any other. Four years after the organization of the territory, we are told,

   Scarcely any produce enough to support themselves. Hundreds of acres of land, entered and owned by men who live among us, are allowed to lie idle doing no more good to the community than when the land was owned by the native savages . . . We have now a home demand larger by far than we can possibly supply, with ready sale, good prices, and prompt pay, for everything we can produce.

   The further statement is made that the federal government had, during that season, shipped vast quantities of farm products from the east through Otoe county "to the different military stations west of here."
   In 1858 it was said that the development of farming had taken place chiefly in the last year and almost wholly in the last two years. "Previous to the last season, farmers, or those disposed to cultivate the soil, were engaged, in common with other classes, in speculating, and did not consider the tilling of the soil sufficiently remunerative." But "hard times came on, speculation ceased, dealing in fancy town shares and 'city' property suddenly fell below par to a ruinously poor business, and the consequence was that the chief, first, and best employment in Nebraska -- agriculture -- was resorted to, with some as a necessity, with others because it would pay better than any other kind of business."
   In May, 1859, Pollard & Sheldon, of the Weeping Water Falls flouring mill, were delivering sacks of meal at Wyoming for shipment below; and the encouraged editor remarks that, "This begins to look like 'living at home and boarding at the same place.' Two years ago the citizens of this county were dependent upon the supplies furnished us via the Missouri river; but now scarcely a boat departs but it is loaded to the guards with the surplus produce of the country seeking a market in the south and east." The News observes that crops in Nebraska never looked better than at this season, and in all probability there would be an immense surplus of corn; also that there would be a large surplus of vegetables and all kinds of grain except wheat in the territory that fall. The same paper remarks that "there have never been injurious frosts here."
   Three years later an important change in the prosecution of the chief, or almost sole legitimate industry of Nebraska is, noted:

   Until within the past year we as a territory were non-producers. We were not raising our own supplies, and many of our citizens were indebted to eastern parties for loans contracted during the period of speculation, on which they were paying exorbitant rates of interest; and what little money we had in the territory continued steadily to flow to other parts in exchange for the necessary articles of consumption. Now behold the change!



We are exporting largely of our native products and the surplus so largely exceeds our consumption, or imports, that for the first time in four years, exchange is in our favor. The supply of exchange on New York and the east, together with that made by the shipments of gold dust, is continually exceeding the demand, and the result is that in Omaha and Nebraska City, the principal places where gold dust is negotiated and sold, exchange, though nominally selling at one-half premium, is in reality a drug on the market. Money is flowing into the territory from all directions.

   Indian corn was established as the principal Nebraska crop long before white occupation.

Franklin Sweet


Prominent resident of Cass county

Coronado found the Indians cultivating this staple cereal in 1541. The Rev. Samuel Allis, the missionary, observes that the Pawnee Indians in Nebraska, with whom he dwelt in 1835, had a good corn crop, "and as they had plenty to eat they enjoyed it hugely." Major Long found the Pawnees in their villages about the Loup cultivating corn with success. "Fool Robe, their chief, excused himself from feasting us, saying his squaws were all absent at the corn fields."
   King corn stimulated the imagination of the earliest settlers; and we find a local chronicler, after noting the first load of corn for the season for sale on the streets at 85 cents -- "price has usually been $2.00" -- exulting in the thought that supremacy in corn had gone successively from Ohio, to Indiana, to Illinois, to Missouri and to Iowa, and "now NEBRASKA is about to be crowned the conqueror of the conquerors," We are told that in 1860 corn, so far, was the staple production, but the experience of last season dispelled the illusion that the climate was not suited to wheat.
   Coronado in his letter to the king of Spain states that he found in the Quivera country "prunes (plums) like those of Spain and nuts and very good sweet grapes and mulberries." Wild grapes are mentioned by the earliest settlers as growing in the utmost profusion, and their enthusiastic expressions about the abundance of this fruit remind one of those of the children of Israel who had gone to spy out the unknown Canaan: "Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes . . . and they came unto the brook of Eschol and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes and they bare it between two upon a staff."
   The editor of the Arrow possessed to a remarkable degree that quality of imagination which underlies appreciation, and the first number of this paper tells us that "there is the greatest profusion of wild fruits in the territory that we have ever seen in any country," and then, in its own spelling, as free from the bonds of conventional usage as the society of the plains on which it is encamped, goes on to mention them: "Plums, grapes, gooseberries, strawberries, rhaspberries, currents, cherries, haws and hackberries. Many other minor varieties may be found in almost every locality and exceedingly fine and large."
   The press continues to make frequent mention of the abundance of wild fruits, which no doubt were valued as an important part of the food supply. As late as August 13, 1859, it was said that "there are quantities of wild grapes growing along the bottoms of the Missouri in this vicinity, and on the island opposite. Stacks of them are being gathered and pressed into wine, jell and a hundred other useful domestic purposes. Large quantities



are being used at the hotels in drinkables, adding great flavor and richness to the liquid. The grape is of a superior quality, surpassing everything we have ever seen."
   In 1862 one of these local historians breaks out in an almost rapturous, but not overdone description of the richness of the Nemaha valleys:

    The Big Muddy across the southwest corner of Nemaha county is also well timbered. The forest trees are generally burr oak, walnut, hackberry, ash, red and white elm, maple and mulberry. The wild plum -- a rich fruit -- grows everywhere in extensive thickets. Wild cherries are interspersed throughout all the groves. The woods abound with a sort of grape which has been proven by experiment to need but little cultivation to make it a useful luxury. Wild gooseberry bushes, bearing a fruit quite as large as the garden berry and much more palatable are very plentiful. Raspberries fill the underbrush; and in every glade or corner of the prairies, where they are protected from the annual fires, strawberries bud, flower, and waste their luscious fruit. Game is yet plentiful. Wild turkeys, prairie fowl, curlew, geese, ducks, sand hill cranes, pigeons, etc., are found in sufficient numbers to reward the chase of the laziest sportsman. Coyotes, wolf, catamount, wild cat, badger, otter, musk rat, mink, coon, squirrel, rabbit and beaver skins can be had at all times for the labor of shooting or trapping. Deer, elk and antelope are still within reasonable range of the Missouri river settlements. The buffalo have been driven back from the frontier, although a trip of two or three days in the spring or fall to the plains beyond the Big Blue will bring the hunter to vast herds of them, pursuing their semi-annual migrations. Rattlesnakes, copperheads, bull-snakes, gophers and ground-squirrels in great numbers make some of the annoyances to which the settler is subjected.
   As we follow the editor of the Arrow, of excellent fancy, to the farthest frontier, at Wood River Center, we find him reveling in the same appreciation of the horticultural bounties of nature: "Rich, brown clusters of grapes -- large, juicy and sweet, tho' in a state of nature. Of plums we never saw so large, or quality better, growing wild, and they seem to be abundant, we enjoyed them to a 'fullness.'" It is noted in the same paragraph that "trees cut by beaver and numerous paths, slides, and dams are found along Wood river."
   An item in the Huntsman's Echo is of interest because it advises us of the early response of Nebraska soil to the hand of the cultivator and of the whereabouts of a pioneer who was afterward to become a prominent citizen and governor of the state. The editor reports that he has received a present of the largest and finest watermelon of the season from J. E. Boyd who has "a most delightful and eligible farm seven miles above -- comfortable buildings, several hundred acres fenced and near 200 in crops, a pleasant and an agreeable lady and a pretty baby."
   The first legislative committee on territorial library was not lacking in imagination, either, judging by its report made through Councilman Samuel E. Rogers, on that part of the governor's message which related to minerals, thus:

   For heavy forest we do find a complete equivalent in the vast coal beds which lie embosomed in our beautiful territory. Enough has been ascertained already by the observation and researches of the squatter citizen to satisfy the incredulous that we have coal enough for empires and to spare. This mineral wealth has presented itself in numerous openings throughout the whole extent of the valley of the Nemaha rivers, and on either side of the Platte from its mouth to its far distant source. There is no portion of our territory yet explored by the settler which does not possess ample quarries of choice and durable building rock, from many of which samples have been taken admitting a polish approaching that of marble. We have also had credible information from residents of Burt county that extensive quarries of red marble have been found in that county which admits of a beautiful polish. Red sand-stone also exists in the same vicinity which is worked from the quarry with great facility, and which on coming in contact with the atmosphere becomes so hard as to render it an excellent and durable building material. Granite is said to exist also in the more northern counties. Trappers of intelligence assert that large specimens of almost pure copper ore, easily obtained, may be procured some seventy or eighty miles west of the more northern counties . . . Trappers have brought into settlements from near this vicinity specimens of rock-salt in samples sufficiently large, and



of quality pure enough to justify the opinion that this great staple may yet be mined in ample quantities in our own territory without being subjected to freight and charges incurred in carrying this commodity from Turk's island.

   This quotation is not from the Arabian Nights but from the journal of the first territorial council (p. 60).
   The source of the early lumber supply is pointed out in an item in the Nebraska Advertiser of February 26, 1857, which speaks enthusiastically of the fact that the sawmill at Brownville had "thawed out" and had begun to cut lumber faster than any other mill in Nebraska. The Advertiser advises the proprietors -- Noel, Lake, and Emerson -- that they will have to run day and night to supply the demand for lumber. Not less than fifty buildings were to be erected at Brownville during the ensuing season. The Nebraska City News notes that Lowne's shingle factory is turning out 40,000 excellent cottonwood shingles a week. A great deal of attention was given to gold mining by the settlers of present Nebraska during the times of feverish excitement over the discoveries of that metal in the neighborhood of Denver. The Omaha Republican notes that Kountze Brothers, bankers of Omaha, had bought from the gold mines since January 1, 1860, gold dust to the amount of $4,850, and to the amount of $19,000 during the year.
   The Omaha Nebraskian reports that, notwithstanding the dry season, wheat, rye, oats, and barley are abundantly fine and heavy and seem to test the capacity of the soil for cereals. The Nebraskian was of the opinion that the Wood river country was the best wheat-growing region in Nebraska and that that cereal would be a great staple there. The Nebraska City News advises farmers to sow large quantities of wheat, as it was the best paying crop last season. There was to be a large steam mill built at Nebraska City so that farmers would no longer be annoyed and inconvenienced in getting their grists ground.
   As early as August 14, 1863, the Nebraskian announces that the crop of both winter and spring wheat was very fine that year and strongly urges its increased cultivation; that the general cultivation of this cereal which has been in actual practice only during the last few years, is a recrudescence of this early theory and practice rather than an original enterprise. The Omaha Republican announces that Nebraska has become a wheat exporting state with St. Louis the principal market. Nebraska wheat commanded a higher price by ten cents a bushel in St. Louis than the same grain from any other part of the country. The Republican confidently prophesies that Nebraska is destined to be a great wheat-growing region; and the prophecy seems to be in process of fulfilment at the present time.
   The Nebraska City News copies from the first number of the Democrat of Dakota City an account of great crops of corn raised in the past year in Dakota, Dixon, and Cedar counties. There were over 200 improved farms in Dakota county at that time and 3,000 acres of corn. The yield generally ran up to 70, 80, 90, and 100 bushels an acre. For a climax it was noted that Alex MacCready -- who afterward became well known as a leader of the Greenback party and editor of a greenback newspaper -- raised 140 bushels an acre. The chronicler doubtless assumed that due allowance would be made for inflation in these figures. Dixon county at that time was raising much wheat which was ground at the Ponca mills. The Nebraskian of August 7, 1863, rejoices that that season was one of great crops all round, including winter and spring wheat. Corn averaged from 80 to 100 bushels an acre. The faithful chroniclers of the early press show us that there were occasional crop failures in those days on account of drouth, just as in these later years. For example, the Advertiser of July 12, 1860, notes that, owing to drouth the early part of the season, the straw of wheat was short, but the head and grain were full, large, and plump. The same paper notes that "owing to the extensive drouth the present season crops will fall very short of what they would have been ordinarily. Wheat fair, sod corn and potatoes a failure, corn well worked, fair." The News of August 7, 1867, states that there were



fine crops of wheat and oats in that county that year-over 10,000 acres of wheat with an average of 26 bushels an acre.
   At the time of the organization of the territory there was undoubtedly a general impression that those parts west of a distance of forty or fifty miles from the Missouri river were not fit for successful cultivation, and there was a great deal of skepticism as to whether trees or useful crops would grow successfully on the uplands even within the narrow strip in question.
   But the Huntsman's Echo of April 25, 1861, overcomes the presumption and prophecy of the wiseacres by the results of actual experience when it says of the Wood river valley that, "corn, wheat, oats, rye, barley, potatoes, and all sorts of vegetables and roots grow to perfection. For melons and other vines the fruit is almost spontaneous; we never saw so sweet grown." The timber consisted of cottonwood, elm, ash, hackberry, box-elder, and oak; and eighteen miles below there was a sawmill, lumber being $30 per thousand feet. There was a "one horse" grist mill at Wood River Center. The vast emigration going up the valley at that time demanded far more of the products of the region than the supply, and corn brought from $1.25 to $2.50 per bushel; flour, $5 to $7 per hundred; potatoes, $2 per bushel; butter, 25 cents a pound, and eggs 25 cents a dozen. "We have growing apples, peaches, English gooseberries, currants, raspberries and strawberries set out last year. They stood the winter well and look fine." In wild fruits there was abunance of the finest of plums, grapes, gooseberries, black currants, choke-cherries, and sand-cherries. In every issue during the two summers of the life of the Echo the far-seeing editor prophesied as to the future agricultural greatness of the Wood river valley.
   The hope, courage, and foresight of the leaders of the little band of venturesome pioneers soon began to make themselves felt, and we find Governor Black in his optimistic "promotion" message of 1859 urging settlers to plant trees. The alert George Francis Train emphasizes the duty of tree planting in the Omaha Herald, and in the fall of 1867 the Nebraska City News and the Omaha Herald give a great deal of attention to this important topic. The Nebraska Advertiser, while under the editorial guidance of R. W. Furnas, kept the subject of fruit tree and shrubbery planting constantly before its readers. The editor of the Herald was so thoroughly alive to the importance of tree planting as to abruptly set aside his anti-paternalism principles and prejudices while he urged the people to petition Governor Saunders to call an extra session of the legislature "to lend encouragement to some well digested plan." The editor had reasons for thinking that the general government might undertake systematic tree planting in the western states. The auspicious beginning in the Nebraska sand-hills justifies, though somewhat tardily, the wish, the thought, and the guessing of the Herald of nearly forty years ago. Citizens of Nebraska of the present day need not be told of the industry and eloquence with which J. Sterling Morton, who was to win national fame in later years as the author of Arbor Day, and Dr. George L. Miller, through the columns of the Omaha Herald, of which he was editor, and by his own vigorous example, championed and promoted the cause of tree planting in Nebraska. To these prominent pioneers, as well as many not so well known, the present commonwealth owes an incalculable debt for wonderful results of their courageous faith and foresight in beauty and in more material good.
   There was about the same degree of apprehension felt by the early pioneers in regard to the invasion of grasshoppers as to the recurrence of drouth. The grasshopper scourge, while always menacing and much of the time destructive, up to the early '70s, yet proved to be a temporary incident of the wildness and uncultivated condition of the Plains. In 1857 the Advertiser complains that "grasshoppers have been mowing the prairie farms for some time." The Huntsman's Echo "regrets to learn that clouds of grasshoppers migrating south have for several days been doing considerable damage at some of the ranches above." The Omaha Republican of June 16, 1865, notes the presence of myriads of young grasshoppers in the northern counties making

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