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Rbpkintbd fkom thb Bulletin op thb Univbksity op Wisconsin 
Soonomlos and Political Solenoe Series, Vol. 1, No. 9 







Introductory 77 

Daue County representative of agricultural conditions of the 
state — Area' — Location — Boundaries — Drainage and Topog- 
raphy — Geological formations — Various soils and their value 
— Vegetation — Woods— Prairies. 


The Movement of Settlers to Wisconsin 86 

Early comers: hunters, trappers, miners— Their reports of the 
country — First permanent settlers — Indian wars and their 
good results — Twofold influence toward immigration — Rapid 
advance of public schools— Character of early settlers — Means 
of travel — German settlers— Norwegian immigrants — Poverty 
of foreign immigrants. 


The Purchase of Land From the Government 91 

Land laws — Division of territory into districts— Methods of sale 
— Unlawful organizing of buyers — Preemption privileges — 
Squatters Protective Association — Precautions against land- 
grabbing— Bad effect of land speculation— Punishment of 
claim-jumpers — Limitation of purchase — Military land war- 
rants—Purchases from state — Swamp land — Cheap land — Un- 
wise generosity of government. 




Selkction 07 Land 105 

Dp the first settlers take the best land?— Intention of the settler — 
Location of capital a factor — ^Paper cities — Lead mines — 
Neighbors — Wood and water — Irregularity in shape of farms — 
, Choice between land — Prairie and woods —Oak openings— 

Difficulty of well digging on prairie— Differences in nation- 
alities — Advantages of wood land— Misapprehension concern- 
ing prairie — Conclusions. 


Difficulties op Early Farming 114 

Pioneer struggles— Markets — Prices — Expensive food supplies- 
Pioneer reminiscences — " Home market " — Barter — Scarcity 
of draught animals— Lack of implements — Home manufac- 
tures — Blacksmithing— Good results of hardships. 

Thb One-Crop Period > 121 


Section I: TFAea^— Justification of term "one-crop period" — 
Reason for exclusive wheat cultivation— Other crops — Stock- 
raising too expensive to start— Possibilities in wheat— Meth- 
ods of harvesting — Inventions— Effects on amount of wheat — 
Qood crops — Failures — ^Markets— Debt — Worn-out soil— Fer- 
tilization — Rotation — Discouraging times— Mortgages — ^Rates 
of interest — Improvidence— High prices of 1854— New hope — 
War conditions— Invention of self-binder — Competition with 
West — Abandonment of wheat as main crop— Tables. 

Section II: Transportation — Becomes a vital question— Should 
state provide means? — Petitions to congress— Various kinds 
of transportation facilities — Plank roads, canals, railroads — 
Wild financiering— Overcharges by railroads — ** Farmers^ 
Protective Union '* — Helplessness of the farmer. 




Traksition prom Simple to Complex Agriculture 145 

A gradual change—Social causes of change — Sheep introduced — 
Tobacco — Failure to see opportunities — Influences of Civil 
War — Sugar — Honey — Flax— Hemp — Wool — Corn — Wheat — 
Great changes in 1860-1870. 


Hops 149 

First break in wheat growing— Slow to get a start— Rapid growth 
1864-67 — Phenomenal returns — Extravagance— Effect on gen- 
eral prices— Collapse and after-effects. 


Tobacco 155 

Introduction of tobacco — Unimportant in quantity before war 
period — War prices — Increased acreage — Limited area of cul- 
ture—Best soil for tobacco — Rotation and fertilization— Does 
it exhaust soil?— Method of cultivation and preparation for 
market — Variety and quality — Tariff — Influence on land 
values —Nationality of growers— Appearance of tobacco dis- 
trict—Acreage and price. 


The Dairy Industry 176 

Small beginnings— Few cows— Butter dear — Farmers buy dairy 
products— Cost of transportation— Profit of dairying— Primi- 
tive cooperation — Rapid growth after 1870 — Proportion of » 
cheese to butter — Localization of cheese factories — Labor 
questions— Modern improvements— Comparison of dairy and 
tobacco industries— Social changes— Dairying a permanent 
business — Table of prices— Production. 



The Sizb of Farms and Estates 185 

Estate defined— United States census on estates— Local in- 
fluences—Small parcels by foreigners— Census on size of 
farms and changes in size — Size of estates in representative 
towns— Social and economic influences —Tobacco district — 
Dairy district— Danger of averages — No tendency to large 
farms or estates. 


Land Values 192 

Character of data and difficulty of treating subject— Method 
used— Value of testimony of old settlers— Table made from 
records— Interpretation of table — Land fails to rise with war 
prices — Averages to be used with care — State Tax Commis- 
sion on land value — Has land ever fallen in value?— Tobacco 
a factor —Will land still rise? — Influences of modern improve- 
ments on farm values. 


Density op Population 203 

Uniform density in 1860— Decline during following decade — In- 
crease in tobacco district— Decrease in dairy section— General 
increase, 1890-1900— Table. 


Map I. General Geology 208 

Map II. Soil and Vegetation 209 

Map III. Glacial action 210 

Table I. Principal Farm Crops 211 

Table II. Principal Farm Stock 211 

Table III. Miscellaneous Products 212 



The purpose in choosing this subject for a thesis was to make 
a beginning in an interesting and unexploited field of economic 
history, rather than to produce anything of widespread interest. 
Yet as limited as the subject is, it has proved to be too extensive 
for a monograph of this kind, and several chapters are withheld, 
while still others remain for future research. There is an oppor- 
tunity for much work on the live-stock industry, but it can be 
treated more advantageously for the state than for the county. 
The tables in the appendix give a few bare facts on the subject. 

There is a wealth of material for the writing of agricultural 
history, but as indicated in the short bibliography of this thesis, it 
is in newspapers and various government reports for the most 
part, and great patience is required for its discovery and colla- 
tion. The information to be had at first hand is also of prime 
consideration. Such work as this, when further developed, 
ought to find a place in college courses on scientific agriculture or 
general industry. 

Should this study seem to be overburdened with minor detail, it 

is largely due to the fact that it involves the interpretation of the 
simple pioneer's life, of the locality studied. To strip it of these 
amplifications would, in the estimation of the writer, rob it of its 
main value. 

The writer wishes to acknowledge his obligations to Professor 
Ely and Professor Turner of the University of Wisconsin, under 
whose direction the work was undertaken, and to whose kindly 
suggestions and encouragement much is due. Valuable criticisms 
have been offered by Dr. H. C. Taylor of the same University. 
But thanks are due no less to the good people in various parts of 
the county who so generously assisted in bringing back the spirit 


of the early experiences of the pioneer, without which it would 
have been impossible to g^ve meaning to much of the data avail- 
able. Lastly, the librarians of the Wisconsin Historical Society 
and the University earned the writer's gratitude by assisting him 
more than mere duty required. 

The maps in the appendix were drawn by Mr. J. W. Johnston 
of Ames, Iowa. 

Iowa State College, Ames, Iowa, September, IQ04. 




It is the purpose of this work to give a view of the agriculture 
of Wisconsin both past and present. As it is, however, imprac- 
ticable to deal with the state as a whole, the choice of a part of 
the state which shall at once be suitable in size and representative 
in character is a matter of no small consequence ; and fortunately 
the county of Dan^ seems to contain within its borders a very 
generous share of the agricultural activities and possibilities of 
the entire state. More especially is it representative of the south- 
em portion of Wisconsin, that is to say, of the agricultural por- 
tion. The name Dane was given to the county in honor of 
Nathan Dane of Massachusetts, the reputed author of the Ordi- 
nance of 1787 for the Northwest Territory, and not because of 
the presence of Danes as is frequently supposed. The county 
was set off from the west part of Milwaukee, and the east part 
of Iowa counties in 1836 but was not organized as a separate 
county until 1839.^ 

The county is a large one, being more than twice the size of 
the common checker-board county, and contains thirty-five town- 
ships, or towns, as they are for the most part called.* Its position 
is midway between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi river and 
twenty-four miles north of the Illinois line. "The forty-third 
parallel of latitude passes within a minute fraction of the center 

^Lapham's Wisconsin, p. 218. 

'Townships will hereafter be referred to as toicne, while towns* as usually 
known in the west will be called villages, since this asage seems to be a per- 
manent evidence of the early New England and New York settlera 


at longitude 89"^ 20' west from Greenwich. Its altitude above 
sea level is 788 feet at the level of Lake Mendota, and is 210 feet 
above Lake Michigan at the same point.^ The area is about 
1*235 square miles, or 790,400 acres. In shape it is an oblong 
with one comer lacking, the Wisconsin river forming the bound- 
ary at the northwest for some ten or twelve miles. About thirty- 
five square miles are covered with lakes, leaving the land area 
approximately 1,200 square miles. Were it not for this water 
area, and the small triangle which would naturally belong to the 
county but for the Wisconsin river, Dane county would be almost 
exactly the size of the state of Rhode Island, yet it constitutes less 
than one forty-fifth of the state of Wisconsin. By number the 
towns are designated as townships 5 to 9 inclusive north (that is 
north of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line taken as the base, and 
ranges 6 to 12 east of the fifth principal meridian. Thus it is 
thirty by forty-two miles, the long dimension lying east and west 
On the north are the counties of Sauk and Columbia ; on the east 
Dodge and Jefferson ; on the south Rock and Green ; on the west 
the county of Iowa. The jog which occurs in the east and west 
lines between ranges 9 and 10 is the result of two separate 
surveys which for some reason or other failed to match, this 
north and south line having been previously fixed as the division 
between the Milwaukee and the Mineral Point land districts. 


About 120 square miles drain toward the Wisconsin river, the 
rest of the country shedding its waters to the southeast where 
by various channels they reach the Rock. The dividing ridge 
between these two river systems is the long, irregular, limestone 
ridge of prairie land which extends well across Columbia county 
to the north. This ridge is cut by a deep valley which runs from 
Lake Mendota to the Wisconsin river and is only about eighty 
feet above the lake at the highest point. It is said that the In- 
dians used this as a "portage" between the two river systems, 
there being but a short interval between the head waters of the 

* statistics of Dane County. 

^This is condensed from tae History of Dane County, and supplemented by 


two little Streams which run in opposite directions through the 

The surface of the county is for the most part rolling, though 
considerable areas are flat, while it is not unusual to find several 
square miles of country that is rugged to the extent of being nearly 
worthless. The most important of these hills are the Blue 
Mounds in the western part of the county which rise about a 
thousand feet above the surrounding country, while radiating 
from them are long high ridges of hills with narrow valleys 
between. At the northwest corner is a tract of broken country, 
the hills being little cone-shaped knobs, rising 200 or 300 feet 
above the river, and showing on their rough sides the various 
geological strata of which they are remnants. The southwestern 
part is hilly, the streams having cut valleys a hundred or two 
hundred feet below the general level. This is a "driftless" dis- 
trict (see Map III. in appendix) and here the drainage is per- 
fect, for there are no lakes and hardly a swamp. 

Within the glacial area there is a marked difference in the 
general appearance. Here we find the lakes and the swamps, the 
latter often having no outlet on account of the irregular moraines. 
The well-known "four lakes'* lie in a northwest and southeast 
direction almost parallel to the line marking the limit of glacial 
action, and the Yahara, or Catfish, which drains them and is 
the main river within the county, has had to wear its way across 
many of these small hills. The other lakes, though numerous, 
are comparatively unimportant, while the streams are neither so 
numerous nor so regular in their courses as in the driftless area. 

"The Dane County list of geological formations includes nearly 
the whole Wisconsin series." Map II. (see appendix) which is 
enlarged from the atlas of maps made by the Wisconsin Geo- 
logical Survey, 1882, gives a good general idea of the formations. 
Since we are here interested in geology only as it helps us to un- 
derstand soils and vegetation we will turn our attention at once to 
these matters. The soil map is far from being satisfactory. It 
could not be expected that a map made for a whole state could 
be accurate in minute details, but it seems hardly pardonable to 
have the town of Roxbury represented as sandy loam, when as 
a matter of fact the soil is a stiff clay with the exception of 

<* Governor Doty's first message to the assembly. 


a narrow strip along the Wisconsin river, and a few unimportant 
creek bottoms extending back among the hills. And yet if not 
taken too seriously, the map is worth something; it probably 
gives a fair idea of the relative amount of prairie, clay, and 
swamp soils, and in the main, their distribution is shown with 
tolerable accuracy, the above mentioned error being much the 

It is of interest to note the variety of soils as seen in the 
different geological areas, but the very fact that such a number 
of formations appear within so small a compass complicates 
rather than facilitates such a comparison. In the first place the 
greater part of the county is modified by glacial drift, and within 
the driftless area several distinctive soils are evident. It must 
be remembered that the elevations of this area are entirely the 
result of erosic«i, and thus the level of Blue Mounds a thousand 
feet above the Wisconsin river is a point in an ancient plain. 
The three upper strata of this mound are limestone, tlie little 
plain of some sixty acres at the very summit has a rich black 
calcareous soil, and the blue-grass carpet which covers every 
tiook is as luxuriant as on any lawn. Farther down, at about 
the level of the Galena limestone, though no doubt mixed with 
debris from the strata above, is another little plain somewhat 
larger than the first and with identical characteristics. Through- 
out the driftless area these limestone soils are to be found along 
the ridges of hills that separate the streams, but for the most 
part the finer and better part of the soil has made its way to a 
lower level, thus leaving a representative limestone soil on com- 
paratively small spots only. The St. Peters sandstone is quite 
soft in most places and hence seldom remains as the permanent 
bed of a stream, and on this account there is no considerable ex- 
tent of sandy soil resulting from this formation ; the sand appears 
merely as a narrow fringe around the borders of the Trenton 
limestone districts or is mingled with the stiflFer clays of the 
Magnesian limestone below, and, for the most part is a valuable 
addition. Along the Wisconsin and around the lakes the Pots- 
dam sandstone comes to the surface and here we find a soil which 
may very properly be termed sandy and is the poorest in quality 
with which we have to deal. In wet years these sandy lands 
produce excellent crops, indicating that it is owing fully as much 


to the very porous character of the sub-soil as to a lack of vege- 
table food, that they are of less value. The prairie soil is nearly 
everywhere black with no great amount of sand and usually with 
a clay sub-soil containing considerable gravel, while within the 
glacial area boulders are everywhere numerous. This black soil 
is not deep, as one who is used to the great stretches of prairie 
beyond the Mississippi understands it, but is from six inches to 
a foot on an average with a thicker layer in the valleys. This 
prairie soil is decidedly stiffer than that in Iowa or Nebraska 
because of a larger percentage of clay, and no doubt the fact of 
the more rolling surface has resulted in a smaller deposit of 
humus. It is a common sight in almost any part of this county 
to see brown spots in the plowed fields where the plow has 
reached below the black soil and turned up some that is largely 
clay. It will be noticed from the maps that the clay soils and 
the oak districts are for the most part identical areas. When 
this land is first plowed there is a brown or black layer of rich 
leaf, or other vegetable mold, which has been accumulating for 
ages, and it is to this that the phenomenal fertility of the virgin 
soil was largely due. This, however, graidually disappears with 
cultivation, leaving a yellow clay which, though rich, is a soil 
not easily worked and which must be handled with no little skill 
to prevent it from "baking" and becoming almost unmanageable 
for the year. Plowing must be done when the ground is com- 
paratively dry ; even the trampling by horses or cattle is counted 
a serious matter when the soil is full of water. 

In the marshes or dry lake beds is a rich black soil termed 
muck. This is rich in humus, and even partially decayed vege- 
table matter, appears in large quantities. For the most part this 
land is used for meadow or pasture though occasionally a piece 
is cultivated, and, especially where there happens to be a liberal 
admixture of sand, rendering it sufficiently porous, it makes the 
most productive of fields. Such land yields large quantities of 
tobacco® or corn, but is not a success for small grain, being too 
rich in nitrogen, thus making a great weight of straw and leaf 
with too little mineral substance to afford the required stiffness 
of stalk, and the result is a tangled mess of straw with very little 

*It is yery rarely that it will do for tobacco, but when it happens to be mixed 
with sand it yields an excellent crop. 


grain. The texture of the soil in general resembles that of Illi- 
nois much more nearly than that of Iowa or Minnesota, yet it is 
"heavier** than that of either of these states, that is to say, it 
has more clay and less sand. 

Along the north line of the county, covering parts of sections 
3, 4, and S of the town of Roxbury, is a little stretch of soil 
worthy of special mention. This is on the border of Fish lake. 
At some time when the lake must have been several times 
its present size, there was deposited a layer of blue clay not 
far from a foot in thickness. The early settlers avoided the 
spot until all other land which seemed capable of being made 
into a farm was gone, and then reluctantly took this. However, 
it has turned out better than they thought. It seems to be fairly 
rich in plant food, so the only difficulties are those arising from 
its mechanical nature. By all means it must not be worked when 
wet, and even with the utmost care in this respect, it is inclined 
to remain in a comparatively hard state, thus giving off moisture 
readily and rendering it unable to withstand a drouth. Clover 
improves this soil and at the same time makes a very good crop, 
hence there is a tendency to raise clover and corn rather than 
small grain. Coarse manure is beneficial, as it helps to keep the 
ground porous. 


It is by no means necessary to go into detail in describing the 
great variety of plants found in this part of Wisconsin, The list 
of trees, shrubs, flowering plants, and grasses, is a long one, and 
the picturesque and pleasing aspect thus presented to the early 
travelers was frequently the source of extravagant and poetic 
effusions which are still preserved in the old newspaper columns. 
The nature and extent of woods and prairies, with the meatis they 
afforded for homes and agricultural undertakings are the main 
questions that concern us in this connection. There are to be 
found numerous accounts of travelers who "passed through dense 
forests in the region of the 'Four Lakes' and Blue Mounds," but 
by all that can be gathered from men who still remember the 
woods as they appeared at the time of settlement it seems that 

^For an eztendied treatise on Wisconsin flora see an article by J. A. Lapham 
in Proceedings of Amer, A88n, for Advaneement of Science, 


the "dense forests" were by no means entitled to so dignified a 
term. The principal trees found within the county were white 
oak, burr oak, red oak, hard and soft maple, box elder, elm, ash, 
walnut, hickory, Cottonwood, birch, tamarack, willow, and plum, 
together with a few unimportant varieties. There was also a con- 
siderable number of shrubs and vines, which at times formed such 
a tangled thicket that passage through them was difficult and slow. 
But, with all this variety of forest elements there was very little 
area given over wholly to its influence, and as a matter of fact 
the surveyor's or prospector's progress was seldom seriously im- 
peded by dense woods. Map I. (appendix) showing the soil and 
general vegetation of the county, it will be seen, gives the "oak 
lands" as the largest in extent. By that we understand merely 
that the oaks predominate and it is within this area that all the 
other trees are found, a single exception being the tamaracks, 
not sho^vn on the map at all; these were to be found in a few 
swamps in the northeastern part of the county. And even this 
does not give an adequate idea of the original condition of the 
woods. We have here an excellent demonstration of the con- 
stant struggle going on between woods and prairie, in a region 
favorable to either ; that is, aside from soil considerations, a region 
moist enough for the former, and at the same time dry enough for 
frequent and extensive fires. Along the ravines and on the steep 
hillsides the woods triumphed, and the grasses are few and unim- 
portant; on the level, or rolling surface of a much larger area, 
fires ran from time to time destroying the trees entirely, thus 
forming prairies, or, as was oftener the case, killing out all trees 
except the burr and the white oak which seem able to stand con- 
siderable punishment of this nature. In this way the famous 
"oak openings" so common in Wisconsin and Illinois were made. 
These "openings" have been aptly described as immense "or- 
chards" of stately oaks — usually the burr oak — standing well 
apart, their superb tops spreading over a radius of forty or fifty 
feet, yet with plenty of room for wind and sunshine between, 
favoring the presence of prairie grasses or hazel brush.® If we 
could go back over the natural history of the region we should 

■In the towns of Rutland and Albion are still to be seen a few acres of these 
trees much as they were fifty years ago except that blue-grass replaces th« 
brush and wild grass among them. 


without doubt find these oak openings and the prairies alternately 
advancing and receding over the same spots. This is shown con- 
clusively in the changes that have taken place within the past half 
century : in places where the scattered woods have succumbed to 
ax and fire the prairie grass has come in and flourished ; while, — 
and this more frequently, — the oaks have sprung up like magic 
and made fine groves where not a tree was to be seen until the 
settlers stopped the annual course of the fires.* A great many 
fields are to be seen which have the appearance of having been 
wrested from veritable forests, if pne is to judge by the trees 
around the border. Usually this ground was broken by the 
powerful ox teams hitched to plows of immense proportions, and 
only occasionally was it necessary to turn aside for some oak, or 
to use grub-hoe and ax to remove roots too large or too hard to 
be cut by the share. 

For the most part the prairies were featureless ; the principal 
grasses were short and thin on the ground, but the sod was tough. 
This grass was of great value to the settler, providing pasture 
for his teams and cows in summer and hay in winter. In quality 
it compares favorably with cultivated grasses but when mowed 
for a number of years, decreases very much in yield, and if 
pastured, soon disapi>ears altogether. To one familiar with the 
broad prairies^® of the West these little patches of grass seem 
hardly worthy to be called by the same name, and there is in 
fact a wide difference between them, other than in size. Here 
the prairie soil is shallow, the grass rather scant, it being almost 
altogether on high dry land with the intervening depressions ap- 
propriated by woods, and any considerable area of wet land being 
invariably a swamp or marsh. In the West, for example in north- 

*From the home of Mr. Amos Chase of Dane, there are now extensiye stretches 
of woods to be seen ; these groves are largely of black oak and are of fair 
size, often measuring from eight to eighteen inches in diameter, yet Mr. Chase 
tells me that when he moved to his farm in 1853 he could count every tree 
in sight without any difficulty. A few miles from here Mr. Robert Steele, 
tn about 1840 or '50, plowed through a half mile or more of hazel brush and 
grubs (oak roots grown to great size, but with almost no tops because of re- 
peated burning) for the purpose of making a permanent wagon road. The road 
fs still in use, and of the usual width, yet the oaks, in places, almost meet 
over the traveler's head, 

^^ Prairie in a prairie region is used to denote wild, uncultivated land, and 
not merely land which at one time was covered with grass instead of woods* 
as It is made to mean in Wisconsin. 


western Iowa, many parts of Minnesota, or in eastern Nebraska, 
the prairies reached mile after mile across a gently undulating 
plain with but few ridges so high as to bear thin crops of grass, 
while the long gradual slopes and sloughs, with their deep black 
soil, often produced "blue joint" and other grasses in quantities 
equaling the yields of clover and timothy of the present day. The 
marsh grasses in Dane county make a ranker growth and were 
the main reliance for hay until the cultivated grasses became 
common; even yet marsh hay is of great importance, though 
clover and timothy form the bulk of the product, and the marshes 
are now much used for pasture. This coarse wiry grass was 
utilized by the early settlers for covering cattle-sheds, horse- 
stables, and granaries, and occasionally a foreigner who under- 
stood the art of thatching made of it a very serviceable roof for 
his dwelling. 




No attempt will be made to give in detail the multifarious 
reasons which resulted in the movement of so many different 
classes of people to Wisconsin during the second quarter of the 
nineteenth century; to do so would require a history of Europe 
and America for that period. All that is here attempted is to 
show in rather rude outlines, the more immediate influences that 
contributed to the peopling of southern Wisconsin with the class 
of emigrants who gave form and color to the whole subsequent 
history of the state. 

It will be remembered that Wisconsin had been more or less 
known to white men for two centuries before, and a considerable 
number of settlers had made their way to her borders. Hunters 
and trappers had long been familiar with the Fox-Wisconsin 
waterway, and vague reports were current about a lake region 
to the south of the portage. However, it was the lead region 
which first attracted workmen who settled down to making a 
livelihood by plain toil within the territory. Many of these miners 
at first with no thought of remaining longer than a season or 
two, in fact going back to civilization to pass the winters, finally 
became permanent residents and took part in the early territorial 

These men had come from the Illinois country, many of them 
finding their way to the West along the course of. the Ohio. Thus 
the first settlement of consequence, outside the old trading posts, 
was made in the southwestern part of the state, by men who had 
made their way against the current of the Mississippi, or had 
come overland from- the lead regions of Illinois. The first mod- 
ern agriculture within the state was in the vicinity of these 


diggings, before the land was put on the market. Unlike the 
hunters and trappers, the miners were anxious to have farmers 
for neighbors, so as to bring the prices of provisions to a lower 
level and, in consequence, the reports given by these men as to 
agricultural possibilities of the new district were glowing yet 
not untruthful. 

The first permanent settler in Dane county, Mr. Ebenezer 
Brigham, was a lead miner who was tempted to set his stakes 
far in advance of his fellow adventures. The Indians still 
claimed the region and killed several men near this pioneer's 
cabin. The Winnebago war in 1827, and the Black Hawk war 
of 1832, prosecuted as they were by Illinois militia, gave a large 
number of energetic young men a glimpse of a fine country, and 
as Professor J. D. Butler puts it, each one of the soldiers in the 
Black Hawk war chose for himself a fine quarter section and 
came back to settle on it.*^ This is not intended for a literal 
statement, but it is certain that many of these boys did return to 
take up government claims. It was the final blow to the Indians 
given by these wars that brought the region into good repute 
among the peacefully inclined foreigners, and even the aggressive 
New Yorker and New Englander preferred a habitation safe 
from Indian depredations. 

The next general force that induced western emigration was 
a financial one, and its eflFects were exerted in a twofold manner : 

First, the ease with which money was obtained by speculators, 
especially in the year 1836, resulted in an unusual interest in 
western lands. Hundreds of pieces of this land changed hands 
within a year or two, the presumption being that the purchaser was 
unable to hold it, or was at least sufficiently discouraged to prefer 
some other sort of investment. There are various scattering 
reports to the effect that much of this land was sold for less 
than had been paid to the government for it. The records of 
deeds given do not in any considerable number of cases bear out 
the statement, but still it seems not altogether unlikely. At any 
rate, much of the land was re-sold at about the government 
figure, and on mortgage at that, thus helping those of little or 
no means to get hold of a piece of land. There are also numer- 

»Wi«. Hist, Coll., X., 80. 


ous instances of exchanges of western land for various pieces of 
eastern property. 

Second, the failure in business of a large number of men in 
the East turned attention to the West as a place in which to 
start anew. The importance of this factor can hardly be over- 
estimated. It was not men fond of the fringed hunting shirt, the 
long rifle, and the general absence of civilization; not the class 
who were anxious to escape from the restraints of old traditions 
and customs, not to say laws, who turned their faces toward Wis- 
consin during the few years following the panic of 1837. The 
majority of the settlers who bought government land in Wiscon- 
sin before 1845, were from the farms and villages of New York ' 
and New England. True, there were many Norwegians and Ger- 
mans who came almost as early, but these were not yet citizens, 
and so it may be said without qualification, that the people who 
first organized the territory of Wisconsin, and for that matter 
almost all of the counties within the state, were the sober New 
York and New England people. 

Of this there is abundant proof. For example, in the town 
of Roxbury, Dane county, the Germans have been entirely in the 
majority, except for the first few years, and this is an important 
exception. In the list of town officers for the first year or two 
there is not a German name. The name Roxbury was given by 
a New York man who had lived in a town of the same name in 
his native state.** 

It is to these first organizers that credit is due for the vigorous 
strides so early taken in establishing a public school system, the 
equal, if not the superior, of that which they had known in the 
eastern states. They were not afraid to vote taxes for im- 
provements which were seen to be primarily needed for the 
comfort and advancement of the new community. It may be 
objected that these same institutions are also the work of for- 
eigners; biit when it is remembered that there were two main 
classes of foreigners who came at that time, that they were set- 
tled in communities by themselves, unable to read or understand 
English, yet necessarily subject to our laws, it is hard to con- 

"Thls is Mr. Jas. Steele, one of the oldest residents of the county, now 
living in the town of Dane. It Is also of interest to note that Roxbury, New 
York, is in a district settled about a century ago by Massachusetts people who 
likewise had brought the town name with them. 


ceive how by any chance the Norwegian or the German, or 
both of them, could have attended to the organization of a school 
system, the administration of justice, the recording and securing 
of land titles, and the transaction of many other duties which 
play a large role in the beginning, as well as in the later history 
of any commonwealth. Yet it seems that it was by mere chance 
that a sprinkling of intelligent Americans preceded the rush of 
Europeans to this state. 

Taking up the thread of our general narrative again, we 
remember that there were no railroads to the West, that the 
Erie canal furnished the great highway from New York and 
New England to the lake region and at the same time to the 
greater part of the Northwest Territory. It was up this canal 
and through the lakes to Milwaukee or Racine that nearly all of 
the eastern emigrants found their way to Wisconsin. The jour- 
ney was long and tedious, often occupying two or three weeks' 
time; freight rates were so high that as a rule very little was 
brought besides a box of household goods and the family cloth- 
ing. The foreign emigrants after landing at New York City 
came over this same route. The Indiana and Illinois people who 
desired to move to a newer country usually travelled with "prai- 
rie schooners," and took their farm stock and implements with 
them. No date can be set for the time the latter moved to 
Dane county. They began to arrive early and continued coming 
but formed no distinctive settlement of their own. From Ohio 
the emigrants came mostly by boat through the lakes, but a few 
by wagon. The Ohio settlers formed two distinct groups, one in 
the town of Dane, the other in the south part of the county near 
Wheeler Prairie. 

A combination of circumstances resulted in the great influx 
of Germans. Political reactions had kept them uneasy in the 
Fatherland for some years, and beginning about 1830, there was 
a great emigration to America. By the time of the greatest 
movement of Germans to this country, i. e., 1844 to 1854, the 
greater part of desirable government land in Ohio, Indiana, and 
Illinois was gone, leaving the choice between Wisconsin, Iowa, 
and Missouri, and possibly Minnesota; but although these other 
states succeeded in enticing a few of the newcomers, Wisconsin 
was favored with the largest share." As to Dane county, it was 

"W<«. HUi, Colla., XII., 8. 


attractive in the main as a convenient and representative part of 
the state. But there was a quiet though powerful force at work 
in one corner of the county which resulted in a solid settlement 
of German Catholics.** 

It remains to speak of the Norwegians, and this subject is 
treated at length by Prof. Rasmus Anderson in his "Norwegian 
Immigration." As here shown, the sixth colony of Norwegians 
in America, and the third one in Wisconsin was in Dane county, 
near Lake Koshkonong. The first Norwegian of this county 
settled in what is now the town of Albion in the spring of 1840. 
The preceding fall a small party of Norwegians from La Salle 
county, Illinois, had come to Dane county via Milwaukee, mak- 
ing the entire trip on foot; they located land in Christiana but 
went to a settlement on the Fox River to pass the winter. Some 
more Norwegians making the trip through the lakes to Chicago 
walked overland to Beloit in 1839, ^^^ ^^ ^^^ spring came up 
Rock River in a boat and took land in Albion. From this time 
on there was a steady stream of Norwegians to Dane county. 

Both the Norwegians and the Germans were almost entirely 
without resources when they reached Wisconsin. They fre- 
quently worked out by the day or month for pitifully small wages 
in order to get the first fifty dollars to pay for a forty. Very 
often the only house they had was a "dugout," made by digging 
a cave in the side of a bluff and covering it with brush and hay. 
Many of them were twenty or more miles from market, or from 
a doctor, and worse yet, had nothing to pay either for provisions 
or medicine ; but credit and courage carried them through. 

*«**Father Adelbert Inama came to Rozbury in 1845 and tbis determined the 
future nationality and religion of the town. He was a highly educated young 
German Catholic priest. After coming to America and liying two yean In 
New York, he pushed westward and at the above date, built a little log cabia 
In a secluded dell, back a few miles from the the Wisconsin. There was but one 
Catholic in the town at the lime and he not a permanent settler ; of Germans of 
any sort there were almost none. Father Inama, an enthusiast, and at the 
same time an able writer, set about the task of persuading his Catholic country- 
men to emigrate westward. Entering a considerable amount of land for him- 
self, he held it for his friends and let them have it for the original goTsm- 
ment price which it had cost him. The response was strong, for soon thers 
had clustered about him the desired parishioners, both from other states and 
from the Fatherland. For a few years the Americans were In the majority* 
bat no sooner had the foreigners obtained their naturalization papers than 
they out-TOted the rest and to-day the town Is as free from people of Bngllsh 
extraction as Germany Itself.** — History of Madison, Dane County and Surround- 
0tgs, p. 500. 




The land laws under which the land of Dane county was 
purchased from the federal government were comparatively sim- 
ple. The system of credit had worked itself out into such a 
nuisance that after 1820 cash payments were required. The 
clamor of the poorer class of purchasers had resulted in a series 
of reductions in the minimum number of acres sold in a unit lot, 
until congress, on April 5, 1832, passed an act requiring the 
public domain, still unsurveyed, to be divided into forties, and 
after that each forty was sold separately. This was just in 
time to insure the division of Dane county into these smaller lots, 
as the survey of southern Wisconsin was then in progress, this 
county being finished in 1834.^** There seems to be no particular 
order in the way land was put upon the market, except that it 
had to be surveyed. The land to be sold was "proclaimed" by 
the president not less than three months, or more than six months 
before coming into market, i. e., it was advertised in certain 
newspapers officially designated, and descriptions by number were 
given of each separate parcel oflFered. These proclamations were 
copied by western newspapers so that ample notice was given to 
all interested. It is worthy of note that in most cases the land 
ofiFered for sale was scattered promiscuously about, so that it was 
difficult to buy more than a quarter or half section in one block. 
It would appear that this was a precaution against purchase by 
speculators of large tracts in a body, purchase that would give 
them the power to control and retard actual settlement to a greater 

"Archives, office of secretary of state. 



degree than where their holdings were more or less interspersed 
with actual home-seekers ; but there seems to be no available testi- 
mony on the subject At all events, the entry-book shows num- 
bers of whole sections side by side sold to one man in 1836, while, 
in later instances, equally large purchases are distributed over 
perhaps a quarter of a town. 

By act of congress June 23, 1834, that part of Wisconsin east 
and south of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers was divided into two 
land districts. The division line between them passed through 
what is now Dane county, that part west of the line between 
ranges eight and nine being in the Wisconsin land district, and 
the portion east in the Green Bay district The Green Bay 
district was cut in two by act of June 15, 1836, and the southern 
part was called the Milwaukee district. A few pieces of land in 
Dane county had been entered at Green Bay previously to this 
date, but with this exception the entries were made at Milwaukee 
and at Mineral Point. 

The method of selling government land was the same as had 
been followed almost from the beginning of public land sales, 
although some very important modifications had been imposed by 
the buyers themselves. The land was offered at auction to the 
highest bidder, with the minimum price set at one dollar and a 
quarter.^* It rarely happened, however, that the bids were above 
thi;5 minimum no matter how desirable the land or how numerous 
and keen the bidders. The buyers soon came to see that such an 
auction was an example of one-sided competition for as soon as 
the dollar and a quarter bid was made, no matter how little they 
had in common beyond the desire to buy at the cheapest figure, 
they managed to cooperate with great success for securing this 
result. That these organizations were wholly voluntary no one 
pretends. Neither can it be supposed that all the bidders present 
subscribed to the requirements for membership in the organiza- 
tion, but circumstantial evidence is abundant to show that the 
speculator rarely "volunteered" to over-bid the humble settler 
who came with perhaps fifty dollars to pay for a forty, although 
it would appear that any bid above the minimum would secure 
him the land. The commissioner of the general land office at 
Washington in a circular letter dated April 11, 1836, complains 

i«Tliere was no "double mlnimtim** land in Dane county. 


that receipts from sales of public land had been cut down by 
some millions of dollars by these "unlawful organizations" of 
buyers who prevent many from bidding.^^ It is further stated in 
the president's annual message of 1837 by way of emphasis of 
the same point, that the sales during the period from 1820 to 
1837 had not averaged more than six cents per acre above the 
minimum price. The president also advised that the squatters 
be given the preference in preemption privileges. This was really 
before a preemption act of general application existed, although 
something analogous to this right had been given some squatters 
on the Symnes tract in Ohio in 1801. 

Mr. Donaldson in "The Public Domain" defines preemption^* 
as a "preference right" and states that, "The essential conditions 
of a preemption are actual entry upon, residence in a dwelling, 
and improvement and cultivation of a tract of land ;" again it is 
"a premium in favor of, and condition for making permanent 
settlement and a home." It would require many pages to give 
the separate acts under which the land of this county was pre- 
empted, but it seems sufficient to state that the more important 
were those of June 22, 1838; June i, 1840; and September 4, 1841. 
The many changes made in those various acts were designed to 
fit varying needs, but any one of them covered substantially the 
conditions existing in Dane county. The importance of this 
legislation is well shown by Mr. Donaldson: "The preemption 
system arose from the necessity of settlers, and through a series 
of more than fifty-seven years of experience in attempts to sell 
or otherwise dispose of the public lands. [He has reference ta 
a time later than the one we are considering.] The early idea of 
sales for revenue was abandoned and a plan of disposition for 
homes was substituted. The preemption system was the result 
of law, experience; executive orders, departmental rulings, and 
judicial construction ... it has always contained, and to this 
day contains, the germ of actual settlement under which thousands 
of homes have been made and land made productive. . 
The necessity of protecting actual settlers on the public domain 
and giving a preference right to those actually desiring to make 

i^Amer. St. Papers, Public LandB, VIII., p. 6ia 
^•Donaldson, T., Pmhlio Domain, p. 214. 


homes therein became more apparent in the years 1830 and 

The act of September 4, 1841, was the most complete and spe- 
cific of those that applied to Dane county. It provided that on 
any land already surveyed those who had, subsequently to June i, 
1840, settled, or who should in the future settle and improve a 
claim not exceeding one hundred sixty acres, could secure the 
claim by making an affidavit to the register of deeds, setting forth 
the time and nature of the settlement and improvements, and the 
intention to purchase the same within twelve months, at the reg- 
ular minimum government price. Thirty days was allowed a 
settler in which to appear at the land office and file his pre- 
emption papers. A fee of fifty cents was required for the filing 
of these claims. 

squatters' protective association. 

Wisconsin was never noted for lawlessness, and the outlaw type 
was not in the majority, at least not after the real settlement be- 
gan. This was principally owing to the steady, earnest character 
of the people who had come from civilization and had brought it 
along with them. To a less degree the policy of the government 
in providing a judicial system fairly well organized, even before 
there was a demand for it from the settlers themselves, was, no 
doubt, a wise one for fostering good behavior.*® But although 
the frontiersmen were by no means strangers to courts, and were 
peaceably inclined, it must not be supposed that they were so ef- 
feminately law-abiding as to stand by and let their interests suffer 
at the hands of land grabbers, or to await the sluggish stages of 
legal process to overtake and punish the offender. The one great 
instance in which the law was made and enforced, independently 
of judge or code, was in the protection of the squatter against the 
claim jumper.^^ Under the system then in use it was utterly im- 

"JMd., 216. 

"Bbeneaer Brlgham was a justice of the peace for yearg before there were 

men enough In the county to form a justice's jury. 

»The term "claim jumper" in Wisconsin does not mean a man who take* 
possession of a claim by using a gun, but a man who buys land upon which 
an actual settler has made his home. 


possible to offer the land for sale just as it was wanted, and no 
one who has any insight into frontier conditions can blame the 
frontiersman for taking possession of the land best suited to his 
purpose of making a home. After once settling down, build- 
ing a house, clearing off the timber, or turning the sod, it is en- 
tirely contrary to the laws of humanity to allow the homestead to 
be usurped by some greedy interloper, whether or not the law is 
technically on his side. It is true the preemption act was sup- 
posed to give the squatter all needed advantage, but it is just as 
true that money was likely to be as scarce and as hard to get 
hold of at the end of the first year as at the beginning. The offi- 
cers of the law and those who had charge of selling the land had 
no authority to show further favors to the man in possession, 
though in most cases they seemed disposed to do so. 

It was at this juncture, when no help was to be had from others, 
that the Dane county pioneers showed themselves to be typical 
pioneers— thoroughly able to help themselves. The squatters 
were often sneered at and called out-casts by congressmen and 
others who had interests at stake.^^ 

Agreements were made among the squatters, in fact among the 
great majority of the buyers on the occasion of public land sales, 
that no one should bid against another.^* Speculators often had 
agents on the ground to snap up bargains for them, agents who 
were more or less discreet and did not endanger their pergonal 
welfare by any over-zealous efforts to buy land upon which the 
agents of the squatters advised them not to bid. An exact record 
of the conversations of these two sets of agents on some occasions 
would, no doubt, be a delicious morsel of history, but none can be 

"'*The rights of the settlers upon public lands are uniyersally respected. 
. . . It Is chiefly by the labors of the settlers that the lands of the non- 
resident acquire value. . . . The character of these settlers Is often very 
mnch misunderstood and often much misrepresented In many parts of the nnlon. 
In Wisconsin they will compare with any of the farmers of the eastern statei. 
Indeed, as a body they are men of whom any state might be proud. . . • 
Among them are those who hold seats in the legislature — ^those who haye been 
reared In the colleges of the Bast— those who have been accustomed to all the 
elegances of society." — Wis. Enquirers Mar. 16, 1889. 

''"At a public meeting resolutions were adopted for the purpose of securing 
to actual settlers the possession of the lands squatted upon either before or 
after the goyernment survey"— notice the last clavse.- Milwaukee Advertisw, 
March 18, 1837. 


There was no claim association in Dane county comparable to 
the "Johnson County Claim Association,"** of Iowa, but there 
were local associations — Squatters' Protective Societies — which, 
though lacking the elaborate machinery, were equally efficient in 
their workings and even more drastic in their measures. Nearly 
every town had its own loose organization and in practice these 
organizations cooperated without regard to town lines. The 
resolutions by which these bodies were governed were all about 
alike, probably copied in most instances one from another. The 
Sun Prairie draft is given as a sample : 

"At a large and respectable meeting of the inhabitants of Sun 
Prairie, convened at the house of A. W. Dickenson, March 5, 
1845, for the purpose of deliberating upon and making arrange- 
ments with regard to their situation as squatters : 

'Resolved, That in case any person or persons shall purchase 
land in this vicinity at the time occupied by claimants ; that they 
shall be disregarded as neighbors, and that no dealings of any 
kind be had with them. That we will neither lend to them, nor 
visit them, nor act with them in any capacity whatsoever, nor upon 
any occasion. 

'Resolved, That we will protect each other in the claim of a 
quarter section, admitting it should embrace no more than forty 
acres of grove timber. 

'Resolved, That in case any person or persons should violate 
the sense of this meeting and deprive claimants of their just 
expectations, that we will not fail to rebuke his conduct with such 
severity as has been common in the settlement of this western 

'Resolved, That opportunity be given to persons who have en- 
tered claims to settle with the claimants, previous to the institu- 
tion of any other measures. 

'Resolved, That we pledge ourselves to be in readiness at the 
call of each other for the purpose of carrying the above resolution 
into full effect. 

'Resolved, That two registers be appointed to keep a record of 
all lands claimed in the vicinity, who shall receive twelve and a 
half cents for every record made. Whereupon, Volney Moore 
and Russel T. Bentley were appointed registers. 

**0lQ4m A880oiaiion of Johnson County, Iowa, by B. F. Shambaugh. 


'Resolved, That it be incumbent on every claimant, to enter I^is 
claim with one of the above registers, and that all such persons 
be recognized as members of this association. 

'Resolved, That all persons desirous of this association, shall 
enter their names on the book of the register. 

'Resolved, That the registers be authorized to call a meeting 
of the people when they shall deem it expedient. 

'Resolved, That the proceedings of this meeting be signed by 
the Chairman and Secretary, and published in the Madison 

William Larabee, 

A. W. Dickenson^ Chairman, 


Something of the spirit in which these protective associations 
were made and supported is shown in the case of Mrs. Eben 
Peck, who was one of the first women to settle in Madison. It 
was in such instances as this, that is where the buyer made his 
purchase and at once left the vicinity that he had some chance to 
"win out," though he must make speedy transactions if he hoped 
to sell to an "innocent purchaser" since the news of such enter- 
prises travelled rapidly and few actual settlers cared to face the 
injured squatter and his neighbors.*' 

The usual mode of procedure in case a claim was bought by 
a "land pirate" was to visit the purchaser in case he were not 
too far distant, taking along a justice of the peace armed with 
a "warranty" deed ready for the offender's signature, which 
would constitute his conveyance of the land in question to the 
aggrieved squatter; the justice would then acknowledge the 
instrument. It was not unusual for the members of this com- 

" Madison Ewpreaa, March 20, 1846. 

**"Mrs. B. Peck, now resialng at Baraboo, Sauk county, made a claim upon 
an eighty acre tract, by breaking up some forty acres and making other Im- 
proyementB and was laying up the money as fast as she possibly could for 
entering it, when she found her anticipations blasted by learning that a fiend 
In human shape, by the name of Chancy Brown, had entered the tract know- 
ing full well at the time that he was robbing a poor widow woman and her 
children of their just right. We would caution all persons about purchasing 
the B % of SE % 86, 12, 6, as the citizens of that violnity will never suffer 
any person to take and keep possession of said tract of land to the injury 
of Mrs. Peck. We understand that Mr. Brown resides at Whitewater, Walworth 
county, Wisconsin." — Madison Eatress, July 29, 1847. 


mittee to carry guns and ropes and to indulge in remarks cal- 
culated to stimulate the claim-jumper in his tendency toward a 
speedy and amicable settlement. Very rarely did he resist rigor- 
ously, but once in a while it required heroic measures to over- 
balance his greed. The story is told of one "jumper" who re- 
sisted, and addressed the committee in irreverent terms, daring 
them to do him physical injury and threatening to bring the 
strong arm of the law down violently upon their heads. The 
committee exhausted their verbal arguments in vain, then putting 
a rope around the waist of the culprit, led him to a pond, cut a 
hole in the ice, and immersed him. He was soon drawn out, 
but being still in a combative and profane frame of mind, was 
treated to another ducking and on his second coming out was 
unable to continue his side of the debate, so the negative was 
declared closed, and after returning to the house the dripping 
defender of that side set his signature to the papers and v^rith 
uplifted right hand swore that it was his "voluntary act and 
deed."^^ The squatter usually agreed to refund the money ad- 
vanced by the "jumper," but custom allowed him to take his 
time to it and no interest was paid.** 

Thus in true western style the Wisconsin farmers enforced 
their own laws and fought their own battles. The justice who 
presided at their trials and rendered their decisions may have 
been lacking in knowledge of law, but he understood the men 
and the times which he represented. He tried to do the right as 
he saw it; he lived up to all the light he had, and having satis- 
fied his contemporaries, history can not call him to account for his 
methods or convict him for results obtained. 

It can readily be seen from the foregoing that the amount of 
land sold and the amount actually settled during a given period 
bear no definite relation one to the other, even when the amount 
bought by speculators is known and considered.** However, it 
is of some consequence to note the sales before and after the 
crash of 1837. The following table is for the state of Wisconsin 
as it appears in the records of the land office :*^ 

^TbiB to partly told in tbe HiBtory of Dane Oouniif, but I learned it from an 
old lady who lived near the scene, and was acquainted with the ciceometaneea. 

^•Letter from Mr. Bobert Steele. 

*Tbe preemption lawe of the few yean preceding 1841 had much the 
effect, though not bo marked as that of 1841. 

»8enaie Dooa., 26th Cong., 2d Seraion, Vol. III., No. 61. 



Number of 
acres lold. 

Amount re- 

oeived for 












It IS seen from this record of sales that the amount of land 
purchased in 1839 was practically the same as in 1836, but a com- 
parison of the population of the state at these dates gives some 
idea of the character of the sales. The business failures of 1837 
evidently did not result in an immediate exodus to the West as 
the year 1838 shows but little more than an eighth of the land 
sales of 1836. By 1839 ^^^ sales had passed all former records. 
This is only reasonable as it takes time to overcome the reluctance 
to move, to adjust old accounts, or even to. make arrangements 
for leaving them unadjusted. A reporter in speaking of the stir 
of home seekers in mid-winter 1839 says, "The public sales com- 
menced in this town on Monday last, and during the week have 
averaged from twenty to thirty thousand dollars per day. There 
has been no competition in the purchase, the settlers adjusting 
their disputes by arbitration, the capitalists finding it more to 
their interest to lend money than to bid for the lands. We 
believe no lands have yet been bought upon speculation, and that 
consequently, a great portion of the best lands in the district will 
still be open for the emigrant the present summer."*^ We have, 
then, a statement of an economic cause for the partial cessation 
of land speculation in the fabulous rate of interest reached during 
this early period.*^ 

<^ Milwaukee Advertiser, February 28, 1889. 

s* Speculation had, bowever, been a serious question: "The extent to which 
speculators have taken up the new lands in the western county is almost be- 
yond belief . . . speculators haye visited every part of the country where 
lands were in the market . . and taken up vacant lands wherever they 

are to be found/* 

*mie drcQlar of the secretary of the treasury requiringi the pvblic lands 
to be paid for In specie has had some eflTect in checking the movements of the 
speculators, many of whom have found it a serious impediment to their views, 
and are consequently unmeasured in their expressions of Indignation . . • 
the emigration to this country would have been greater than even it Is now 
tad it not been for the speculators, who take up all the good lands as early 

' ■' - J ■• J ! ■» ' " 

J J 


That land speculation had a bad effect on agriculture 
needs very little proof, as the holding of raw land in large quan- 
tities may be said to be per $e a drag on enterprise. Perhaps it 
is not a monopoly, as Mr. Lapham calls it,'* but nevertheless, 
it has many of the attendant evils of a monopoly. Greedy as 
were the statesmen and other wealthy men who invested their 
money in western land during the palmy days of 1836, the very 
fact that they were unable to form anything approaching a monop- 
oly in land rendered them almost as helpless as their unfortunate 
friends whose capital went down in mercantile disasters of the 
older states. As noted elsewhere, it is impossible to tell from the 
records much about the sums realized by these large holders when 
they finally parted with their land. The greater share of it was held 
by firms of several members and the number of quit-claim deeds 
with "consideration one dollar" fill many pages of the register's 
books. Nor is this all the difficulty: the most of these firms 
owned land in different counties and even different states, and 
very frequently transfers were made of one-fourth, or one-tenth, 
or even one-nineteenth of these widely scattered acres, and ex- 
changes of various kinds of property for land again complicate 
matters hopelessly. Occasionally where the sale was made di- 
rectly to a bona fide purchaser previously to about 1850, the price 
was little more than the original figure — one and a quarter dol- 

as they come into the maricet, and hold them at a higher price than the emi- 
grant is willing to pay. In consequence of this, numbers of the new settlers 
pass beyond the iboundary of lands in ithe market and become squatters."— 
Belmont Gaeette, Nov. 2. 1836. 

**The rage for speculation in wild lands is a great impediment to agriculture. 
Men come to this country to make money by speculating, not by pursuing a 
course of tilling the fertile soil, of which they become the temporary proprie- 
tors, and which soon passes into the hands of others who are disposed to sell 
out at an advance. Hence the low state of the agricultural art everjrwhere 
to be seen in this state [Michigan] and until all the public lands are sold 
we despair of seeing] even a beginning to "a regular system of cultivation.*' — 
Dubuque Visitor, Nov. 9, 1836. 

"'Lapham's Wisconsin, p. 220. 

** "Lands have been entered in this country at one dollar and twenty-five centa 
per acre, and after paying taxes on them for years their owners have sold them 
for one dollar per acre to .avoid further taxation. Show us a non-resident who 
has made much money speculating In western land, and we will show yon a rare 
bird, more rare by far than a successful gold hunter. . . . Large invest- 
ments in land always defeat their own object. . . . We need no national 
reform to punish speculators. . . . The only way in which anything can 
be made by buying western lands is, to locate in small tracts remote from each 

"• •• • • 

* •I •! • • * * 

: • : : ••• \ / 


Whether the allegation that the settlers imposed undue 
taxes on the non-resident landowner is true or false, it is clear 
that they had no legal right to do so ; yet it may well have hap- 
pened that unimproved land was listed by assessors as high as 
improved land, and the non-resident in that case would pay a 
rate somewhat above the average. 

The assessors and members of the boards of equalization were 
themselves residents, and it is safe to infer that they taxed the 
non-resident, while the latter was viewed as a speculator, as much 
as the law and public sentiment would allow.**^ 

The only possible means by which a speculator could dispose 
of any quantity of his land until about 1850, when desirable 
government land began to be scarce, was to offer some induce- 
ment to the purchaser better than a cash sale at a dollar and a 
quarter, and this was attempted in many ways other than actually 
cutting the price. The most usual inducement was an offer to 
sell on time which to the numberless home seekers without means 
was a strong point, but not a conclusive one while the opportunity 
to "squat" on vacant land remained. Another expedient of the 
poor speculator was to make some sort of improvement to tempt 
the prospective purchaser; a house of some sort was put up, or 
a few acres of breaking was done. The latter improvement was 
of particular consequence to those arriving in the spring with 
barely time for planting com and potatoes, or sowing a 
little buckwheat. But breaking new land was a big bill of ex- 
pense at best and a man with his money invested in unsalable 
land could hardly affort to put much more into improvements.** 
Sometimes the large land-holder resorted to the auction as a 
means of making sales. In 1839 one Nicholas *^^ of Baltimore 
advertised many hundred acres to be sold in this manner at 
Madison on June 4, 1840, but there seems to be no record that 

other so as not to interfere in the general settlement, and even then the set- 
tlers skin the speculator out of his profits by taxation.*'— Madison Argut, Octo- 
ber 22, 18G0. 

»These Inferences are drawn from actual facts which the writer has known 
personally in O'Brien county, Iowa, where unimproyed land was listed at the 
same rate as the rest, and no attention paid to complaints. 

**This scattering testimony is from conversations with old settlers, and al- 
though it is not as specific as one could wish, the fact that speculators in the 
€arly days of Wisconsin suffered more from their cupidity than they caused 
others to suffer seems fairly well established. 

"Wisconsin Enquirer, November 2, 1839. 


the sale took place, and this in itself is evidence that such spccu- 
lation at that time was not an enviable business, for there was 
no chance that the land could be sold for anything above cost 
before the date set for the sale. 

Congress was not quite oblivious to the evils of land speculation 
and on January 8, 1841, a bill was introduced in the senate to 
limit the sales to 320 acres at one dollar and twenty-five cents 
per acre, the purchaser at the time to be worth not exceeding one 
thousand dollars." It probably was not intended that this bill 
should get very far. The limitation as to size of purchase was 
reasonable enough, but it is hard to see how the second stipula- 
tion could be enforced. Again in 1848 the senate made a like 
feint at limitation of the size of purchases, one hundred sixty 
acres being the proposed maximum. Whether these measures 
were in jest or in earnest, there was no limit set until the ques- 
tion had ceased to be a vital one in southern Wisconsin. 

Another means of getting hold of land was the military land 
warrant, and many such warrants were used. They began to ap- 
pear in great numbers about the year 1848, that is, at the close of 
the Mexican war. From that time till the land was all taken this 
scrip played a large role in acquiring patents. The men fortunate 
enough to hold the warrants were at a decided advantage over 
the average buyer. They were good for eighty acres, but until 
185 1, were not transferable. Here was a serious proposition, and 
owing to pressure from the holders of warrants who were not 
desirous of taking the land for themselves, and much importunity 
on the part of anxious buyers, congress on December 11, 1851, 
voted that warrants should thereafter be assignable. Much com- 
plaint was manifested in the West over this action, as it was 
believed to be a move toward speculation instead of away from 
it, such as congress had at times pretended to favor.** Soon 
after this act, land warrants for eighty-acre entries in Wisconsin 
were quoted in New York along with stocks and bonds, and as 
land was at this time beginning to rise perceptibly in value, the 
warrants often sold for two hundred, or two hundred fifty dollars* 

It remains to speak of one other method of gaining possession 
of land, viz. : — ^buying it of the state. As in older western states 

** Senate Documenit, 2d Session, 26th Congress, Vol. II. 
** Madison Expre$$, January 1, 1852. 



section sixteen of every township was school land.** Wisconsin 
received the half-million-acre grant of land given to new states 
for internal improvement by act of congress, September 4, 1841, 
some of which was located in Dane county. The act was modified 
May 29, 1848, and such land as remained unsold in this tract was 
^added to the school land; there was also some land within the 
county belonging to the state university and a considerable 
amount of swamp land which was given to the state in 1851." 
Under this grant, the object of which was to forward the drain- 
age of swamps, the building of levees, roads through swamps, 
and the like, the state of Wisconsin claimed over four million 
acres and actually received more than three-fourths of that 
amount. The Swamp Act provided for an indemnity grant in 
case the swamps had been sold as arable land before the transfer 
was made to the state. The surveyors had listed each separate 
forty as arable or swamp, and it was on this basis that Wisconsin 
made her claim. As a matter of fact, much of the land listed as 
swamp was desirable, even more so than the average, and many 
pieces were taken by the earliest settlers.*^ Thus under the 
indemnity proviso the state claimed a much larger amount of land 
than the swamp remaining unsold. It was several years before 
the legislature undertook the necessary work of locating these 
scattered fragments and as a result there is a very great deal of 
land on the list of "State Swamp Lands'* which is among the 
driest of the state.** Provision was made for cash indemnity in 
case lands were not available and this has led to long and tedious 
bickerings which are not entirely settled yet. Altogether the state 
owned 30,800 acres of land in Dane county, 16480 acres of which 
was nominally swamp, the balance being school and university 

The swamp land was sold at a dollar and a quarter per acre, 
some of it not being taken until 1896. The school land was 
appraised in 1850 at prices varying from ten cents to ten dollars 

'•In states organised later than 1848, the 86th section was also school land. 

^Act of congress, September 28, 1861. 

«Thls Is partly explained by the fear of the early settlers that water could 
not be had on the upland, but the surveyors were evidently careless In their 

^Indemnity land could be had wherever there was government land remain- 
ing at one dollar twenty-five cents per acre. 



per acre and was at once put upon the market.** The money 
received for this land was to constitute a permanent fund, hence 
it was even more desirable to leave it in the form of good secur- 
ity than to have it paid in cash. This being the case, the sales 
were made on remarkably easy terms, one-tenth down and the 
balance on thirty years' time at seven per cent, interest. By this 
means many a poor man was enabled to get a firm grip on a 
farm, and in not a few instances these lands are still in the hands 
of the original purchasers. The other state land was sold on 
twenty years' time at ten per cent, interest, and even this was a 
desirable bargain owing to the low price per acre. 

With the above facts before us it is easy to comprehend the 
force of the remarks already made as to the difficulty in making 
a fortune in holding land for a rise ; there were too many alter- 
natives open to the buyer, and with all his hardships he was 
seldom at the mercy of the land shark until after the last of the 
desirable public land had become private property. It was during 
the early '50's that the greater part of the state land was sold 
and it was also at this time that the first considerable rise in the 
price of land occurred. Had the state during its early history 
adopted the policy of selling land for what it would bring, there 
would be a diflFerent story to tell in the matter of state finance, 
but they followed persistently the first determination to oflFer land 
at as low a price as possible and in this way encourage immigra- 
tion, blindly trusting to the generosity of the tax payers to pro- 
vide all necessary funds for future needs. This as a policy is 
as unfair as it is inexpedient. It is unfair because only a limited 
number of settlers can profit by the low prices; it is inexpedient 
because, as seen in the sequel, the men who get land for a tenth 
of its real value are not willing to give as freely as they have 
received when contributions are asked for public expenditures. 

^Wisconsin Assembly Journal, 1860. 





Whether or not the first settlers choose the best land is a ques- 
tion which has long been in dispute, and unless other localities 
can furnish more conclusive evidence than is found in the history 
of Dane county the question is likely to remain without a definite 
answer. However, there are some fairly clear lessons to be 
learned in the varying choice of land by different classes of peo- 
ple at the same time, and the changes in this respect from one 
time to another. Without doubt the early farmers were "economic 
men" to the extent that they intended to take, other things being 
equal, the most productive land available ; but it must not be for- 
gotten that production meant to them, just as it does to an econ- 
omist, the return for outlay; or it may not be overstating the 
case to say they were looking for the greatest net gain. This net 
gain is by no means a simple homogeneous quantity, and more- 
over, it must be reckoned for a term of years. The farming class 
is usually credited with only moderate long-sightedness, and in 
the case of the pioneers they may well be forgiven if they were 
more concerned for the welfare of their immediate families than 
for remote posterity. They took the land that promised in their 
judgment, the greatest reward within the near future ; but in the 
matter of judgment there was a great lack of uniformity. 

In the first place the land near the capital was taken With little 
regard to quality, and in the main this was a wise move, though 
not to the extent that might be supposed. Outside of the city 
limits the farms of the town of Madison will not average as high 
in price at the present time as those of several other towns which 
lie at the maximum distance from a market. Contrary to some 
of the histories of Dane county the first entries were not those 


made by the speculators in 1836 with a view to owning comer 
lots in the law-making city. From the entry-book it is seen that 
a small quantity of land was sold in 1835. A Mr. Rowan en- 
tered thirty-five acres on the east side of Lake Monona and 
settled upon it, and several sections were bought the same year by 
speculators. In 1836 the land around the Four Lakes was taken, 
each buyer hoping the capital would be located in his neighbor- 
hood, or at any rate that a popular summer resort would grow up 
on the lake shore, and thus contribute to his prosperity. A few 
hundred acres along the Wisconsin River were taken by men, who 
in their mental vision, saw a great commercial center near where 
Prairie du Sac now stands. Mr. Brigham and others took land 
near Blue Mounds in hopes of fortunes from digging lead. Thus 
nothing can be predicated as to the sort of land chosen by the real 
tiller of the soil until such purchasers began to arrive in 1839 or 
*40, and little can be known of the motives governing selection 
after 1854 because the unoccupied land was by that time very 

The difficulties in the way of definite results in this chapter can 
hardly be exaggerated. In the first place the geological maps 
are not scrupulously accurate and it cannot always be determined 
from them whether a particular piece of land is hilly or level, 
prairie or woods. In the next place there was often a variety of 
considerations that resulted in a particular selection; perhaps it 
was a choice between having neighbors or being isolated; per- 
haps a choice between congenial neighbors and those with whom 
even conversation was almost impossible. Nearness to a highway, 
to a river thought to be navigable, even to places where it seemed 
game would be abundant, turned the scale against odds which 
would now seem of greater weight ; but oftener than either or all 
of these, the question of securing a convenient supply of wood 
and water was the controlling influence. Again the settlers 
"squatted" on the claims until they were compelled to enter them, 
that is until the land came into the market, and thus the time of 
entry may or may not show the order in which different claims 
were taken. 

There were innumerable springs in the hilly districts and small 
streams were numerous.*' It was possible to do without flour 

^A large share of these are dry of late. 


until wheat could be grown ; in many cases a house could be dis- 
pensed with for some months; but in no case could the use of 
water be foregone while a well was being sunk, and although 
it may seem that hauling fire-wood a few miles is a matter of no 
great consequence, the man who knew the West only through the 
medium of exaggerated reports telling of awful storms and cold, 
hardly dared risk living more than a stone's throw from fuel.** 
However, there are some few facts among all this tangled mass 
which speak out distinctly. That the settlers were almost without 
exception discriminating in their choice of land is seen by the 
shape of the farms taken. In the great prairie region where-^e 
quarter-section is about like another, the buyer or homesteader 
almost invariably prefers a farm in as compact shape as possible ; 
but on the patchwork surface of Dane county there was much 
difference in forties falling within one general class, and as a 
result the farms present every possible combination of forty acre 
lots. Often a hundred sixty acres was made up by a row of 
forties across the section, or not infrequently they cornered only, 
and occasionally one man would own land entirely surrounding 
some forty or eighty which was rejected on account of being too 
swampy or too hilly. The first settlers having once made these 
selections, the later arrivals were compelled to make purcfiases 
equally irregular in contour. Some of these inconvenient farms 
have since been made more compact by exchanges, but irregu- 
larity is still the rule.*^ 

Of the swamp land approximately half was taken by choice 
before the act of 1851 gave it to the state, and after that date it 
sold about as readily as other land until only a small quantity 
remained.*® This was owing to the scantiness of hay to be had 
on the drier land, also, shallow wells could be made in this low 
ground affording water for stock or .even for house use. 

The most interesting and at the same time the hardest ques- 
tions to answer, are those relating to the choice between prairie 
and wooded land. In the first place there were so many little 


^One German when advised to take land out in the open remarked that he 
expected to carry all the family fire-wood on his back for some years to come 
and a few rods was far enough. 

*^What has here been said does not apply so much to the prairies. 

^In eleven towns taken at random, fifty-three per cent, of the swamp land 
was sold prior to 1851. 



groves scattered about the prairies, and so much open land dis- 
tributed through the woods that a great many settlers were 
enabled to choose both woods and prairie, or other open land, 
and have the advantages of wood and water without the dis- 
advantages incident to a farm composed wholly of either wood- 
land or prairie. No doubt this was the wisest choice possible, 
and as nearly as may be learned from the old settlers, such a 
choice was made mainly by the New England, New York, and 
English people, while the Germans, Norwegians, and Irish pre- 
ferred the woods. 

It will be remembered that a considerable part of the oak land 
of Dane county consisted of "openings" and the choicest of this 
was, indeed, desirable land; it was easily plowed, and especially 
while winter wheat was the main dependence, yielded the best 
returns ; plenty of wood was found upon it, and yet the matter of 
grubbing out stumps was not formidable. Hence those who much 
preferred prairie to solid timber land still might take the "open- 
ings" in preference to either. 

The Germans and Norwegians were not at all' averse to hilly 
land, perhaps because they were accustomed to hills at home.** 
The foreigners were almost without exception afraid of wind 
storms and for this reason avoided the open. The first three 
Norwegians to enter claims in the county chose them in the oak 
land near the northeast comer of the town of Albion. However, 
the Norwegians were keen in the choice of land as in other things ; 
they soon learned to take the oak openings in preference to the 
more thickly wooded land, while many of them settled on the 
border of the prairie.*^® It was the Ohio farmer who feared the 
prairies least; he had seen something of them before and had 
learned by experience the comparative ease of subduing such soil 
in contrast to the slow and laborious task of ridding the land of 
brush and stumps. "Wheeler prairie" and "Stoner prairie" were 
named in honor of the first settlers, both from Ohio ; and "To- 
bacco prairie" in Rock county was also settled by Ohio farmers. 
In the north part of Dane county is "Dane prairie" much the 
largest prairie within the county, covering an area equal in size to 

^History of DaM0 County, p. 562, article by H. A. Tenney. 
"<*From statements made by Professor J. Q. Emery of Albion, Wis., who 
has been familiar with the Norwegians of Dane county almost from the first. 


three towns, and along the west edge of this we find the "Ohio 

It is in the settlement of this prairie, if at all, that general 
preferences can be traced. The records of land sales throw very 
little light on the subject, the reasons for which are already 
enumerated. It is therefore necessary to rely on other data, which 
fortunately are abundant and, conclusive. Here as elswhere the 
woods were taken first, it being nearly all occupied before any 
considerable part of the prairie was settled.*'^ One emigrafit 
who had traversed the length of the prairie — ^perhaps twenty 
miles — with his ox team, was asked if he thought the dreary waste 
would ever be inhabited, and answered ; "Yes, but not in your day 
or mine," yet the good man lived to see farms on the prairie sell- 
ing for seventy-five dollars per acre, while the wood farms were 
worth not over one-half or two-thirds that amount. The last 
and strongest objection to living on the prairie was the difficulty 
of digging a well. This was before the time of drilling wells, 
and the farmers, with only powder and pick found it almost im- 
possible to go 'any distance into the solid magnesian limestone 
with which this tract is underlaid, yet there was little if any 
water above it. The demand for more wheat land made a marked 
advance in the early '50's. The price of wheat, taking a boom at 
this time, overcame nearly all the prejudice to any land that could 
possibly produce that cereal. During the winter of 1853-4 many 
attempts were made to dig wells on the prairie, some of them 
being sunk to a depth of seventy-five or eighty feet; but no 
water of any consequence was found. At the same time wheat had 
reached the remarkable price of two dollars a bushel, and nothing 
further was needed to bring a general rush of wheat growers to 
the prairie ; even the question of drinking-water was of secondary 
importance, and in not a few cases all the water used was hauled 
from Lodi, a distance of five miles or more. It was the restless 
Yankee who left his little cabin and clearing to begin again on 
the inhospitable prairie. These "Yankees" were either directly 
from New England or were those already initiated to pioneer life 
in western New York or Ohio. The German was the last to 

i^Tbe account of the settlement of Dane prairie is taken from statements 
of old settlers, principally by Messrs. Cbas. Loper, Robert Steele, Jas. Steele 
and Amos Chase, all of whom have lived on or near Dane prairie for half a 
century or more. 


leave the shelter of the woods, as is seen by the solid German 
settlement of Roxbury and the west part of Dane, one of the 
most thickly wooded districts of the county. It is true that the 
Germans have long since learned to appreciate the prairie, but it 
was after the first and hardest problems had been solved. As to 
the English and Scotch it may be said that they, like the Nor- 
wegians, were rapidly Americanized and were soon awake to the 
advantages of open land. But for staying qualities the German 
and the Norwegian take front rank. Without any exception they 
have done better than merely to hold their own in every locality 
where they have settled, while the Yankees, English, and Scotch 
have been carried on to become pioneers again, or have quit farm- 
ing altogether and moved to the city. 

Let us not be misunderstood. There was no class of settlers 
who at first preferred the bleak prairie ; very little of the prairie 
other than mere fringes was taken till late in the '40's.'^^ Sticking 
so closely to the woods was a corollary to the proposition that 
wheat was the only crop to be raised. Wheat did yield better on 
the stiff clays of the woods than in the more friable soils of »the 
openings arid prairies, and it was the general belief that clover 
and timothy, which began to relieve the monotony of wheat grow- 
ing, would also succeed better on the same kind of soil.*^^ A 
traveller, in 1842, gives a glimpse of pioneer life, and incidentally 
adds a little testimony to the statement that New Englanders 
were among the first who settled the prairie.*** The problems to 

"The causes for this, both true and imaginary, are set forth in contem- 
poraneous writings: "Some of them [i. e., roads] lead through extensive prai- 
ries where timber Is scarce, but we apprehend that even these large prairies 
will be found more available than many suppose. . . . As we were crossing 
one of these prairies a short time since we found a man in the midst of It, quite 
out of sight of land, as we say, building a fence and going ahead with a farm. 
He got the rtiils ready split, four miles distant, at ten dollars per thousand." — 
Madison Argus, July 28, 1846. 

"Pat. Office Kept., Agriculture, 1852-53, Part II, p. 152. 

M "Dined at the house of a thriving New Englander, who from small be- 
ginnings, is now the proprietor of five thousand acres of prairie land; he 
has enclosed several fields of Indian corn with ditches instead of rails — 
answering the double purpose of staying the prairie fire and keeping ofC cat- 
tle ; he had sunk a well and built a stable, barn, and hogpen, on a large scale* 
and like a wise man had lived up to this time in a simple log-and-mud cabin. 
I am really at a loss to know how the good people of this country — this ont- 
of-the-way place — ^find all the good things they set before travellers, especially 
the New Englanders." — lAfe in the West, p. 260. 

»"The prairies are of two kinds, the dry and the wet. The dry is arable land. 
The wet prairies are called sloughs o'r bottom land ; they are not considered 



be solved by the farmer who took prairie lancl,°'^ were in some ways 
more perplexing, than those of making farms in the woods, and 
sOme of these were of a nature not likely to suggest themselves to 
one wholly unacquainted with the work of subduing raw prairie. 
The woodland could be plowed at any time of year when the 
weather permitted, and the settler could utilize all his spare mo- 
ments in clearing and breaking for the next season's sowing. But 
not so with the prairie. Even, if he should succeed, by an almost 
infinite expenditure of strength, in breaking the sod late in the 
summer, he could reap little except disappointment the following 
year. Again if he was too anxious, and did the breaking very 
early in the spring, the results were only less unsatisfactory. The 
mistake of breaking too deep was also a common one. To get 
good results prairie should be turned in thin furrows during the 
early summer and left to rot without the interference of a "sod 
crop" for the remainder of the season. All this seems simple to 
the western-bred farmer, but was a hopeless series of conun- 
drums to those meeting these conditions anew. Fortunate indeed 
was the man who felt the need of information and experience.'^* 
One of the most pitiful pleas in favor of woodland over prairie 
appeared in an agricultural paper in 185 1, just about the end of 
the period when there was actually free choice between the two. 
The matter of health is very often mentioned as a reason for 
taking one or the other kind of land. Another writer tried to 
get at the matter statistically and found that among twenty-seven 
families who moved to the prairie, there was a certain number 
of deaths, while among a like number of .dwellers in the woods 
for the same period of time, the number of deaths was not so 
large. There are no data on this question on which to base con- 
clusions, but it is generally agreed that fever and ague, the great 
bane of pioneer life, flourishes best in a damp country where a 
great amount of vegetable matter is undergoing decomposition. 

fit for tillage [and are] valued only as a resort for cutting hay, or as a 
range for cattle. All land of this character [i. e., both the wet and dry prairie] 
is generally avoided in the selection or purchase of land." — Madison EwpresB, 
April 16» 1846. 

M"When I commenced making a farm on the prairie I found myself engaged 
in a task by no means without its difficulties and perplexities. Whatever I 
had learned of farming In the East had to be principally learned over again 
bere — I looked in vain for well tested and enlightened experiments — ^what was 
the best season of the year in which to break prairie; how deep should it be 
broken?" — ^Madison Evpresf, May 19, 1841. 


Be this as it may, the prairies of Wisconsin have long been ex- 
onerated from the charge of unhealthf ulness ; and the modest 
woods of this section of the state can hardly be termed dark or 
damp forests. Nevertheless the great amount of surface water, 
often stagnant, was the cause of much sickness in the early days 
of Wisconsin settlement.*^ 

If it appears that the foregoing is a vague treatment of the 
manner and motives of land selection it can be answered only by 

■^'*It iB true tlie prairie mania has eyer prevailed among the eaatem farm- 
ers coming to settle amid the West. This is the result of a fancied convenience 
among new settlers and a wish to gratify that thirst for novelty which is 
inherent In the minds of those who have been reared among the hills and 
valleys of the New EIngland and Middle states, where nature in her prairie 
beauty has never appeared. But that prepossession in favor of prairie farms 
i» rapidly yielding to the formation of a more rational conclusion. The ab- 
sence of many of the common conveniences of life which are enjoyed in the 
timber — ^the want of health and the failure of crops from year to year are 
obstacles in the path of prosperity which exist upon the prairie and which 
•can never be wholly surmounted. These will henceforth prove a barrier to 
their settlement, and will have a tendency to direct emigration to a forest 
liome. The angry winter wind which sweeps over their heads in its course 
sfor hundreds of miles, unbroken by any obstacle, save the slight undulations 
apon the bosom of the prairie, where neither tree nor shrub appears to shel- 
ter the weary traveller from the keenness of the blast which often threatens 
thim with immediate destruction, — the scorching rays of the summer sun 
•maddening and destroying the brain, and other manifestations in nature, all 
«peak to the settler, in language not to be misunderstood, of disease and 
4eath in its most horrible form. There disease in every form destructive to 
Tegetable life is stalking abroad and ever and anon lays its withering grasp 
upon the fruits of the foil of the laboring man and deprives families and 
neighborhoods of the means of subsistence, leaving poverty and destitution to 
prey upon its victims, until anotiier year shall have rolled its sluggish course, 
bringing but too often in its train the same fearful consequences. This is 
not an overwrought picture." — Wisconsin Farmer, III, 145. 

Preference for woodland lingered till long after wheat ceased to be the 
principal crop : *'Upon the whole it is our opinion that, everything consid- 
ered, the oak openings are the best lands for a farmer of moderate means. 
These lands seem to be less rich In the vegetable producing elements than the 
other two [timber and prairies] but such is not the fact as demonstrated 
by experience. The soil of the oak openings is of a lighter color, but it pro- 
duces the finest crops |0f cereals, including com end also esculent roots. It 
plows very kindly, is never miry like the prairie, where the reapers have 
sometimes become useless in wet seasons because they could not be worked in 
deep mud. The openings produce as much to the acre, and of a plumper, 
heavier grain ; manure works a more permanent benefit ; they raise heavier 
crops of clover and other grasses and the use of plaster is attended with won- 
derful efr ect, frequently doubling thef crop of hay ; orchards thrive better ; 
they supply fuel and fencing material ; also stones for cellars, wells, and 
handsome imperishable fences. 

"All these advantages mentioned in connection with oak openings also be- 
long to the timbered section and the latter have the further advantage that, 
once cleared, they do not, like the openings, send forth a crop of useless and 
tangled grubs which are very expensive to eradicates*' Thus prairie is the poor- 
est land. — Trans. State Agfl Boo,, IX, 406. 


recurring, at the risk of tedious reiteration, to the endless reasons, 
and almost lack of reason, which attend the selection of different 
land by different people ; and in addition, that the writer had no 
thesis to maintain or theory to prove. In answer to the question 
"Did the first settlers take the best land?" no sweeping answer can 
be given. The greatest mistake was no doubt in rejecting the 
prairies so long ; quick returns — ^and this was of vital importance 
in most cases — ^were more easily had here, where a little skill in 
the use of the breaking plow enabled a man to turn virgin soil into 
cultivated fields at the rate of two or three acres a day, while 
in the woods not a quarter of the same results could be had. The 
patience and toil of those who cleared up the woodland was 
eventually rewarded, and where this land is not too hilly or stony, 
it has proved to be excellent in wearing qualities, though on an 
average it must still rank below the prairies, as the latter have 
always excelled in the production of Indian corn. Many of the 
old pioneers who still remain look with chagrin from their rough 
farms, worth fifty dollars per acre, to the smooth, inviting fields 
of their prairie neighbors, worth fifty per cent more, and recall 
the time when they rejected the latter in favor of the former. 
Yet no doubt they were temporarily better off making the choice 
they did than had they undertaken the greater task with the 
possibility of greater gain in the long run, and "for many of them 
there was no long run." They took the land they thought was 
best, and for a period it was. On an average the land which was 
best ultimately was not taken first, but this was due largely to the 
particular class of settlers who took it.** 

V Since writing the above, I have received a letter from Mr. Robert Steele 
of Lodi, Wis., which corroborates almost all the statements made in the chap- 
ter respecting the choice of' land by the diflFerent settlers. He adds that the 
Oermans of the northwest part of the coontyt who were mostly from the 
Rhine country, hoped to raise grapes on the sunny hillsides of Roxbury. 
Some of them did so, and made several thousand gallons of wine per year for 
a brief period. Mr. Steele thinks, however, contrary to one of the quotations 
above, that there was a general tendency for immigrants to choose land re- 
sembling that of their former homes, an example of which is the location of 
the Swiss in the hilly country to the southwest of Dane county. 




The struggles and hardships coincident with pioneer life are 
familiar topics, yet each new country has its own peculiar diffi- 
, culties. In Dane county the first formidable drawbacks were 
those of markets and prices. Even the most ingenious and 
economical pioneer had to depend to a considerable extend on east- 
em supplies. Flour apd pork were the standard articles of food, 
and as they had to be brought up the Mississippi river or from 
New York or Ohio, the prices were exorbitant. The first demand 
for any considerable amount of provisions in southern Wisconsin 
was for Supplying the needs of the lead miners, and they paid 
dearly for their living; one man speaks of giving four thousand 
pounds of mineral for a barrel of flour.^® 

In the spring of 1837 a party of land prospectors paid to Mrs. 
Masters of Jeflferson one dollar per peck for oats ; at the same 
time pork was reported to be worth twenty-one dollars per barrel, 
and flour forty-one dollars ; a cow was worth forty dollars, and a 
yoke of oxen one hundred fifty dollars.*^ 

In Milwaukee, corn was quoted at two and a half dollars per 
bushel, eggs as high as one and a half dollars a dozen, and butter 
at forty-five and fifty cents per pound.** This certainly was a 
rare chance for a limited number of farmers to grow rich rapidly ; 
but few farmers were here at all and they for the most part Vere 
slow in getting any produce on the market. Such lines as the 
following must, however, have had a stimulating effect on all who 
were getting their farming operations under way: "Hundreds 

"Wte. Hist. Coll., II, 335. 

^-IMd., X, 425. 

*» Milwaukee Advertiser, Febrnary 25, 1837. 


of barrels of pork are annually imported from below on account 
of a lack of farmers to supply the great demand for this article 
from the mines/' ®^ 

Some idea of the manner of making a home in the wilderness 
may be gathered from the reminiscences of an old Rock county 
pioneer : "During the summer of '37 I made a claim on the bank 
of the Rock river three miles above Jefferson. In December fol- 
lowing I took an ax, a ham of pork, and a blanket, walked down 
to Jefferson, bought a few loaves of bread of E. G. Darling, also 
borrowed a boat of him — went up to my claim to make the neces- 
sary improvements to hold it until spring. 

"I worked upon my claim for four weeks, chopping trees, build- 
ing fences, etc. Having made the necessary improvements on my 
claim, I went back to Rock river to work until spring. During 
the winter I picked enough cat-tails to make me a bed. Also 
caught and salted a keg of fish, bought a yoke of oxen and pre- 
pared to go onto my claim in the spring. In April, '38, I bor- 
lowed the hind wheels of a wagon, put in a temporary tongue and 
box, loaded up my shanty outfit, drove to Ft. Atkinson and crossed 
the river on the ferry, thence to Jefferson; again ferried across, 
cut my own road through the timber, three miles, and reached my 
claim. The next day I took the wagon on the boat borrowed of 
Mr. Darling and returned it to Bark river running the distance 
of twenty miles, and returned to my farm the next day ready for 
farming. I cleared about two acres, made a harrow with wooden 
teeth, and planted the land with corn and potatoes. I paid four 
dollars a bushel for seed corn to plant. The corn not coming up 
the first time, I replanted June 3, paying sixpence an ear for the 
seed. Raised a splendid crop of corn and potatoes. The nearest 
grist mill was at Beloit and several Jefferson people carried their 
corn there to grind. One of my neighbors, Mr. Britton, dug a 
hole in an oak stump for a mortar and pounded his corn to supply 
a large family. Having raised something to live on and having 
built comfortable houses to live in, we all turned our attention to 
building roads through the timber. A territorial road was opened 
from Milwaukee to Madison by the United States Government in 
1838 and '39 — at this time I went to Milwaukee for a load of pro- 

^WiiOfinBin, Enquirer, Noyember 2, 1839. 


yisions. It cost two jdollars per hundred weight to haul goods 
from Milwaukee to Bark River Mill."** 
A still earlier settler relates experiences much the same.** 
A writer in the Watertown Republic of July 3d, 1889, speaks of 
making a sled by hand at Milwaukee, paying sixty dollars for 
three barrels of flour, eighty dollars for two barrels of pork, and 
with two yoke of oxen as the team starting westward for Water- 
town. Many instances are recorded of five dollars a barrel being 
paid for hauling flour from Milwaukee to Madison and it is little 
wonder when two yoke of cattle were required for moving ten or 
twelve hundred weight of goods. Before the road above men- 
tioned was laid out each teamster went where he pleased and he 
usually tried a new route "knowing that a change must neces- 
sarily be an improvement" 

The newcomers were almost uniformly without capital in 
any form beyond a team of oxen, a wagon, and a few household 
articles. Many a determined home-seeker, discouraged by busi- 
ness failure or low wages in the east came to Wisconsin with 
barely enough money to pay his passage, and after selecting a 
farm and filing preemption papers, or quite as often, engaging 
some friendly neighbor to use his influence in preventing its being 
"jumped," started for the pineries and hired out as a chopper 
thus earning enough to pay for a forty or two. These experi- 
ences were not wholly uneventful. One Vermont youth after 
walking a considerable share of the distance from Milwaukee to 
Dane county, locating his claim, and making his way to a north- 
ern pinery was told by the lumberman that he already had more 
help than he wanted. Nothing daunted he resolved on appropri- 
ating some of the free timber himself and set to work making 
a raft to take to Dubuque in the spring in hopes of finding a 

**Quoted with some sllgbt changes for the sake of breyity from Janesyille 
Gazette, June 24, 1886, Wis. Local H%8t, Coll., XVIII. 

^**'hS,y father had raised the body of a hewn log house, which was considered 
▼ery nice then. His first thought was to finish that so we would be more com- 
fortable. The boards for the floor and shingles for the roof had to be gotten 
out by hand, but it was at last accomplished, and some time in January we 
moved into it. The next thought was to obtain seed for spring sowing, so 
my father hewed out timber for building purposes, rafted it down the river 
to Janesyille where he sold it and bought potatoes, paying $5 per bushel, and 
beans the same. That of course did not mean many to eat, but as soon as 
they could grow we had plenty.*'— Watertown RepubUCt June 26, 1889, Wis. Local 
Hist, Coll., 11. 


market. All went well till on his way down the Wisconsin, afloat 
with his entire stock of goods, the clumsy raft went to pieces in 
the Baraboo rapids and was at once converted into worthless 
driftwood. This would seem to be enough to cure the western 
fever in almost any case, but not so this time. He retraced his 
steps to his native state, married a wife of equal pluck, and with a 
few borrowed dollars again set out for Wisconsin and the claim 
he had located, found it awaiting him, and he is still the owner 
of it together with many contiguous acres. At the risk of wan- 
dering a little from the subject we must follow this man a stage 
or two farther. He served three years in a Wisconsin regiment 
in the Civil War, homesteaded and preempted half or three quar- 
ters of a section in Dakota when the first general rush to that 
territory occured*, and in 1900, forty-tiine years after his first visit 
to Wisconsin, spent a summer in Cuba grubbing out brush and 
planting fruit, and already has bearing bananas in the island. 
This is a sample of the stuff that the genuine American pioneer 
was made of. 

The importance of the little markets at the mines and pineries 
was greatly overestimated. "For many years to come the sur- 
plus produce of the settlers will find a ready and profitable market 
at the Wisconsin pineries, Ft. Winnebago, and other points on the 
river." *• 

By the time the first farmers were fairly settled and had suc- 
ceeded in producing a little more plain food-stuff than was needed 
for family use, the much-vaunted "home market" bubble had 
burst. In the early '40's butter sold at the country stores as low 
as five, or even three cents a pound. Wheat was worth from 
thirty to fifty cents in Milwaukee and the cost of hauling it there 
was equal to half or two-thirds of its value. Hogs although few, 
as we now view it, were a drug on the market, and after being 
dressed were often hauled forty or sixty miles to the pineries to be 
bartered for shingles, and in many cases the load of meat would no 
more than pay for a load of shingles.** Pork was quoted at two 
and three cents, beef about the same, and even at these figures the 
payment was seldom made in cash, there being almost no cash in 
the country, and that little going for taxes and postage stamps. 

"TF<»con«/fi Enquirer, November 14, 1840. 

**I stayed onei rainy day the snmmer of 1901 In a house In Dane county 
which still had shingles on the roof obtained In this way— it lealced. 


Barter was the only alternative to a complete stoppage of trade, 
and in consequence it was used as thoroughly as though money . 
had no. place in the economy of that time. Butter, eggs, tur- 
nips, and what not, were peddled' around Madison by farmers who 
had brought them a distance of twenty miles only to find that the 
discouraged storekeeper would take no more produce at any price. 
And the townspeople who did take it often paid with an order on 
the storekeeper, and this paper usually had to be approved by the 
storekeeper before it was accepted by the truck vender. These 
were indeed the days of small things. 

Few of the early settlers had any draught animal besides the 
ox, and not infrequently even this was wanting. The first man 
to till the soil in the town of Vermont had no equipment other 
than a spade and a hoe.®^ Occasionally cows were yoked to the 
wagon or the plow, and only once in a long while was a farmer 
found who owned a horse. All things considered the ox was the 
most suitable for pioneer motive power. He was slow, but not 
so helpless in a swamp, not so dainty in the matter of food and 
drink, not so sensitive to cold or wet, or so dependent upon three 
regular meals a day as the horse. Until experience taught them 
better the pioneers used a breaking plow twenty, thirty, even 
thirty-six inches wide, and for moving these ponderous ditching 
machines, which must be run at a great depth in order to keep 
them steady, much power was required and the movement was 
necessarily slow. For this work some six or eight yoke of 
cattle with two or three drivers were required. Often the oxen 
were fed only grass which they must gather for themselves at 
night. At noon but a short pause was made to allow the men to 
eat their lunch, it being too great a task to yoke up a herd of un- 
willing half-broken oxen more than once a day. In case the ox 
and his owner were both new at the business progress was slow 
indeed, and it is a wonder that any headway at all was made. A 
concrete example of this will illustrate the seriousness of the 
problem. An Englishman, two years in this country, and wholly 
without experience in working cattle, entered a piece of land in 
the northwest part of the county, and bought at the same time a 
pair of young untrained oxen. At the end of the first season he 
had plowed five acres of oak openings — "if you could call it 
plowin' " as he remarked with a grim smile. 

*'^ History of Dane County » 933. 


In case the new arrival had no means of doing breaking the 
first year, he coiild hire a few furrows turned by paying at the 
rate of five dollars per acre.®® Later the price of breaking fell to 
two dollars, and two and a half dollars per acre, the former price 
for prairie, the latter for oak openings or such woodland as could 
be plowed without the use of the ax and grub-hoe, yet it is agreed 
that in the manner the work was done, more "openings" than 
prairie could be plowed in a day. 

A lack of suitable implements was a serious Inconvenience quite 
as often as lack of teams. Grain was cut with a sickle, a scythe, 
a cradle ; was bound by hand, threshed with a flail, winnowed by 
being tossed into the air with a shovel, pounded to flour in a 
wooden mortar, baked in a rude oven, and the bread eaten 
without butter.®^ Men who .had never shown a tendency to any 
description of skilled workmanship turned their hands to a multi- 
tude of home manufactures — ax-helves, flour-chests, tables, chairs, 
beds, baskets, rakes, harrows, rollers; in short those who had 
once depended on the various members of the community for 
everything, again became in a great degree independent, but lost 
their one art^ which perhaps was overdeveloped, to gain a primi- 
tive knowledge of blacksmithing, carpentry, masonry, healing, 
hunting, fishing — little wonder that there was not energy and 
skill left over to make anything more than mediocre farmers. 
Blacksmithing was perhaps the greatest bug-bear in this cate- 
gory. Until there was promise of sufficient work to enable a man 
to earn a living at the forge, few cared to set one up, and the 
stories told of trials in getting blacksmith work done are many and 
picturesque. As much as they would stand plow-shares were 
beaten out cold ; sometimes they were heated in a fire of chips on 
the open ground and hammered out on an iron wedge driven into 
a stump in lieu of an anvil. One man, wishing to give his tired 
oxen a rest, carried the share of his breaking plow to Madison, 
had it sharpened, and returned the same day, making the entire 
round trip of forty miles on foot. Another man after vain at- 
tempts to "toggle" his log-chain found that the splices took up 
too much of the length, so putting the pieces into a grain sack and 

*^ History of Wisconsin, by W. R. Smith, pp. 121 and 122. 
••©very Item of this may be proved by people who were familiar with that 
mode of life In Dane county. 


taking it across his shoulder he lugged it ten miles to a blacksmith 

But the entire lack of a plow was one of the worst misfortunes, 
though even this was not necessarily fatal to agricultural opera- 

Thus the tale goes and might easily fill a volume, but a mere 
snap shot at these scenes is all that the present work can admit. 
Let it be remembered, however, that these very conditions, trivial 
though they may seem, had an important role to play in the pros- 
perity and the character-building of the pioneer. It is true that 
he solved these perplexing problems because of an inborn 
and inimitable tact, but it is equally true that in the solution itself 
the frontiersman gained a self-reliance, a mastery of the situation, 
a tough body, and a clear head — all of which were needed in good 
time — but that is another story. 

^'*Mr. F. €. \Kirkpatrick, who came to the county ini 1827, related his first 
effort at plowing, being the first plowing done in the present limits of Grant 
comity. He had a horse and harness, but nothing in the similitude of a plow. 
The framework 'n& easily manufactured similar to the frame of a single shovel ; 
through the beam he inserted a pick, commonly called a sinking pick. With 
this and his one horse he broke about two acres. The two acres produced a 
bountiful harvest of corn. The com was taken to Armstrong's mill, near 
where Dickeyville now stands, and ground, or rather cracked, the cracklings 
were grated and the gratings made Into bread. In those days we went to 
Galena for our supply of necessaries." — Wis. Local Hist. Coll., 13, from Coiunty 
Gaaette (Grant county) < 





It will no doubt be objected that there never was in southern 
Wisconsin a time when one crop was raised so exclusively as to 
warrant the title given to this chapter. We look back to the to- 
bacco culture of early Virginia, or to the cotton production of the 
gulf states in ante-bellum days, and unhesitatingly speak of them 
as one-crop periods. We speak glibly of the old Norfolk four- 
course system as practiced in England for a century previous to 
the depression of 1875, yet does anyone suppose that the tobacco 
growers of Virginia or the cotton planters of the South would 
have accepted the term "one-crop system" had they been accused 
of practicing it ? Or does any student of English industrial his- 
tory think that the Norfolk system was followed with such con- 
scious care and precision that one could predict the periodic return 
of a certain cereal to a particular plot as an astronomer predicts 
an eclipse of the sun ? However, the term "one-crop period" was 
chosen advisedly and serves the purpose of giving a general idea 
of the conditions of these different times and places. Likewise, it 
must not be understood that every other crop was insignificant; 
yet seen in perspective even at this short range, it appears to the 
observer that dairying, stock raising, the growing of other grains, 
were, all combined, but mere incidents in the general business of 
attempting to grow wheat. That is to say, wheat was the staple ; 
it was the crop produced for the market; the crop from which a 
money income was expected.''^ 

"Pat. Offl6e Rept, Agriculture, II, p. 465. 


The reasons for turning attention and energy so exclusively to 
wheat culture from the first settlement up to about 1870 are too 
numerous to be stated in a sentence. To begin with, the ques- 
tion as to what crop would flourish in the new country was a 
grave one. The belief was general that corn could not be raised 
to advantage. True it was raised by the Indians, but this was a 
small variety, and was not a sufficient testimony to overcome the 
preconceived notion that Wisconsin was a little too far north to be 
reckoned in the corn belt. Or, suppose corn could be raised in 
large quantities, it was too bulky and too cheap to stand transpor- 
tation a thousand miles to market. This latter argument was also 
conclusive when applied to the alternative of raising oats, it being 
conceded that oats would do tolerably well, at least as to yield.^^ 
Barley ^* and rye did not seem to gain in favor for a long time, 
principally because there were greater possibilities in wheat.''* 
As a matter of fact they were both more certain to make a fair 
yield, and towards the latter part of the period barley did gain a 
considerable significance. 

The reasons urged against stock raising were mainly two : first, 
it was not generally believed that grass or clover would flourish 
here ; and second, quite as important, it was thought that the win- 
ters were so long and cold that the cost of housing and feeding 
must necessarily consume the profits. The poverty of the set- 
tlers was one of the most important factors in deciding the chan- 
nels along which their energies should flow.''* It required capital 
to invest in stock, and the l^eeping of stock required the additional 
outlay for fences and barns. 

The belief that feed could not easily be produced was 
only natural, since cultivated grasses and clover do not take 
kindly to the conditions of early pioneer life.''* They will not 
choke down weeds or brush in the woods ; and not until prairie 
grass has been partially killed by cropping and trampling can 
anything better be induced to take its place ; even if the wild land 
is first plowed, tame grass does not succeed well until after the 
sod is rotted. 

""Oats yield well but are hardly worth raising, as they sell for fifteen cents." 

"Pat. Office Repts., AgHculture, 1852-53, p. 337. 

"For some phenomenal results in wheat growing, see Wisconsin Farmer, I, 44. 

^ Trans. State Agrl. Soc, I, 133, 185. 

"Pat. Office Kept., Agriculture, 1852-53, p. 334. 


In the case of wheat all seemed promising; it would do well 
on new land ; in fact it was on new land that it did its best. Very 
little capital was required to begin wheat farming. A breaking 
team and plow, a harrow, and some seed wheat was enough for 
a start. While the acreage was small this was about all that was 
required with the exception of a wagon in which to haul the crop 
to market. The entire work of harvesting was done at first by 
hand. The sickle and the cradle in the farmers' hands constituted 
the reapers. The flail was sometimes used in threshing, but 
more often oxen or horses were made to tread out the grain as 
in ancient times. Men even made it a business to go about the 
country to do threshing with a pair or two of cattle as the sole 
threshing outfit. The grain was stacked around a circle or open 
space some thirty or forty feet in diameter. Preferably the stacks 
were left till the ground froze and then on this open space, 
scraped as clean as possible, the grain was spread, and the 
thresher, with his own oxen and those of the farmer for whom 
he was working, entered the ring and used alternately the lash 
and the pitchfork to keep the cattle in motion and the grain prop- 
erly turned and shaken. In this way two men could thresh and 
clean in an indifferent manner fifty or sixty bushels of wheat in 
a day, and the thresher would take his pay in wheat, probably 
about four bushels.''^ 

These very primitive methods soon gave way to something 
more modern and effective. The fanning mill was introduced 
about 1840; a "moving threshing machine*^ came into use, and 
went out almost simultaneously, in 1846.''® This machine con- 
sisted of little besides a small cylinder and a set of "concaves," 
with the ordinary teeth. The machine was mounted on a wagon, 
the power being applied by a chain running on a sprocket-wheel 
attached to one of the rear wagon wheels, and the work done as 
the vehicle was driven about the field. The straw was scattered 
broadcast from the rear of the wagon while the grain, chaff, and 
dirt fell promiscuously into the box. It is needless to say that 
farming operations were not revolutionized by this invention. 

^Th\B is from a conyeraatlon with a Mr. Payne of Prairie da Sac, who 
worked at this kind of threshing as far back as 1845. See also Life in Prairie 
Land, Eliza W. Famham, 283. 

^Ht9tory of Dane County, 871. 



A year or two later, a small stationary threshing machine was 
imported from Scotland;^* still this was not a "separator" and 
it was not till the appearance of the well-remembered "Buflfalo- 
Pitts Vibrator" about 1848, that anything striking was seen in 
the work of threshing. This with the appearance of the McCor- 
mick reaper in its various forms, the N. P. Many combined reaper 
and mower, and a little later the "Marsh Harvester," made it 
possible to raise wheat in large quantities.®® 

The amount of wheat raised before 1840 was insignificant and 
was about all used up near the place where it was grown. The 
yield had been good and the anticipations of the farmer were 
aroused to fever heat. Yields as high as sixty or even eighty 
bushels per acre were reported and the quality was beyond any- 
thing else received in the eastern market.®^ 

In 1840 the crop exceeded all previous records; the straw stood 
stiff and tall, yet loaded almost to breaking with heads filled with 
plump, hard grain. Everything favored a maximum yield. The 
soil was still rich in phosphates, due largely to the ashes from 
innumerable fires. It was principally winter wheat which was 
then grown and the deep snow of the previous winter had kept it 
blanketed from the weather and left it in prime condition for 
growth in the spring. Reports of Wisconsin wheaJ:-growing went 
the rounds of the press and it was made to appear that a few 
acres of this matchless soil would secure a family against danger 
of want for all time to come.®^ This was just on the eve of the 
great influx of Norwegians and Germans, who were accustomed 
to wheat fields in their native lands, and thus were easily con- 
vinced that wheat was the crop above all others to rely on here. 
Strange as it may seem, the question of markets did not become 
alarmingly important for some years, the immigrants requiring 
the bulk of the surplus. The milling industry was for a long 
time inadequate to the needsi Probably this was owing to the 
poverty of the settlers, and to poor communication with the East, 

^9 History of Dane County, 871. 

•^''The amount of land that a farmer could cultivate was determined by the 
amount of grain he could harvest." — From a letter from Mr. Robert Steele of 
Lodl, Wisconsin. 

"Buffalo Commercial Advertiser^ September 21, 1847. 

•»See Niles* Register, 58, 310. Many such articles may be found In the Mil- 
waukee Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, etc., for the year 1840. 


for there was abundant opportunity to make good returns on an 
investment in grist mills.®^ 

With these conditions it can easily be understood why there 
was no great excitement over canals or railroads during the 
greater part of the decade between 1840 and 1850. The world 
had not then learned to want the news of the antipodes to be 
served at breakfast ; the question of selling produce was not vital ; 
and as to buying articles from the East, the westerners were pass- 
ively willing to be humbugged. 

The first intimation that there was a limit to the wealth of the 
wheat fields came in the disguised form of some partial failures 
in the winter wheat crop during the '40's ; that is to say, failure 
and prosperity had about the same start in the race. Part of the 
wheat winter-killed and it was soon noticed that the only place 
where it seemed reasonably safe from this trouble was in the 
well-sheltered fields in the woods and to a less degree in the oak- 
openings ; on the prairie it uniformly failed.'* But spring wheat 
had been tried and found to produce a good crop in these open 
places, so the wheat fever was merely allayed a bit and showed no 
symptoms of subsiding. Spring wheat never equalled winter 
wheat at its best, either in quantity or quality, but while the land 
was new the returns were moderately good. 

Being thus soothed and reassured, the farmer was ill prepared 
for the rude awakening which came with the failures of all varie- 
ties of wheat from 1847 to 1853. For a time he would not be 
persuaded that the shortage was anything worse than a mere 
temporary misfortune caused by unfavorable weather; his faith 
in the soil was unshaken ; and his hopes for the future were slow 
in waning. But there were several dormant forces which now 
asserted themselves, and compelled the farmer to face the facts^ 
First in importance and persistency were the debts, contracted 
recklessly^ which now became due.'*^ Creditors had previously 
been satisfied with the interest, which at the rates charged would 
equal the principal somewhere within four to eight years. Now 

••"Wheat is plenty and selling from |.75 to |.87% per bushel, yet with all 
this, flour is scarce and held at |7.00 to |7.50." — Madison E9pre$s, October 27, 

^Wisconsin Farmer, III, 145 ; also confirmed in a letter from Mr. Robert Steele. 
^Trans. State Agr'l Soc.j I, 133. 



the debtor's solvency came in question and the principal was de- 
manded as soon as maturity was reached. 

Another force whfch injured the farmer had been working 
away quietly — ^impoverishment of the soil. It was believed that 
the soil was good for an age without any attention to replenish- 
ment. How any intelligent set of men could be so blind to the 
fundamental truth of farming as to think it possible to subtract 
from a given sum without decreasing it, is beyond comprehen- 
sion; but it must be remembered that Wisconsin soil did appear 
almost infinitely richer than the granite farms of New England, 
and even those who came from New York or Ohio had not, for 
the most part, lived in those states long enough to see the first 
virgin richness of the soil destroyed. At all events, the vision of 
a soil which could hold its own under the system of constant rob- 
bery was pretty thoroughly dispelled by 1851. No longer could 
the failure of wheat be charged to caprices of the weather, to 
poor seed, or to sowing in the wrong time of the moon ; the fact 
of weedy, hard, unresponsive fields was in evidence. All at once 
there was great interest in scientific farming; the I-told-you-so 
prc^hets were ready to account for all the trouble; agricultural 
societies sprang into existence in nearly every county, and the 
poor farmer was berated and advised by editor, money-lender 
and his own fellow sufferers. Accounts of the conditions, and 
some of the causes for them are given by contemporaries : 

"As to the manner of cultivation it is rather slovenly. First they 
have attempted to cultivate too much land with very limited means ; 
next, they have been deluded with the notion that wheat could 
be grown successfully for an indefinite period of time . 
that manuring, rotating crops, seeding down with timothy, clover, 
and other grasses . . . was altogether unnecessary. To 
surround a quarter section of land with a sod fence, break and 
sow it to wheat, harvest the same and stack it, plow the stubble 
once and sow it again with wheat, thresh the previous crop and 
haul it to the Lake, was considered good farming in Rock county 
and it continued from year to year ; hundreds confidently expected 
to win by going it blind in this very unscientific manner. Three 
years out of eleven have produced good crops of winter wheat/'®* 

'•Trans, State Aifr*l 80c., 1, 211 ; see also 152ff, and Wisconsin Farmer, I, 248 
and III, 44. 


That the deterioration in quality was fully as serious as the 
decline in quantity of wheat, is shown by the fact that Wisconsin 
wheat brought the lowest price in the market wherever it sold.*^ 
A little care on the part of the farmer would have served to keep 
the quality up somewhat, at least for a time. A few seemed to 
know that ordinary barn-yard manure had a wholesome effect on 
land that was losing its available plant food, yet it was with rare 
exceptions that even the small amount of such fertilizer which 
each farmer had at his disposal was utilized. Handling manure 
was not fashionable, and no one wished to be thought eccentric 
Yards were left till they could no longer be used conveniently be- 
cause of the annual accumulations; horse stables were moved 
when the available space for dung heaps around them was occu- 
pied. Occasionally the manure was carted off to a marsh or creek 
and there dumped where it would no longer offend the eyes and 
nostrils of the aesthetic farmer but would be carried as far as 
possible from his premises.'® 

Occasionally a farmer tried the experiment of fertilizing a piece 
of land and published the results.®® The Englishmen were the 
exceptions to the general rule in this respect, they having learned 
the importance of fertilizers in their home country, and in conse- 
quence were among the most successful farmers of southern Wis- 

Even rotation of crops was not considered a serious matter and, 
therefore, received very little attention.®^ Occasionally someone 


mentioned summer fallowing but it was seldom tried, in fact there 
is no reason to believe that it was practiced in this county at all, 
though it was not entirely unknown in other parts of the state.** 
Fallowing has not at any time become common in this region, and 
for a very good reason: it is not needed; but at the time when 
small grain was raised eight or ten. years in succession on the 
same land, it would have destroyed weeds and given the soil a 
tilth such as was unknown from the time the land was new till 
the advent of com as a main-stay in farm economy. 

*^Pat. Office Sept., Agriculture, 1852-53, p. 332. 

**Tri9C0»«lfi Fortner, III, 44 ; V, 193 ; Fat. Office Rept., Agriculture, 1852-63 ; 
Tran8, State Agfl Boo., I, 162. 
^ Wisconsin Farmer, II, 29. 

••Pat. Office Rept., Agriculture, 1852-53, p. 331. 
*^ Trans, State Agr*l Boo., I, 162. 
*>Pat. Office Rept, Agriculture, 1852-53, p. 333. 


Thus at the beginning of the second half of the century the 
Wisconsin farmer was involved in debt ; was following the same 
groove which was started by the earliest settler ; was thoroughly 
discouraged; He blamed the weather, the banker, and the legis- 
lator, but considered that he himself had done all that strength 
of body and mind could enable one to do under such adverse cir- 
cumstances. The weather had for some years been unpropitious 
and a change for the better took place ; the legislature also became 
kindly disposed and passed several bills in the interest of the 
farmer, among which was one appropriating one hundred dollars 
a year to the country agricultural societies ; recommendations for 
tariff reform were made to Congress, and inducements were of- 
fered to manufacturers to establish industries within the state.** 
These expedients were not wholly in vain, but they were inade- 
quate to repair the damage already sustained. The bankers shoved 
no unwonted tenderness toward the embarrassed farmers, and the 
number of foreclosures of mortgages from 1846 to 1853 was not 
only great but continually on the increase.** For the most part 
the whole farm was not taken at once, but a forty or two for 
part payment of a debt. 

In very many cases the amount of encumbrance under which 
these executions were made was no more than two or three dol- 
lars per acre. Interest remained at about the same figure, that 
is, nominally at ten per cent, for long-time loans, twelve per cent, 
on short time, while practically it was whatever the exigencies of 
each particular transaction would bear,— often double these rates. 
The inability of the farmer to pay these absurd charges was the 
immediate cause of so many mortgage foreclosures. Many gave 
up farming as a bad job, others moved to a newer country, not a 
few went to California.** 

Perhaps the hardest to be remedied of all the ills which beset 
the farmer were those acquired or inherent weaknesses of his 
own character, for with all his admirable qualities he was in many 
ways improvident. He complained that he could not keep cattle 
because it would take so much extra bam room and fence; yet 

•• See Wis. Assembly Journal, 1851, p. 1124tl ; 1852, pp. 939, 957. 

**Tlie records in the office of the resrister of deeds show this to be true, 
and advertisements of land to be sold nnder mortgages may be found by the 
score in the Wisconsin State Journal for the years named. 

•^ Trans. State Agr*l Soc, I, 230. 


there was plenty of material near at hand, often on his own farm, 
to build all the fence he could possibly need ; and as for barns, at 
least comfortable stables could be built with no other outlay than 
the labor required to cut the logs and put them in place ; or they 
could be sawed and made into a fine frame buildSng if a little 
money could be raised to pay for the sawing and carpenter work. 
In many parts of the country convenient building stone was to be 
had for the taking, and some very respectable houses and barns 
still standing were made of it. These are some of the historic 
possibilities; the facts are that the improvements up to the time 
under consideration were pitifully poor.®® 

These conditions were in a great degree the outcome of wheat 
farming but, and this was more serious, these very conditions 
were beyond all else, the deciding influences in preventing a 
change to a better regime. Cows were to be had for twelve or 
fifteen dollars apiece, but this availed nothing to a man without 
money or credit even though he were paying twenty-five dollars 
a year for butter and cheese and letting grass and hay go to 
waste.®^ The same difficulties confronted him at every turn and 
thus we have the anomaly of a class of intelligent men who could 
not raise wheat, yet who were unable to quit the attempt and begin 
one of a dozen things which oflfered more returns for less energy. 
It seemed that something would of necessity happen before long or 
the very inertia of the system would carry the farmer to the foot 
of the ladder and all but compel him to start on a new career in 
a rational way — and something happened. The price of wheat 
rose from thirty-one cents to a dollar seventy cents between May, 
1854, and the same month a year later.'® 

This remarkable rise in price is usually attributed to the Cri- 
mean War, and no doubt correctly. Other produce advanced in 
price, but not in the same proportion, as wheat was the specific 
article in demand. The eflfect of this boom was electric. There 

••"... a western settler will live for many years on hiar farm without 
ever haying a bam, or other out building of any kind, except a very small corn- 
crib, and sometimes -a stable, the dimensions of which correspond better to those 
of a poultry house than anything else. If bams are built they come along after 
many years under the head of admissible luxures." — Life in Prairie Land, 
Eliza W. Farnham, p. 283. 

*^ Trans. State Agr'l 80c., I, 160-162. 

*' Milwaukee Sentineh May 25 and June 30, 1855. 


was no longer any thought of quitting the wheat industry, for 
even if the yield was small, the prospect of nearly twice as many 
dollars as bushels was enough to overcome all tendency to radical 
change. So the change that actually did take place was mani- 
fested in a new crusade in search of wheat land. Immigration 
from the eastern states and from foreign countries took a new 
start Prairie land which had once been black-listed, now be- 
came so much in demand that it would sell at almost any price 
and on any terms. One man who still lives in the town of Dane 
paid twenty dollars per acre for an eighty, with interest at twelve 
per cent, and thirteen per cent, commission, making it twenty-five 
per cent, for the first year. As elsewhere noticed, it was under 
these conditions that the prairie was finally settled, and the pre- 
judice against such land once for all silenced. The new impulse 
to wheat was sadly brief, but it was sufficiently long to bring with 
it evils which were long-lived. Prominent among these was the 
craze for horses to take the place of oxen ; this was the first gen- 
eral move in that direction and the purchase of a team was in 
many instances the first act of a little play in which bankruptcy 
was the last. A span of good horses sold as high as four hun- 
dred dollars, and twenty-five per cent, interest was not unusual.*' 
It takes a year or two to subdue raw prairie and reap from it 
a crop of wheat, and by the time any considerable quantity had 
been produced on this high-priced land the price of wheat had 
dropped to its old level or thereabouts. Did the farmer then re- 
vive his disposition to try another form of agriculture? By no 
means ; he had again renewed his vision of wealth to be gleaned 
from his wheat fields, and this vision, even if a trifle dim at times, 
kept him plodding faithfully along in its pursuit through the 
remainder of the decade. Prices were low, crops were poor, debts 
accumulated ; but in i860 when it again seemed that a change to 
profitable farming was imminent, another lease of life came in 
the form of a remarkably heavy crop.^^ This is not hard to 
account for. The drouth, and rust, and rain, and blight, had in 
turn or in conjunction prevented the wheat from sapping the 
nutriment from the soil, and now they took a year off and the 

**From coDTersatlons with Mr. Blackburn of Verona, Wiar. 
^^See table at end of tbia cbapter. 


granaries were filled to bursting. The price was still low but this 
was offset by the yield, and again the farmer tacitly resolved to 
sink or swim with the wheat industry. 

With the outbreak of the Civil War the following year, prices 
started on the up-grade and continued high for the remainder of 
the wheat period ; but there were other considerations even more 
serious than the price.^ About i860 the chinch bug on his north- 
ern march had reached Wisconsin; this was certainly ominous, 
but no considerable share of the crop was destroyed until 1864, 
in which year and for the two succeeding years, the insect made 
a clean sweep of the wheat fields.* But thinking that when 
things were at their worst they must mend, the farmers kept the 
acreage up to a point near the maximum, and until almost the 
' close of the '6o's "the wheat crop scarcely lost prestige with our 
farmers." There were new forces at work to keep it in the lead, 
among which were, "scarcity of labor essential to all hoed crops, 
and the increase of mechanical facilities for harvesting" which 
caused wheat to be cultivated "with more than former zeal and 
energy."' Other cereal crops about held their own.* 

The increase in the pi ice of wheat and the scarcity of labor 
during the war turned the attention of many ingenious men to 
the improvement of labor-saving machines to be used in sowing 
and harvesting wheat. Wisconsin was in the lead with these in- 
ventions. A Mr. Warner of Prairie du Sac constructed a reaper 
which is said to have done satisfactory work, and E. W. Skinner 
of Madison likewise won the admiration of the farmers by mak- 
ing a reaper which seemed to them wonderful.* However, there 
was one of Wisconsin's soldier boys carrying an ordinary rifle 
in the Army of the Tennessee who was getting ready to be heard 
from. In the first place, he was dissatisfied with his rifle and 
spent his leisure moments throughout the war in attempting to 

^As in the prosperous period of the preceding decade the farmers decided 
that oxen were too slow for the times, and within a few years almost eyery 
man owned a team or two of horses. As before, horses were high, bat general 
bigh prices enabled the farmer to meet most of his obligations, and the transi- 
tion from the one class of draft animals to the other was accomplished. 

*Tran9. State Agr'l 8oc,, VII, SS. 

•IMA, 33ff. 

^We haTe here an example of the helplessness of an indlTidoal In competltloii 
with a wealthy firm; either of those men coold make a reaper that would sat- 
iafy the trade, but neither, nor both, could keep abreast with Cyrus licCormiek^ 
who could buy the patents of a dozen Inventors and combine them. 

132 BULtLETIN of the university of WISCONSIN. 

perfect the "pin-fire'' breech. In this he was at least partially 
successful, but a shrewd fellow came around and tried to bluflE 
him out of a patent, accusing him of stealing the idea ; however, 
the stranger would compromise, and they struck a bargain at 
seventy-five thousand dollars. Taking this money, the inventor 
at once turned his attention to a self-binding attachment to the 
harvester. There was already a machine which bound by using 
wire, but to this there were many objections, and a "twine binder" 
had been suggested by both farmers and inventors.** This man 
had watched his mother at her wheel, tie, with her left hand alone, 
what was called the "granny knot," and it seemed to him that it 
was done so easily and mechanically that an artificial hand moved 
by a chain or gearing could be made to perform the same trick. 
To make a long story short this was John F. Appleby of Mazo- 
manie, Wisconsin, who, after spending the money received for h*s 
gun and as much more loaned him by a friend and fellow towns- 
man named Thompson, perfected the famous "Appleby binder" 
which may be seen today on almost any binder in the market.® 

Thus Wisconsin had evidently solved her own problem in the 
matter of wheat production ; it could now be harvested with little 
additional expense for labor ; but the blaze of triumph turned out 
to be a torch at her own funeral. The economy reacted in favor 
of her competitors for the great wheat fields of the West now 
came to the front with their endless quantities of a superior qual- 
ity of grain. The only advantage Wisconsin had over the 
farther West was in transportatioUj and this was a matter of 
small moment after railroads were once built,^ in no wise ade- 
quate to balance the unexploited fertility of the new districts. 
The verdict was read in the weedy fields and shrunken and chaffy 
grain of Wisconsin, in marked contrast to the clean, full-weight 
product of Minnesota and Dakota. It was merely a new chapter 
in the same law which a generation before put Ohio at the head 
of the list of wheat-growing states and then remorselessly drop- 
ping her down to insignificance, passed the honor along to be held 

■A wire binder which seems to have worked well was inyented by S. D. Car- 
penter of Madison. See Wisconsin State Journah December 29, 1866, Aogusrt 25, 

•These facts were learned from Mr. John Avery of Prairie du Sac, an old 
comrade and neighbor of Appleby's. 

^See Transportation, Sec. II of this chapter. 


for brief periods by Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and so on in turn. 
Wisconsin had held out well in the struggle, she had used up a 
considerable share of the fertility of her soil; had worn out a 
generation or more of hardy farmers ; — she can never be charged 
with inconstancy, for she held on till the bitter end. During the 
latter part of the '6o's, wheat crops in Dane county were almost 
complete failures and by 1870 wheat could no longer be called the 
principal crop. In a minor way wheat culture persisted and 
still does, but for the great majority the wheat tragedy had ended. 

Acreage, yield and prices of wheat. 



/ 1860. 













































11 23-$l 28* 













30-1 00 

1 20- 

1 70 

36-1 10 



1 10- 1 21 

90- 1 30 

1 56- 1 90 



98- 1 16 


1 02 

1 02- 









* For 1841 and 1835-1898j the quotations are for Milwaukee, the rest for the Madison 
snaricet, taken from Madison papers. 



Aside from the question of making a living for himself and 
family there was no subject of more vital concern to the farmer 
than that of transportation facilities for surplus produce. This 
was not merely a problem for legislative consideration ; it was a 
live, personal interest, and every farmer was ready to assume, not 
only his little share of responsibility in deciding between two pos« 
sible contingencies, but the leadership, so far as he could com* 
mand it, in shaping the course that public activity should follow. 
It could hardly be expected that any body of men of such differ- 
ent characteristics in nationality, politics, and education, would 
agree on the means to a solution of even so general a question 
as road building ; and they did not. One party looked to the fed- 
eral government for aid in the form of land grants ; another advo- 
cated the bonding of cities and towns for bonuses to be given, 
with the prospect of indirect returns from the company thus 
encouraged ; many persons were willing to mortgage their farms 
for a thousand or two thousand dollars, or take shares in the road ; 
a very few would have the state take charge of the matter." To a 
degree, each of these factions accomplished its end. 

The party which looked to the federal government for aid was 
from the beginning a strong one, and the advantage to be gained 
from these contemplated improvements was always shown to be 
national, not merely local. In a letter to the territorial repre- 
sentative in Congress, Governor Doty stated the problem as it 
then appeared : "To open a free communication by water from 
Lake Michigan to the upper Mississippi so that the Missis- 
sippi steamboats can meet the lake boats, is a great national 
object. . . . No calculation can be made of the advantages 
to trade and to the Union, hereafter, of this navigation."* A 
siscorid recommendation was for the improvement in navigation of 
Rock River and its branches, Pecatonica River, and Eastern Fork, 
to connect with Milwaukee River, and of the latter stream to 
Lake Michigan. 

During the same year there was an urgent petition sent to Gxi- 

*Wi9C0n9ln Enquirer, January 23, 1841. 
*WUcon9ln Enquirer, June 1, 1839. 


gress asking for an appropriation of money for constructing a 
railroad from Milwaukee to some point on the Mississiiq)i. It 
set forth that the territories of Iowa and Wisconsin had contrib- 
uted so much to the national treasury from land sales that it 
would be but fair to appropriate money for the construction of 
the road so much needed.^® 

The petition further urged that the contemplated road was 
destined to be a paying investment from the first, as the great 
quantities of lead and the newly developed grain fields required 
an outlet more favorable than the long route via New Orleans. 
This view was general, and well founded, as seen in the schedule 
of freight charges on fourteen million pounds of Wisconsin lead. 


By the way of New Orleans : 

$ .31 per cwt. for delivering it upon the 

Mississippi $43,400.00 

$1.25 per cwt. from thence to New York. . . . 175,400.00 

II. $218,800.00 

By way of the Erie canal : 

$ -35 per cwt. to Lake Michigan $49,000.00 

$ .42 per cwt. from thence to New York. . . . 58,800.00 

Making a saving in transportation by way 
of the Erie canal, of $110,000.00"" 

The thirty-five cents per hundred allowed as charges to Lake 
Michigan was based on an estimation of probable railroad tariflf 

^<>As a stronger plea It was urged that "when the National Import of the Im- 
proyement is taken Into view, it would seem as if the enlightened wisdom of 
your patriotic Bodies could not possibly consent to retard the prosperity of 
our beloved country by withholding the comparatively trifling appropriations 
which would secure to the Union ffenerally, advantages such as human capacity 
cannot estimate; . . . This road . . . would prove of paramount 
utility in the not impossible event of foreign invasion. ... It would 
constitute a great link In the great Oregon Railroad to which the indomitable 
spirit of American enterprise will, at no distant day» exhibit to an admiring 
world." — Wisconsin Enquirer, November 2, 1839. A memorial was sent to con- 
gress in 1836 asking nearly the same things, and two thousand dollars was 
appropriated for a preliminary survey. — Milwaukee Advertiser, July 21, 1836, 
and Wisconsin Enquirer, December 1, 1838. 

"Milwaukee Advertiser, July 21, 1836. 


and was no doubt reasonable.^^ The question of an outlet for 
grain was then of secondary importance and it was destined to 
remain so for more than ten years. 

The first desideratum in the matter of roads was the modest 
requisite of passable highways over which teams could move light 
loads without danger of being stalled. It is true that there was 
a little flurry of excitement among the earliest settlers over the 
problem of markets, hence the above mentioned memorials, but 
by the time there was any considerable number of inhabitants 
in the territory the first interest had subsided. The local 
markets, patronized so extensively by the constantly arriving 
immigrants who took about all the surplus produce, tended to 
cool the enthusiasm of railroad promoters. However, it must 
not be understood that there was ever a time when the agitation 
ceased ; there was not, but there was a period of ten years when 
the sentiment in favor of any radical measures to bring about a 
new era in transportation was at a low ebb. The following 
words, though perhaps a little extreme, give a picture of the con- 
ditions which had to be faced, and at the same time the views of a 
considerable portion of the inhabitants : 

"We are highly gratified with the course which our legislature 
is taking in relation to internal improvements; railroads and 
canals seem to occupy little of their attention. . . .They 
seem more disposed to adapt their acts to the circumstances of the 
people, instead of being hurried away by chimerical extrava- 
gances which have already dragged some of the neighboring 
states to the very brink of bankruptcy. . . . Railroads will 
not be needed in this territory for the next twenty-five years — 
perhaps never. The utility of such works is almost exclusively 
confined to the transportation of passengers on some great thor- 
oughfare. For carrying country produce to market a good com- 
mon road is just about as valuable, and a macadamized road vastly 
superior. Upon these farmers can travel with their own teams 
and the expense of transportation is hardly perceptible. We 
venture to assert that if the railroads authorized to be constructed 
in Illinois were once completed they would, over and above the 

"It is stated, howeyer, that lead was actually hauled by team for that 
sum. Madison Expreas, December 28, 1830. 


cost of construction, be an expense to the state for the next quar- 
ter of a century. 

"The great fault of our western legislators seems to have re- 
sulted from their incapability of reducing their ideals to a level 
with their circumstances. Colleges and universities and rail- 
roads and canals have been all their themes, while common 
schools and common roads seem to have been regarded as alto- 
gether unworthy of attention ... if they had been con- 
tent to walk upon the earth instead of endeavoring to fly through 
the air their schemes, if not so splendid, would have been useful. 
We congratulate our citizens upon the prospect that legislators 
are about abandoning the fashionable gewgaws of fancy for the 
humble blessings of reality"^* This eminently practical and 
terrestrial legislature had certainly done commendable work in 
forwarding the construction of common wagon roads which were 
necessary whether railroads and canals were made or not. Dur- 
ing the year 1839 the road from Madison to Milwaukee was lo- 
cated and ten thousand dollars expended in its improvement; 
it was estimated that five thousand more were needed to put it 
in shape to satisfy the demands.^* From this time until about 
1862 almost every legislature voted money for building plain 
wagon roads, and by that time there were seven main-travelled 
roads leading from Madison to the various parts of Dane county 
and beyond.^*^ In the same period projects continued to be rife 
for canals and river navigation. The Rock River canal was be- 
gun July 4, 1839. It was never finished, yet the vision of run- 
ning steamers from the Mississippi to the lakes by way of the Fox 
and Wisconsin rivers persisted in the minds of many farmers and 
legislators for more than a generation. The whole subject of 
water transportation may be dismissed briefly by stating that the 
only grain of any consequence ever carried in this way from 
Dane county was taken up the Wisconsin from Prairie du Sac to 
Portage after the railroad had reached the latter place, and was 
there re-shipped. This was merely a make-shift and cost from 
three to six cents a bushel for wheat, above the charges from 
Madison, and so continued until the Chicago, Milwaukee and St 

^Wiaoonain Enquirer , December 14, 1839. 
^* Wisconsin Enquirer, April 22, 1840. 
"Wisconsin State Journal, March 25, 1857. 


Paul Railroad Company built a branch from Mazomanie to 
Prairie du Sac in 1881. 

The real struggle in which wheat growers were concerned was 
that between the advocates of railroads, on the one hand, and 
promoters of plank, or other wagon roads, on the other.^* The 
country roads were in deplorable shape^^ and the only reason they 
could be tolerated was because they were needed so little. Such 
things as dry goods and groceries do not count up into tons rap- 
idly where the population is still sparse, and farm produce was 
not yet demanding attention. By 1845 ^t was apparent that some 
kind of improvement must be made to afford means for reaching 
a market. This was no sudden awakening. The early settlers 
were already familiar with the stage coach, having come a con- 
siderable part of the • distance from the eastern states by this 
means. They were accustomed to the slow movements and high 
charges,^' yet there was little complaint. It may thus be under- 
stood why plank roads were looked upon as a boon while the 
demands for transportation facilities were moderate. 

Wisconsin began her territorial existence at the. most oppor- 
tune time for avoiding the slough of indebtedness, such as 
had come near being the ruin of some of her neighbors, and thus 
we find little disposition for state activity in road building. The 
plan adopted was to charter private companies and allow them 
tp build the roads and charge toll. It was calculated that the 
cost of hauling freight over a good plank road did not exceed 
twenty-five, or at most, forty per cent, of the cost on a plain dirt 

The first charter for a plank road was secured in 1846 and 
from then till 1871 no fewer than one hundred fifty such 
companies were chartered.^** Few of these enterprises con- 
cern us. However there was some enthusiasm over such roads 
from the time wheat production made transportation a question 

^*For an excellent treatment of the whole subject of "Railroad Legislation,' 
see article by Dr. B. H. Meyer, Wis, Hist. Coll., XIV, 206. 
^"^WiaconHn Enquirer, October 22, 1848. 
""Stage Route: Twice e week each way. 
From Mineral Point to Madison, $5.00. 
From Madison to Ft. Winnebago [Portage], $4.50. 
25 pounds of baggage allowed each passenger.** 

— Wisconsin Enquirer, November 15, 1839. 
'* Madison Argus, December 5, 1848. 
*^ Thesis by W. L. Bolton, 1897. Library of University of Wisconsin. 


of prime importance, and in 1853 a plank road from Milwaukee 
reached the eastern part of Dane county.*^ That it was an im- 
provement over the old wagon road no one will deny, but the 
warm advocates of such a highway became rapidly fewer. The 
lolls were considered too high and many teamsters turned off 
to the old road long enough to avoid the toll stations and yet get 
considerable benefit from the plank road. The oxen could hardly 
be kept on the planks because it made them foot-sore. 
Another trouble came from the unevenness in the way the planks 
settled into the spongy soil, and many a heavy load had to be 
taken from the wagon because a wheel had slipped over the side 
of the slanting road. Besides all this, the planks'* were laid with 
almost no foundation except the ground itself and in an incred- 
ibly short time decayed and became merely an impediment. We 
are, therefore, safe in saying that plank roads were a disappoint- 
ment, and in no sense a solution of the transportation difficulties. 
As the central and western parts of the state became thickly set- 
tled by farmers, who gave almost all their energy to the growing 
of a crop which must find its market in the eastern states, the 
demand for railroads at once overshadowed all other plans for 
meeting the requirements. By 1848 the interest in railroads 
which had been dormant, began to show signs of awakening.*' 
Meetings were held in almost every town and in very many cases 
there was a strong sentiment in favor of voting bonuses to aid in 
the construction of the proposed road.** In some cases these 
were actually paid.** The town of Lodi, which joins Dane 
county on the north, was bonded for forty thousand dollars to 
induce the Chicago & Northwestern to build through its 
territory. A proposition to bond the town of Medina for 
twenty-five thousand dollars to be given as railroad bonus was 
lost by two votes.**^ Dane township bought ten thousand dol- 
lars worth of stock in the Baraboo Air Line Railway Company 
and when the road was actually built by the Chicago & NortE- 

^Wi8con9in EwpresB, February 21, 1852; History of Madison, Dane County, 
and Burroundings, p. 230. 

"It must be remembered that this refers to the farming class. 

"Madison Argtts, March 2, 1848 ; Wisconsin Express, May 1, 1852. 

"For the aid given In the form of public land grants, see "Congressional 
Grants of Land in Aid of Railway," by John Bell Sanborn, Bulletin of Univer- 
sity of Wisconsin. 

* History of Madison, Dane County, and Surroundings, ^. 231. 




western Company the stock was surrendered at thirty per cent., 
and the township raised and paid the diflFerence of seven thou- 
sand dollars.** 

This was wild financiering and in every case resulted in humili- 
ation and repentance, but the reason for taking such steps is 
easily understood.*^ The increased production together with the 
advancing prices of wheat hastened the construction of railroads, 
and by 1854 the Milwaukee & Mississippi load had reached 
Stoughtcxi ; the next year it came to Madison, and when in 1856 
it was extended to the west, reaching the Mississippi at Prairie du 
Chien, the momentous question was solved. 

Hardly had the eloquence of after-dinner speeches in lauda- 
tion of the new wonder subsided, when the tones were changed 
to denunciation of the "giant monopoly" which was fleecing the 
farmer. This was especially flagrant when it was remembered 
that the farmers had so recently given of their means and influ- 
ence to assist in the building of the road. The objections were 
well founded, for unfair discriminations began at once and con- 
tinued in the face of vigorous and persistent remonstrances. 
The railroads had the upper hand; there was no competition 
from Madison and vicinity to Milwaukee, and the amount of 
wheat to be hauled was enormous. Early in the year 1857 the 
opposition to exorbitant profits began to take shape. It is to be 
regretted that this opposition was not more effective. 

It was pointed out that the charges for hauling wheat to Mil- 
waukee by rail were for a time equal to the prices by wagon. 

^History of Madison, D<me County, and 8urround4ng8, p. 646. 

'^The value of wheat and com per ton at different distances from market bb 
affected by cost of transportation, by railroad and over tlie ordinary roads of 
the country as s^ven in IndustrHca Resources of Wisconsin, John Gregory, p. 236, 
was as follows: 


Bt Hail. 

Bt Obdinabt High- 






$49 50 
48 75 
48 00 
46 95 
46 05 
45 00 
45 55 

m 75 

24 00 
23 25 
32 10 
21 36 
20 25 
18 80 

$49 50 
42 00 
34 50 
24 00 
15 00 

$24 75 



17 25 
9 75 





i ' 


then dropped just enough to cut off all such competition.** The 
overcharges were computed at ten cents a bushel on wheat, mak- 
ing fifty thousand dollars for Dane county. Other produce was 
estimated to bear an equal tribute. 

The grain dealers at the various shipping points were in dis- 
repute as well as the railroads, and to cope with them the 
Dane County Farmers' Protective Union was organized. This 
"Union" was directed against the grain buyers, but even if the 
charges were true, it still appears that the railway extortions were 
equally obnoxious.^® 

But even in its attacks on the weaker of the two monopolies 
the farmers' union was an abject failure. An elevator was built 
at Madison, and wheat was brought from all corners of the county 
and there stored, in custody of a man chosen to act as agent. 
The agent sold the wheat, pocketed the proceeds and took "French 
leave." The chagrined farmers hushed the matter up so that 
hardly a line relative to the matter appeared in print. The ele- 
vator burned down, and the Farmers' Protective Union col- 

By the fall of 1857 the railroad managers had become suffi- 
ciently alarmed to make some concessions, for matters had 
reached a serious state.*^ On September ist, 1857, rates on wheat 
from Madison to Milwaukee were cut down from fourteen cents 
to eleven cents, and on this basis the local buyers filled their ele- 
vators. Nineteen days later the rates were restored to the old 

** Wisconsin State Journal, February 14, 1857. 

^''Hitherto this wheat [i. e., from Dane county] has not been worth as much 
as wheat at Prairie du Chlen, one hundred miles west of Madison, because 
the railroad conveyed wheat from the former place, two hundred miles to Mil- 
waukee at five or six cents less per bushel than it charged for carrying it from 
this city one hundred miles. A railroad connection with Chicago is about 
to put an end to this order of things. The farmers of Dane county will be 
able to get five or six cents a bushel more for their wheat than tiiey have 
heretofore received upon the market at Milwaukee. Say the amount is five 
cents per bushel and that we produce a surplus of 600,000 of the 1,000,000 
bushels annually raised. This will put $30,000.00 more money In the pocket* 
of the farmers the present year than they would receive but for the railway con- 
nection with Chicago." — Wisconsin State Journal, April 28, 1868. 

x* These facts were learned from Mr. Robert Steele and other old settlers. 

*^The reasons for the remonstrances and something of the feeling manifested 
are thus pointedly told: "The Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad charges 
ajB much for bringing freight from Milwaukee [to Madison] as the other trane- 
portaton companies do from eastern ports to Milwaukee. People prefer to ride 
Jn a stage rather than aptronlze their enemies."— W<8con«in Statb Journal, 
August 22, 1867. 


figure and the grain buyers brought suit against the road for vio- 
lation of implied contract. Even the building of the railroad 
from Chicago to Madison offered but temporary relief, and the 
same abuses again called forth the same cry of distress. For a 
time the struggle between the river transportation to St. Louis 
and the roads connecting the Mississippi with the lakes resulted 
in favorable rates to towns along the Mississippi, while Dane 
county farmers paid nearly the rates formerly charged for haul- 
ing by wagon. After this war had been settled in favor of the 
eastern route, and it looked as though fair play might as well be 
practised, the different roads began underbidding one another for 
the carrying trade from the great wheat fiields of the west, and 
the wheat grower of Iowa and Minnesota received more for the 
same grade of wheat than did the discouraged farmer of Dane 
-county three hundred miles nearer the market.'^ Thus the strug- 
gle for transportation facilities was continuous and bitter, and 
not till after the farmer had been forced out of wheat produc- 
tion as a main business was an3rthing approaching fairness in 
freight rates obtained. In all this time — 2l period of nearly twenty 
years — it does not appear that the fanners had been able to exert 
any telling influence in the struggle for their rights. Here was 
a case where nothing short of state regulation could set matters 
right, and although vastly in the majority, the farmers, it is pain- 
fully evident, were not the dominant force in state politics. One 
explanation of this is seen in their slowness to comprehend the 
fact that railroads, and railroads alone, must be the means of car- 
rying grain ; they never gave up the belief until the transporta- 
tion question dwindled in importance, with the change to less 
bulky productions, that competition between railroads and river 
or canal transportation, was the only source of relief.'* 

** Madison Democrat, May 31, 1869. 
** Madison Democrat, August 18, 1869. 





The change from simple to complex agricultural con- 
ditions did not happen in a day. It came so gradually that those 
who made the changes, and were themselves at the same time un- 
dergoing a modification no less pronounced, hardly realized that 
anything of far-reaching consequence was happening. These re- 
sults were brought about primarily by economic causes already 
noted, together with some important social influences, while later, 
political movements were of equal significance. 

Among social influences a few stand out with unmistakable 
clearness. The Ohio people, in the southern, the northeastern, 
and the northwestern, parts of Dane county, all engaged to greater 
or less extent in sheep raising. They had all learned something 
about the business before coming and were able to bring a few 
sheep along with them. The Vermonters were also disposed to 
own sheep, and occasionally an Englishman or a Scotchman ven- 
tured to invest in a small flock. There were many drawbacks to 
the business, yet it persisted in a tentative way from its introduc- 
tion in the early '50's until a timie when opportunities came to give 
it more attention. To the Ohio people is also due the credit of in- 
troducing tobacco culture. The explanation of this is analogous 
to that of the introduction of sheep — ^they had learned the busi- 
ness at home and brought it with them. Cattle were of course 
indispensable, but it was the cheapness of this kind of stock in 
the older states of the Northwest which accounted for the fact that 
cattle raising came in as fast as it did. Hogs were kept as exten- 



sivdy as the market would stand, until the high-price period of 
the '6o's, and why they were not then raised in large numbers 
instead of by the half-dozen or so, is a hard question to answer. 
It is usually said that the price of breeding-stock was so great 
that few could afford the investment. This is about equal to 
arguing that seed corn is too valuable to plant, and therefore 
must be made at once into meal. A few men did have enough 
foresight and enterprise to go into the business in earnest and 
these were soon able to pay off the incumbrances on their farms 
and to buy more land as well. Fat hogs sold as high as fourteen 
dollars per hundred for a time, but to a farmer with fewer hogs 
than it takes for a wagon load, as was the usual condition, 
this was a matter of small concern. As for cattle, the diflSculty 
of getting a start was serious enough to be accepted as a good 
argument, against raising them; but in letting the years from 
l86i to 1868 slip without branching out into the swine industry, 
the Wisconsin farmer missed an opportunity such as comes to 
few generations of farmers. 

The war was the cause of many experiments and modifications 
in agriculture throughout the North. One of the most notice- 
able of these was the attempt to produce sugar at home. In 
Wisconsin there was considerable excitement over the possibili- 
ties of growing sorghum on a commercial scale. Meetings were 
held, and papers were read and published, in which it was pre- 
dicted that we could easily get along without Louisiana sugar ; that 
the inconvenience of the high tariff on foreign sugar would be for- 
gotten when sugar was made in sufficient quantities at home, and 
that molasses and sugar might possibly be exported. Even the 
seed was to prove an item of consequence by affording feed for 
stock.** A state convention was held at Madison for the pur- 
pose of diffusing sentiment and gathering information.'^ 

Under the same stimulus the production of honey increased 
several hundred per cent., but even then the total amount was not 
a matter of consequence. 

Another crop which attracted considerable attention for a brief 

**WiaconHn State Journal, April 8, 1863. 

»* Wisconsin State Journal, Jannary 21, 1864 ; Trans. State Agr*l Sac., VII, 35, 
100 ; an account of this conyention appears In the same volume. 


time was flax. The first of any importance raised in the county 
was in 185 1, and had the flattering results of the experiment 
proved to be the rule, the distinctively wheat period would, no 
doubt, have terminated soon after that date.®* Coming as it did, 
at a time when wheat had been for several years a failure, it is no 
wonder an innovation of this kind should be taken seriously. At 
this time the main plan was to manufacture linseed oil and thus 
effect a big saving in freight.'"' There were several reasons why 
flax could not gain permanently in favor. In the first place, it 
would not flourish on impoverished or foul land, yet this was the 
only place there was to put it except on newly broken soil, 
which usually did well in wheat. Again, the average yield of flax 
was small, and finally it was believed to be peculiarly exhausting 
to the soil. On the other hand, the yield and price of wheat were 
just on the eve of an advance, and the flax project was soon for- 
gotten, until in the '6o's when the high price of cotton cloth 
brought it forward again as a possible solution to the question of 
cheaper clothing ; the amount produced however was insignificant. 

Hemp was another exotic which came in with war-time prices 
and in 1865 something over eight thousand pounds of fibre were 
produced in Dane county. 

More important than any of the foregoing changes was the 
impetus given to wool production. Before i860 the number of 
sheep kept had suffered a decline; now within four years there 
was a fourfold increase. In view of the good prices of wool and 
mutton, the pastures and meadows required for feeding the 
sheep, and the utility of this animal in ridding a farm of weeds 
and adding to the fertility of the soil, the increase in sheep raising 
may be counted as one of the first permanently helpful incidents 
of the wheat period. 

It should also be noticed that the better prices for barley and 
oats, the need of com for feeding the increasing numbers of farm 
animals, and the room given to the new crops above enumerated, 
though of small significance taken separately, had in the aggre- 
gate made a perceptible reduction in the acreage sown to wheat, 
and thus perforce introduced a system, though an imperfect one, 
of rotation. 

^'Wisconsin Express, March 4, 1852. 
"Wisconsin Express, March 18, 1852. 


Altogether the system of agriculture in 1870 was radically dif- 
ferent from that of a decade before. The change had not come 
by observation; it had crept in little by little, and had the ninth 
census been more complete, the returns would have occasioned 
even a greater surprise than they did. 




The first break in the monotonous round of wheat culture in 
Wisconsin came with the brief but exciting period of hop grow- 
ing. For nearly thirty years the farmer had gone over the dis- 
mal routine of plowing, sowing, and harvesting, the crop often 
poor in quality, usually low in price ; he saw his land steadily be- 
coming less productive, yet with persistence more heroic than in- 
telligent, he had consistently refused to be led from his beaten 
path by the most reasonable and stable temptations. But even 
this dogged conservatism was not entirely secure from contami- 
nating influences, and it finally broke down under a complication 
of internal and external attacks. 

The hop craze, although exceedingly brief in its main outlines, 
had its roots grounded well back in Wisconsin history. There 
is hardly a doubt, although the data for proof are not at hand, 
that the introduction of this crop is to be credited to the people 
who were familiar with its culture in the state of New York. At 
all events, the names of the men who first are mentioned in this 
connection are without exception the names common in New 
York settlements.^® As early as 1850 a few attempts had been 
made in the direction of hop culture, and the results were flatter- 
ing indeed.^* 

The success of hop growing was so well proved that by 1853 

^ Trans. State Agr'l 8oc., Ill, 59. 

**"! havf been In the hop culture . . . three years in Wisconsin. . 
Good com soil the most suitable for hop-raising . . . five acrps 'ast 
year gave me one ton of hops per acre, which I consider as an ordinary yield 
with good care. The cost of cultivation Is about six cents per pound. . 
I sold the yield of my five acres for $1,400.00. I consider the hop crop as 
sure as any I have ever raised. It can be kept up ten or twenty years 
with good management." — Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 18, 1854. 


it would seem that the time for a boom in it had arrived ; but not 
so. It will be remembered that this was just on the eve of the 
impetus given the wheat industry by a period of high prices ; thus 
the hop fever lay dormant for a long interval. Other visions 
occupied the farmer's mind, with wheat always in the foreground. 
With the dull times of the late '50's advocates of hops tried to as- 
sert themselves; but not till the hopes of fortunes in wheat had 
been abandoned in the chinch-bug period, did hops receive the ser- 
ious attention which seemed destined to be paid them for a season. 
Still it was not the failure of wheat alone. The rise in the price 
of hops was a factor of equal importance. The following quo- 
tation seems to be so admirably to the point as to be worth giving 
in full: 

The "introduction and extraordinary run [of hop culture] in 
this state are mainly due to three circumstances — the failure of 
the crop, or rather repeated and utter failures of it, owing to 
ravages of its insect foes, in New York and other portions of the 
East, whence western supplies, even, had been largely drawn; 
to the fact that some of the largest establishments [breweries] 
of the country — ^and a good many of theni — ^were located in our 
own Metropolitan city ; and to the further reason that the climate 
and soils of Wisconsin seemed to be admirably adapted to its 
healthy growth. 

"The crop of i860 was so trifling as hardly to deserve men- 
tion. But in the year 1864 it amounted to 385,583 pounds, as 
shown by the incomplete returns to the secretary of state, with 
a value of $135,127; and in 1865 to 829,377 pounds with a total 
value of $347,587. But even this was only the beginning. In 
1866 the business of planting and poling began in earnest and 
before the season was over, the fever raged like an epidemic. 
Gathering renewed force with every new acre planted in the 
county of Sauk, where it may be said to have originated, and 
where the crop in 1865 was over half a million pounds; it spread 
from neighborhood to neighborhood and from countv to county 
until by 1867 it had hopped the whole state over; so completely 
revolutionizing the agriculture that one in passing through found 
some difficulty in convincing himself that he was not really in 
old Kent of England. Even many of our old fashioned wheat 
farmers caught the infection and for once have disturbed the 


routine of their operations. In 1867 the crop in Sauk county 
alone, which has still the honor of being foremost among the forty 
or more counties that have enthusiastically followed, is believed 
to have been over four million pounds, with a cost value of little, 
if anything, short of $2,500,000.00. 

"Cases are numerous in which the first crop had paid for the 
land and all the improvements, leaving subsequent crops a clear 
profit, minus the cost of cultivating and harvesting. The crop 
of the present year throughout the state will be so great that we 
dare not venture an estimate. The yield in various parts of the 
state equals one ton to the acre, and the Wisconsin hop commai^ds 
the highest price in the eastern market. 

"Already the hop-louse has discovered our magnificent crop 
and sent out his skirmishers to prepare the way doubtless for a 
general attack. Moreover, the price seems sure to decline before 
any newly planted yard or field can possibly yield its first market- 
able crop. Fifty-five cents, the price of last year's crop, paid 
magnificently; but twenty-five cents would hardly warrant the 
sacrifice of every other interest* to go into this particular busi- 
ness." *« 

As would be expected, the profits of hop growing were greatly 
exaggerated. The Baraboo Republic estimated the cost of 
starting a hop yard as five hundred dollars per acre. This 
seems high, but it must be remembered that a hop shed was 
a building which involved no small expense and was indispensa- 
ble to success in the business. The roots for planting an acre, 
though a small item in the expense, cost sometimes twenty dol- 
lars ; poles were another matter of considerable consequence, and 
the work involved was greatest of all. Twenty-five cents per 
pound was estimated as the lowest price at which crops could be 
grown with profit.*^ 

When the time for picking arrived, which began about the last 
week in August, there was a general rush of girls and boys, mostly 
the former, from distances of a hundred miles to the hop field. 
"Every passenger car is pressed into service, and freight, and 
platform cars are fixed up as well as possible for the transporta- 
tion of the pickers. Every train has the appearance of an excur- 

^ Trans. State Agr'l 80c., VII, 36. 

<* Article quoted In Wisconsin State Journal, May 11, 1867. 


sion train on some great gala day, loaded down as they are with 
myriads of young girls. The most of them have their places of 
labor engaged in advance."*^ 

The price paid for picking was forty or fifty cents a box. This 
great expense induced a Sauk county man to attempt the inven- 
tion of a hop-picking machine, which was to save the county a 
million dollars for help in one season.** 

It is doubtful if Wisconsin farmers ever made money so fast 
or so easily at any other time or in any other business, as in hops 
for the two or three years preceding 1868. There are still to be 
seen in the main hop districts, barns which were once hop houses ; 
and residences, which if not particularly elegant at present, show 
a magnificence entirely out of keeping with the later '6o's. There 
are also stories, more or less reliable, of fine carriages, new har- 
ness, and high-stepping horses, pianos, and trips abroad, all based 
on the fabulous wealth made, or more often to be made, from 
hops.** This phenomenal prosperity dropped with hardly a pre- 
monition upon the shoulders of men little wonted to the handling 
of money in considerable sums, and the wonder would be in 
stories of a different nature, rather than in the doleful tales as 
they are. Feeling that they had a secure and lasting hold on a 
veritable bonanza, they had no hesitancy in contracting debts of 
any size or paying any price, however high, if only fancy 
prompted their untrained judgments to make the venture.*" By 
1868 the fairy tale was about told; hops were again growing in 
New York, and the price was on the down grade while, worst of 
all, the rust and the hop-louse were running riot in the Wisconsin 
yards.*® As in example of the temptation to risk every thing in 
this one precarious industry, one farmer is reported to have raised 
in 1867 three thousand one hundred pounds of hops on a single 
acre and sold them at $.58^4 per pound.*^ It must be admitted 
that something more than ordinary judgment was needed to keep 
men from embarking in an adVenture with such inducements. 

** Madison Democrat, September 1, 1868. 

"Madison Democrat, June 1, 1868. 

^^Tlils statement is based upon conyersatons with A. A. Mick«lson of Black 
Earth, Mr. John Lorch ofl Madison, and many others who knew the circum- 

*^ Trans. State Agr'l 80c., VII, 420. 

"Madison Democrat, September 16, 1868. 

"Wisconsin State Jourwa, December 6, 1867. 


One writer remarks that ninety out of a hundred would engage in 
such a reckless pursuit, even though their judgment told them 
that, in a series of years, they would be worse off — "slowly 
accumulated wealth will not do for our people." 

The prices of provisions responded readily to the new impulse; 
for example, butter which had before been a drug at fifteen cents, 
now sold for forty cents in hop-picking time. The store keepers 
took advantage of the occasion to collect back debts and take an 
added toll from the goods then on hand, but most of them paid 
dearly for it in the end by giving credit anew and eventually fail- 
ing to collect the bills. Interest overleaped all bounds and came 
up to a point about equal to that reached in the preceding years. 
"There is money in the country, but it demands extremely 
high rates of interest ; as high as ten per cent, per month has been 
paid for the use of money."*® Horses and other live stock ad- 
vanced somewhat, as near as may be learned, but it does not 
appear that the price of land was at all affected. It may seem 
a little strange that land producing a hundred dollars and upward 
per acre should continue at the same price, and as a matter of 
fact, farms with flourishing hop yards did sell occasionally, i. e., 
within a few years, for less than the mortgage placed against 
them during the hop craze, but this was due to a false estimate 
of the improvements as there was at all times a great deal of land 
to be had suitable for hops which was not so used. 

The hop episode ended as suddenly as it had begun. The crop 
of 1867 sold readily at fifty or sixty cents a pound; the crop of 
1868 was the largest raised, but the quality was far below that of 
the preceding year, and rather than take half price a great many 
held the hops over to the following year, by which time the bot- 
tom had dropped completely from the hop market and the old 
crops were sold in Milwaukee as low as two and a half cents a 

It will be noticed that the state instead of the county has been 
treated in this chapter; this is because Dane county was suffi- 
ciently involved in the hop industry to require recognition in some 
way, but was not a typical hop-growing county of the state.^® It 

*» Madison Democrat^ September 19, 1868. 
** Trans. State Agfl flfoc, IX, 28. 

"®The data on Dane county hops are hard to find. In 1850 the yield is re- 
ported as 120 lbs.; 1866, 10,800 lbs.; 1875, 274 acres; 1880, 116 acres. 


was in Sauk county that the business first began in earnest, and 
throughout, Sauk was far in the lead, even raising nearly half of 
those grown in the state. In 1868 Sauk county raised six thou- 
sand acres of hops, Dane county six hundred fifty acres. The 
location of the hop district is told in the Madison Democrat for 
June 29th, 1868: "We believe it is well settled that Kilbourn 
City is the greatest primary hop depot in the United States, per- 
haps in the world. The region that markets and ships its hops 
here raised last year about one-fourth of all raised in the United 
States, and over two-thirds of all raised in this state. . 
Last fall over twenty-two thousand bales raised in this vicinity 
were shipped from this depot for which over two million dollars 
were received." 

It seems strange that such a large number of intelligent men 
should be led astray financially, when the facts could be definitely 
known which pointed to disaster. Voices of warning were not 
wanting.*^^ Again and again attention was called to the dan- 
ger from the hop-louse and the equal danger from a fall in prices 
which in the nature of things had to come, for New York was 
once more growing hops. But the possibilities were so great that 
the probabilities failed to gain, the attention, each man hoping 
that his own fortune would be safely made before the crash should 
come. And although many modest fortunes were made, the 
annals fail to record a single instance of a hop grower who came 
out of the affair richer than he went in. What the actual loss 
Vv-as can never be known ; it was not alone in store bills and mort- 
gages left on the farmer's hands, but equally important was the 
change in the system of farming. When the hop industry began, 
there was already a tendency toward stock raising and dairying, 
and these beginnings were now to be made anew, while the 
farmer was not in as good condition to make them as before.'* 
In all too many cases he was a speculator who had staked his last 
dollar and lost. 

^^Trans. State Agr'l 8oc„ VII, 299. Wi8Conain State Joumah December 6,1867. 
"Trem*. 8tat^ Agr'l 80c., VII, 420. I have also gathered many of these facts 
from the men wno passed through the experience. 




Although tobacco is rated as a crop belonging to the later, or 
diversified period of Wisconsin agriculture, it had its beginning 
at an early date. The Indians had raised it for a century at 
least, and it is sometimes held by old settlers that it was from the 
red men that the notion of growing tobacco in the state originated. 
This can hardly be proved or disproved; it seems reasonable to 
suppose that the suggestion might have thus been given, but 
beyond this the Indian cannot be implicated in the matter. 
When and by whom, then, was the first tobacco raised in Wis- 
consin? It is pretty safe to predict that no final answer to the 
question is to be given. At all events the testimony is abundant 
and conflicting. 

The names most often mentioned in connection with early to- 
bacco growing are those of two brothers, Ralph and Orrin Pome- 
roy. The facts concerning their history are easily obtainable, and 
while it seems reasonably certain that they did not raise the first 
tobacco in the state, they did in all probability raise the first in 
Dane county, and it was they who gave the industry its perma- 
nent footing as a farm crop in the heart of the tobacco section. 

It is reported that tobacco was found growing wild on both 
sides of Lake Koshkonong about 1847.^* This must have been 
the remains of Indian tobacco patches as the plant is by no means 
indigenous here. The earliest date claimed for the introduction 
of the crop is 1838. Hon. E. W. Keyes of Madison, in a letter 
published in the Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter, November 13, 
1885, states that his brother Abel brought some seed from Bing- 

** History of Madison, Dane County, and Surroundings, p. 331. 



hamton, New York, to Jefferson county, Wisconsin, and raised 
a small quantity of tobacco for home use. This makes it appear 
that tobacco was introduced here as early as in the Miami val- 
ley, Ohio, where it became important long before Wisconsin wa3 
reckoned among the tobacco-growing states. The next testi- 
mony is contemporaneous and gives the status of the new indus- 
try in 1840. 

"The resources of the west are continually developing. . . . 
We are informed that a number of inhabitants on Rock River 
whose granaries have been filled to overflowing the past two years, 
and who have found it inconvenient to dispose of their surplus 
products, have resolved to direct their attention to other means 
of obtaining profit from the products of the soil. Accordingly, 
the experiment of raising tobacco has been tried the past sum- 
mer and has been found to succeed beyond expectation. The 
growth of the plant was astonishingly rapid, and it was brought 
to perfect maturity and completely ripened about the middle Of 
August last. Many of the leaves measured three feet in length 
and twenty inches in width. ... It has been demonstrated 
that one acre of land can, with the greatest ease, be made to pro- 
duce one ton of tobacco. The price of one ton at twelve cents 
per pound would amount to $240. The cost of preparation and 
manufacture after the crop is gathered is estimated at three cents 
per pound. . . . The allowance for sowing and cultivation 
cannot possibly exceed three cents per pound. 

"We understand that the prospect of success in the raising of 
tobacco is regarded in so flattering a light that arrangements are 
making for engaging extensively in the business the coming sea- 
son, especially in that section of the country on the Pecatonica 
and on Rock River, between Beloit and Rockford."** 

The interest in this quotation lies principally in the reasons 
given for launching into the new business. It was a question 
of transportation : the granaries were full. The price of tobacco 
was then high and continued so for a long time, and it seems 
strange that after once getting the idea definitely in mind to raise 
a crop comprising more value in less bulk, that wheat continued 
to hold first place for more than a score of years. Tobacco, 
though for a long time insignificant in quantity, was not wholly 

** Wisconsin Enquirer, September 16, 1840. 


dropped. It sometimes happened that assessors failed to get sta- 
tistics, because there was so Httle tobacco that neither they nor 
the farmers thought to list it as a farm crop, but a series of dis- 
cussions and guesses as to the early history of the plant brought 
out the fact that it had persisted almost from the beginning of 
Wisconsin farming. Again, we have some light shed on the 
method of initiating the crop into western society. 

" . . . Elias Hibbard (grandfather of the writer) settled 
at Troy, Walworth county, in 1843. In 1848 he obtained from 
Connecticut two professional or expert tobacco raisers whom he 
set at work cultivating the weed. . . . Tobacco was raised 
on that farm continuously and throughout that section from 1844 
to 1866, when prices were so low, and nearly every farmer with 
two, three, and sometimes, five crops on hand discontinued the 
business as there seemed to be no market for the stuff. . 
We raised tobacco for years before it was ever thought of in 

Although not so stated, it is reasonable to suppose that the seed, 
as well as the growers, came from Connecticut, but this is of 
small consequence, since the tobacco raised in New York, Penn- 
sylvania, Ohio, and Connecticut was approximately of the same 

Mention is made from time to time of small quantities of 
tobacco raised, usually for home consumption, and so far as 
testing it goes, the possibility of success was pretty early estab- 
lished.**® Little more was said about the matter during the wild 
scramble for fortunes in wheat, but in the early '50's, when that 
crop failed both in quantity and price, the tobacco experiments 
were renewed. Dodge, Kenosha, and Jefferson counties reported 
small quantities of tobacco in 1851, and in the latter county one 
farmer estimated that at six and eight cents ?i pound he could 
clear forty dollars an acre above expenses.^^ These were feeble 
beginnings, and the conservatism and inherent difficulties attend- 
ing the establishment of tobacco as a crop stood no show of 
being overcome in the face of the momentary boom of wheat 

^Wisconsin T6b<uico Reporter, February 1, 1895. 

^The experiment of raising tobacco in Wisconsin has been tried this season, 
and succeeded beyond expectation. — "Ndes' Register, LIX, 80 (1840). 

»T7»ro»«. State Agr'l Soc, I, 239; Wis. Farmer, lY^ 22; Pat. Office Kept, 
Agriculture, 1851-52, p. 465. 


prices in 1854. It did, however, seem in a fair way to gain a foot- 
hold till in 1858 an early frost all but ruined the crop, and in the 
following year less than nine thousand pounds were raised. The 
number of acres is not obtainable but that amount ought not to 
require above eight or ten acres. 

It was not till 1853 and 1854 that tobacco found the spot des- 
tined to be its favorite in Wisconsin.*^® It was at the time that 
the Pomeroys, above mentioned, came from the Miami valley, 
Ohio, where members of their family had introduced tobacco 
culture some fifteen years before. This venture in Ohio had 
proved an unqualified success, and these young men brought with 
them the thorough knowledge of the business requisite for mak- 
ing a similar record here. 

"It was in March, 1853, that Ralph Pomeroy came to Madison 
from the Miami valley, Ohio, where Pomeroy had previously 
grown tobacco. In company with J. R. Hiestand they rented ten 
acres of land of Hiram Hiestand, five miles south-west of Madi- 
son on Syene Prairie, at five dollars per acre. The field was 
planted with the old Connecticut seedless variety. The crop was 
a fine one — very large growth; estimated to yield at least a ton 
per acre. To cure the crop they built a two tier pole shed, in the 
then Ohio style, and borrowed rail fence enough to hang it on 
with twine, instead of lath [as] at present. . . . The first 
storm after the crop was harvested drove the shed flat upon the 
ground, while the rain washed sand down the hill and nearly 
covered the tobacco. . . . The tobacco was stripped and 
sold to Dewey and Chapin of Janesville at 3j4 cents per 
pound. . . . This was undoubtedly the first tobacco ever 
marketed in the state. . . . The next season [in 1854] they 
[Ralph and Orrin Pomeroy] raised their first crop of tobacco in 
Rock county." ^^ That this was the first tobacco marketed in the 
state is hardly true but the error is unimportant. 

We have, then, the independent introduction of tobacco grow- 
ing by people from at least three diflferent states, yet it would 
seem that the reasons for attributing its success to the Ohio peo- 

■* However, there had been one attempt by a Connecticut man to raise tobacco 
near Lake Koshkonong; (which county of the three bordering the lake is not 
stated) in 1851. It grew well, but was lost in curing. See Wisconsin Tohaoco 
Reporter, September 25, 1885. 

''Wisconsin Tohaoco Reporter, October 21, 1885 See, also. Issues of Decem- 
ber 5, 1879; August 24, 1883; November 23, 1804. 



pie are fairly good. It was the Ohio immigrants who happened 
to enter the section best adapted to tobacco growing ; it was they 
who persisted in its culture through adverse circumstances; and 
it was in their communities on "Tobacco Prairie," "Wheeler 
Prairie," and "Albion Prairie," that the first considerable quan- 
tities were raised. It was from these neighborhoods that tobacco 
culture spread among. the Norwegians who have ever since been 
its principal cultivators. 

During the next ten years the same little farce was played again. 
In i860 the price was high and it seemed that tobacco was going 
to be raised in considerable quantities, but again the price of 
wheat came to the rescue, and the farmers were saved from pros- 
perity. The shutting off of the southern supply of tobacco cre- 
ated a new demand on the northern grown crop but this was no 
greater comparatively than the increased demand for almost all 
other farm products. There was a tendency to quit wheat and 
go into tobacco, but the expense of building sheds, and the ques- 
tion of the required fertilizers were hindrances,^^ and by the close 
of the war the prices had dropped again* This depression was 
of short duration and by 1868 the sixteen to twenty cents a 
pound — in depreciated money of course — was sufficient to coax 
the growers into new ventures.®^ All went well for two or three 
years, but in 1871 the price slumped to one-third of that of the 
year before, and remained below remunerative figures for an en- 
tire decade. The acreage naturally declined, reaching low water 
mark in 1876, when Dane county had hardly more than is now 
planted in a single town. Again, the new decade opened auspi- 
ciously. The price climbed steadily upward and the acreage in- 
creased correspondingly, until in 1883 the unprecedented price 
of a quarter of a dollar a pound was paid by a few reckless buy- 
ers. Within the next two years the acreage had doubled. Men 
who knew nothing of the business beyond the startling fact that 
more than three hundred dollars had been made on a single acre 
in one year, became growers on a large scale.'* The beginners 
always produce a poor quality and are thus a constant menace ta 
the business; but, seeing their neighbors reap more profits from 

*^ Wisconsin State Journal, April 20, 1864. 
«Pat. Office Rept., Agriculture, 1871, p. 405. 
^Wisconsin ToJ)acco Reporter, February 15, 1884. 


a ten acre lot than they themselves had received from a quarter 
section, it is little wonder that a large number were willing to 
stake their holdings on the lottery.** The inevitable happened: 
over production, poor quality, disgust — and the year 188(5 saw 
the quantity reduced as abruptly as it had been increased. The 
price began at once to recover, and at a fair level remained re- 
markably steady for half a dozen years. The acreage responded, 
but in a modest manner, and it was fourteen years before the 
mark set in 1885 was again touched. It was under this steady, 
but solid growth that tobacco won a permanent and dignified 
place in Wisconsin husbandry. Yet for the fifth time the middle 
of the decennial decade brought a depression. The prices in 
1895 were only about half as high as in 1890 and the acreage 
followed approximately the same ratio. As in each of the other 
decades the closing years brought a gradual recovery and at the 
-end of the century the price was high and the acreage twenty-five 
per cent, beyond that of the preceding prosperous periods.** 

It is a remarkable fact that with all the excitement over the 
increase and spread of tobacco culture it is confined to a very 
limited area. In 1898, approximately a quarter of the entire 
crop of the state was raised in the four southeastern towns of 
Dane county; in 1899^ these towns raised a fifth of the entire crop 
of the state. Had it so happened that the southeastern quarter 
of Dane and the northern part of Rock had fallen within the 
lines of one county as it might easily have done, a full half, or 
even more, of the Wisconsin tobacco crop would regularly be 
reported from a single county. The question of accounting for 
this has met with varying solutions. Is it a social question? 
Manifestly not ; for as we have seen before there were plenty of 
men from tobacco growing states other than Ohio, scattered over 
the southern part of Wisconsin, who began the culture of the 
plant. Neither can it be explained on the basis of Norwegian 
settlements, for there are plenty of these industrious foreigners 
in other parts of Dane county and of the state. The slight differ- 
ences in climate are wholly inadequate to settle the matter, so we 
are, perforce, driven for the explanation to the other main ele- 
ment in agriculture, viz. : — the soil. It may be seen by compar- 
ing a geological map of the United States with a map showing 

^Wisconsin Tatacco Reporter , February 20, 1885. 

** Tables showing acreages and prices will be found at the end of the chapter. 


the tobacco areas that the limestone valleys and the tobacco dis- 
tricts in a rough way coincide. This is particularly true in Mas- 
sachusetts, New York, and Ohio. Southern tobacco need hardly 
enter into our discussion, since it is of an almost entirely different 
quality and does not compete to any serious extent with the 
northern grown leaf. Northern tobacco, it may here be stated, 
is valuable for its leaf primarily. It is used in making cigars, 
and the size and texture and color of the leaf are of much more 
consequence than the flavor. To produce those qualities the soil 
must be rich, and of such a nature as to permit a very rapid 
growth in a latitude so high that the summers are but about 
three months between the frost dates. The quality of soil best 
for tobacco is discussed at length in the tenth Census Report 
and the statements there made are fairly well borne out by the 
subsequent history of the crop. The leading tobacco journal of 
the state sums up the matter of soils about as well as it can be 
done in a few lines : — 

"There are three classes of soils recognized by the tobacco 
growers of Wisconsin. First, the calcareous sandy; second, 
clayey soils, light and dark, and third, prairie soils. The first 
produces a plant that matures a week or so earlier than the others ; 
the leaf is apt to be light in color, elastic, thin, and silky. On 
quite sandy soil the leaves often grow rough, lack tenacity and 
very often [are] devoid of the main essential, gum or finish, as 
it [is] more commonly called. Clay soils varying from light to 
heavy grow a good quality when not too heavy, and well drained. 
The timber growth of this soil with a hazel undergrowth, after 
the second or third crop, will produce the very finest quality of 
leaf grown in the state. On heavy clay the tobacco seems in- 
clined to grow too thick and coarse. The third class of soils, 
prairie, produces by far the greatest proportion of Wisconsin 
leaf. It is naturally rich, deep and black, and when well drained, 
as most of it is, the very best results are obtained. . . . The 
soil lies loose and requires less cultivating than clay soils and is 
less liable to wash. The largest yields per acre are obtained from 
prairie soils."*' 

"A rich sandy loam is probably the best, and as color is some- 
thing of an index to quality, a soil that is of a brown or grayish 

^WUcontin Tohacco ReporUr, March 18, 1885. 


cast is to be preferred. But whatever the color or quality of the 
soil, if it is thin and lies upon a cold subsoil which is saturated 
with water until late in the season it is useless for tobacco, for 
the plant will not grow with a chill at its roots."*® This brings 
out the fact that tobacco land cannot be chosen by a novice, and 
that even the best of judges depend more upon experiment than 
upon any preconceived notions. It would seem to the writer 
after an extended trip through the tobacco district that the above 
observations as to the color of the soil are hardly warranted, and 
that more stress might be laid on the excellence of the "sandy 
calcareous" soil. 

The different classes of soils here enumerated are not mutually 
exclusive, for some of the prairie is also of a calcareous nature, 
and when this happens to be the case it no doubt constitutes the 
choicest of tobacco land. Within the limestone area of Wis- 
consin a more specific classification of tobacco soils can be made. 
Of the four principal limestone soils, two are used for tobacco 
growing: the Trenton, and the Lower Magnesian. These soils 
have more friable loam than is found in the higher and more 
rugged Galena limestone and are better drained and richer than 
the Niagara limestone. Neither the Potsdam nor the St. Peters 
sandstone districts have become important in tobacco production. 


Shall tobacco be raised for a long number of years on the same 
ground or not, is a question that growers are still asking rather 
than answering. So far as practice goes there cannot be said 
to be at present any regular system of rotation. Tobacco land 
requires so much manure, and the manure used is of such a 
crude kind that it would be folly to attempt the preparation of a 
new tobacco plot every year or two. It is no small undertaking 
to get a piece of ground ready for tobacco, as can be easily un- 
derstood by any one who comprehends the high state of tilth 
and fertility to which it must be brought. Tobacco of good 
quality can be raised on the same land year after year, and the 
cumulative effect of the manure makes it possible to produce a 
given quantity with less expense than where a new piece is taken 

^Wteeonsin Tobacco Reporter, May 13, 1892. 


each season. The amount of manure used varies greatly, but it 
is safe to say that very few farmers who grow tobacco put 
fertilizer on any other field, and for the most part, they "buy, bor- 
row, and steal" every available load for miles around. A wagon 
load is a very indefinite quantity but it is usually estimated that 
somewhere from twenty-five to a hundred loads must be put on 
each acre each year. Thus it often happens that the cash expen- 
diture for manure is ten, twenty, or thirty dollars per acre, while 
the labor of getting and applying it would amount to an equal or 
greater sum. Commercial fertilizers have not been used in any 
important quantities, though their qualities and cost are often a 
subject of debate. Wood ashes are always in demand, as it has 
been found that they have a good effect when mixed with other 
fertilizer. The value of ashes lies, of course, in the potash which 
they furnish and this is of consequence in growing a crop which 
produces a great quantity of leaf. The same principle explains 
the preference of tobacco growers for horse manure, it being 
rich in phosphates which are also needed in growing a leaf crop. 
The result of this heavy fertilization is that the soil becomes sur- 
feited with nitrates, by far the most expensive plant food, 
yet these ingredients in excess usually are unfavorable to 
grain or grass. Another important reason for keeping tobacco 
on the same ground year after year is the freedom from weeds 
of a piece of land where it has so long been sure death for a 
weed to show its head. In many old tobacco fields the plowing 
and other cultivation done in the spring and again in the late 
fall keep the weeds so thoroughly subdued that little trouble 
is experienced during the short growing season of mid-summer. 

For a long time it was believed that no system of rotation was 
needed and even yet an occasional field may be found where to- 
bacco has been raised continuously for fifteen or twenty years, 
and very many of them where no break has been made in its 
tenure for a decade. But in general it may be said that six or 
eight years is as long as it is kept on a single plot, and since few 
growers have been in the business longer than the extent of two 
such periods there can be little said of the tendency to turn a piece 
of land back into a tobacco field after it has once been changed 
to something else. 

It is within the past ten years that the question of rotation has 
come to be seriously considered and then only in a tentative 


way. Occasionally a tobacco grower asserts that proof is 
available to show that more rotation will result in better crops. 
"Instead of planting the old fields again try a fresh field. If 
the grower has not a piece of cleared woodland, try the pasture 
lot or any rich land that has never before been into tobacco. The 
most satisfactory results, however, have been obtained from 
woodlands that have been cleared and the virgin soil has yielded 
some beautiful tobacco. It is the fresh soil that g^ves the open 
grain leaf, so much in demand at the present time."*^ Yet as 
late as May 13, 1892, the same writer had given advice the very 
opposite of this: "Equally fine crops have been grown on land 
upon which tobacco has been raised after tobacco for a series of 
years, and if you have a small piece of land such as is described 
above,*® better results will be obtained by keeping it in tobacco 
year after year, fertilizing it highly, than to change." 

Almost without exception com is the crop to succeed tobacco, 
and unless it be in very dry years the yield is remarkably large. 
The abnormal amount of nitrogen in the soil is taken care of by 
the corn and there is not the danger of an excessive growth of 
leaf and stalk, which would almost certainly prove the ruin of a 
crop of small grain. Corn is usually planted on such ground 
several years in succession, and then clover or grass, though 
small grain may be introduced earlier in the series if the nitrates 
seem to be sufficiently reduced to warrant it. 

With such a plethoric condition of an old tobacco field in mind, 
it is hard to convince any man who wants to grow tobacco that 
the crop is one which exhausts the soil. Almost without excep- 
tion the growers claim that tobacco takes less from the soil than 
do potatoes, or com, or wheat, arguing that the leaves draw 
their substance principally from the air. No doubt they have 
heard that leaves do get their carbon from the air, but carbon 
has little in common with nitrates, phosphates, and potassium 
compounds, and the man who can show that these substances are 
taken from the air directly by tobacco will be entitled to a rare 
medal. A few comparisons tell the story: 

*^ Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter, March 13, 1806. More testimony, March 20 
and 27 ; also same for July 6, 1894. 

"See quotation lot same date on pa^e 97f. 


Containing Per Cent, of : 


















6 594 

*It takes bad bntter to contain more than one-half per cent, of *' nitrojg'enons matter/ 
and this will have a very small percentage of nitrates. At the Wisconsin Experiment 
Station it has been estimated that five cents' worth of fertilizer is lost in 

made from one cow in a year. 

in the bntter 

No one denies that raising grain year after year upon a farm 
will eventually reduce its fertility, even cheese has the same 
tendency, while butter has the least to answer for in that regard 
of any important farm product. There is more plant food taken 
from the farm in one ton of tobacco than in a hundred tons of 
butter, or, there is as much plant food taken from a single acre 
of tobacco in a year as will be carried off in all the butter that 
can be produced on the largest farm of Dane county. 

It may as well be acknowledged that tobacco is a crop that 
keeps up a continual drain on the soil, and facing this proposi- 
tion, consider whether or not it pays. The fact that the soil in 
the tobacco district is as rich, or richer, than in other parts of 
the state is not a pertinent argument. It is due to two causes: 
First, the soil in this district is the best in the state; second, the 
tobacco growers have exerted themselves to the utmost to keep 
it up to a high standard; they have utilized the available fertil- 
izers to an extent unknown in other sections. But the test is 
one that cannot be made in a few years, and much more intelli- 
gent judgment can be passed on the matter after the duration of 
tobacco culture can be reckoned in quarter-century periods 
than now when it is a matter of only a fraction of that time. 
From the experience of the old tobacco states but one conclusion 
can be reached: Tobacco is an exceedingly exhausting crop, 
and the question of keeping up the fertility of the soil is an ever- 
present problem. 


After all, the area planted to tobacco is small ; in Dane county 
it is only about ten per cent, of the acreage once sown to wheats 
and when the whole state is considered it drops to a small frac- 
tion indeed. In the towns where the most is raised the ratio to 
the whole area has never equalled one to ten; yet the most en- 
thusiastic tobacco men are continually advising the grower to 
plant less, and not more. A prominent tobacco dealer of Stough- 
ton who was for years engaged in growing tobacco on his own 
land estimates that five acres is as much as can profitably be 
grown on an eighty-acre farm. This would allow but 1,440 
acres in a town were it equally distributed over the entire extent, 
but such a distribution can never be made, and in order to reach 
that amount in the aggregate many eighty-acre farms produce 
twenty or, more acres each year. In 1893, with an acreage very 
much less than at present, and with prices almost as good, our 
tobacco editor, so frequently quoted, is eloquent in his appeal to 
his constituents to go into dairying as a means of keeping up 
the fertility of the tobacco fields, especially as an antidote to 
over-production, against which, as an imminent catastrophe, he 
forever warns them.*® 


In the first place the ground must be in process of prepara- 
tion some months in advance. A few years ago it was customary 
to plow once in the fall and twice in the spring, but at present 
one plowing is considered sufficient, and this is done but a short 
time before planting. If tobacco has been raised on the land the 
previous year some mode of cultivation to prevent a second 
growth IS desirable, and a disc harrow is a satisfactory tool for 
the work. Manure is spread upon the ground any time during 
the fall, winter, or spring. Occasionally a top dressing, is ap- 
plied after the ground is plowed, but does not seem a very popu- 
lar method. One of the most important considerations of the 
whole process of tobacco growing is to have the ground in good 
shape before the crop is planted. It must be mellow and warm. 

The seed bed is the next care, and much depends upon the 

^Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter, December 15, 1893. 

'•A careful account of this Is given In the Tenth Census Report, but great 
changes have taken place since that time. 


skill with which it is prepared and tended. Much theorizing and 
experimentation have been done in this connection, but in a gen- 
eral way it may be said that the best results are obtained from an 
outdoor bed made in some sheltered spot as soon as the weather 
will permit in the spring. It was at one time thought of great 
consequence to burn some brush on the bed in order to destroy 
weed seed and animal life in the soil, but this is practiced very 
much less of late. As early as the danger of hard freezing is 
past the seed, which has already been sprouted, is sown in the 
bed, and canvas is stretched over it as a protection against wind 
and frosf. The seed used should be entirely free from weed 
seed, as all weeds must with scrupulous care be kept out, and 
it is difficut to pull any great number of them without injuring 
the small and tender tobacco plants. When the little plants are 
about two inches high the cloth covering is taken off and they 
become toughened somewhat by exposure to the sun and wind. 
It is of great importance to have them ready for setting at the 
first moment the weather seems to permit, which is usually dur- 
ing the first half of June; they must be large enough to handle 
and if they are kept in the bed long after the proper size — from 
three to five inches in height — is reached they lose rapidly in 

Transplanting has been greatly simplified by the invention of 
the machine for doing the work. As in the case of the gra?n 
binder, this machine came at a time when there was great de- 
mand for such a device on account of the increased quantity pro- 
duced, the high price paid for the product, and the extreme diffi- 
culty of getting the requisite amount of desirable help at the 
critical moment. The first trial recorded in Wisconsin took place 
at Janesville in 1885, the machine being the invention of Mr. 
Maurice Smith of Farley, lowa.*^^ Although many improve- 
ments have since been made, the description of this first machine 
gives a good idea of those now in use : — 

"The machine proper is a carriage having attached in front a 
roller, and just back of that two blades, which together make a 
small furrow in the ground and throw the earth to one side. 
Two boys sitting just behind these blades drop the plants about 

"Another transplanter mnch in nse was invented by Mr. F. A. Bemis of LodI, 


thirty inches apart, with the roots lying in this furrow. A 
scraper under the boys throws loose dirt over the roots, and a 
wheel on the back of the truck presses down the loose dirt. The 
attachment for watering the plant is a box set on the axle, a 
hose leading from the box to the ground, and a valve opened 
and closed by an eccentric on one of the large wheels. It works 
very well, and instead of soaking the surface, waters only at 
the root of the plant. With boys accustomed to feeding, the 
plants should be set very well, and it is said that a man and two 
boys, with this machine, can set as many* as eight or ten can by 
hand. The great beauty of the setter, however, lies in the fact 
that when the farmer has his field ready, he can go right ahead 
and put out the tobacco, not having to wait for rain. With this 
alone to recommend it, if some automatic feed can be arranged, 
the invention will be an invaluable one for the grower. — Janes- 
ville Gazette/"^^ 

The automatic feed has not yet been provided and the tobacco 
planters seem well satisfied with the machine as it is. One of 
the most gratifying features of the transplanter is the manner 
in which the watering is done; the water is applied at the roots 
of the plant and the fine dry soil, gently pressed down by 
the wheel at the rear, seldom results in "puddling," which so often 
gave trouble when the setting and watering were done by hand. 

A writer in 1881 called the hoe "the most important implement 
in the tobacco field," for at that time the greater part of the cul- 
tivation was done in that primitive way, but by 1885 the hand 
hoe was almost entirely put out of business by the horse hoe. At 
present the usual practice is to go over the field once by hand 
to cut out the few weeds missed by the cultivator, but this is a 
light task. The horse cultivator is put at work almost as soon 
as the plants are set and there is little chance of using it too 
often up to the time the leaves are in danger of injury. Tobacco 
grows rapidly, sometimes being ready to harvest in less than 
two months after planting, and there is little time to be lost, for 
unless it be kept moving along at a swift rate it is likely to be 
caught by the frost. 

Topping is done just as the blossom is forming, and suckering 
and worming keep the farmer busy till time for harvest. 

"^Wisconsin ToJxujco Reporter, July 24, 1885. 


Pruning, i. e., removing the lower leaves during the growing 
period, has been discontinued. Harvesting is done rapidly as 
there are but a few days from the time the crop is ready until it 
begins to lose in quality. All members of the family work early 
and late until the last load is in the shed. The women and girls 
do the cutting, the small children the piling, the boys string it 
on lath, and the men haul it to the shed, the whole process being 
done in a single day when the weather is favorable. 

It is after the crop is in the shed that the real trouble begins.^* 
Pole-rot, shed-burn, strutting, etc., etc., keep the owner on the 
anxious seat till at last the stripping and sorting is done, the 
crop sold, and the money in his pocket. The cost of raising is 
estimated roughly at sixty or eighty dollars per acre. 


The variety of tobacco grown is almost entirely the Spanish, 
the "seed-leaf" going out pf favor with the decline in price dur- 
ing the '8o's, since which time very little of it has been planted. 

Wisconsin growers have never been able to produce as fine an 
article as is grown in the eastern states. In 1879, New England 
tobacco graded fifty per cent, wrappers, Wisconsin less than 
thirty per cent.; in 1889 ^^^ percentages^* were about the same, 
and they have not changed materially since. Nor is this all ; the 
Wisconsin wrappers invariably sell at half, or less, than wrap- 
pers from Connecticut ; in fact, a considerable share of "Wiscon- 
sin wrappers" are not wrappers at all but sell as "binders." 


Whether or not the tobacco industry is still an infant, it has 
required as tender nursing by the politician as by the farmer, and 
shows no symptoms of being able to stand alone. It was the tariflF 
of war times that gave the industry its first importance, and with 
all the discussion as to seed, and sheds, and land, and labor, the 
tariff has continued to be the sine qua non of tobacco culture. In 

"The shed Is nsuallj twentj-siz feet wide and sixteen feet bigb. Eyerj 
fonrth board is bung on hinges for ventilation. A shed of this height holds 
f onr tiers besides those bung in the gable ; twenty to twenty-four feet In length 
holds the crop from one acre, and costs about one hundred dollars. 

''^WUcfmHn ToIhkco Reporter, Hay 22, 1891. 


1882 petitions were sent to congress asking that the tariff on Su- 
matra leaf be raised from thirty-five cents to a dollar a poimd. In 
1884 it was predicted that, in case the proposed reduction of 
twenty per cent, on import duty should pass congress, tobacco 
growing in Wisconsin would become a memory.*'*^ In 1890 the 
Sumatra wrappers were taxed two dollars a pound and the Wis- 
consin growers complained that it had not been set at two-fifty or 
two-seventy-five in order to protect them against the product of 
slave labor of the Orient. A small cut in tariff rates under the 
Wilson Act, in conjunction with the powerful stimulus to over- 
production just preceding, worked havoc with prices, and a new 
application of the beneficent remedy was demanded. The Mil- 
waukee Sentinel in 1894, commenting on the depression in the 
tobacco trade, took occasion to remark that dealers and growers 
were principally Scandinavians and Americans, with a small 
sprinkling of Germans and Irish, but they were alike in one re- 
spect — all Republicans — and adds that it would be strange were 
they anything else, for the tobacco industry would soon become a 
thing unknown without protective tariff. A little before this a to- 
bacco grower in addressing a Farmers' Institute remarks that 
**if the present policy is continued it will be only a short time 
till the bottom is completely knocked out, and with the present 
free trade tendencies of the times ... the prospects of the 
tobacco growers are not overloaded with rainbow tints." But 
during the Spanish War the growers had conscientious scruples 
against letting "the constitution follow the flag," and in a me- 
morial to congress protesting against annexation of any islands, 
solemnly resolved that: "a government can only derive its just 
powers from the consent of the governed." The last note in this 
politico-economic refrain was sounded at a convention at Janes- 
ville, October 31, 1901, where it was resolved: "That it is ex- 
pedient for the tobacco growers of the state of Wisconsin to form 
a State Association, whose head-quarters shall be at Madison or 
Edgerton, and whose primary object shall be to unite with other 
similar organizations in protecting the leaf industry of the 
state." ^« 

""Wisconsin Tohacco Reporter, October 17, 1884. 
^Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter, November 1, 1901. 



It is believed by many that the high price of land in Dane and 
neighboring counties is chiefly owing to the tobacco industry. 
There is an element of truth in this, but it is far from being all 
truth. Between 1880 and 1885, the period when tobacco culture 
made its greatest gains, the price of land did make remarkable 
advances. On section 20, Christiana, a farm which sold 
near the beginning of this period for forty dollars an acre 
was later divided up into smaller lots, and with no improvements, 
some of the forties sold at a hundred dollars an acre. Numerous 
instances might be given from which, if taken alone, it would ap- 
pear that tobacco was responsible for about all the advance in land 
values for the past twenty years. But it may also be shown that 
worn out wheat farms in the southwestern part of the country sold 
as low as ten dollars in the '70's and came up to twenty, forty, 
and fifty, within the next twenty years when turned into dairy 
farms.''^ Moreover, the average value of land in Windsor and 
Bristol is about equal to that of Albion and Christiana,*^® yet the 
former towns have been insignificant in tobacco production. 
Again, it is instructive to notice the value of land at some distance 
away; four hundred miles directly west of Dane county, in the 
northwestern part of Iowa, ordinary farms are selling as high as 
seventy-five dollars per acre, and it is a half-day's ride on a train to 
the nearest patch of tobacco. If all these prices are even indi- 
rectly the result of tobacco growing the western farmer has no 
cause to complain of the tobacco tariflF. The fact of the matter 
is that a complexity of causes has resulted in the rise in price. 

As to the higher price given for choice tobacco land there can 
be no dispute, but where the land is not already in shape for 
planting, the premium paid for it is not great. It takes very little 
figuring to see that a man wishing to go into tobacco culture can 
aflFord to pay for the superior richness of the soil which repeated 
applications of manure afford. A twenty-acre farm with even 
modest improvements in the way of buildings, and with half, or 
more, of the land brought up to the highest point of fettility can 

"As an instance of this a farm In the town of Vermont, Section 25, sold 
for eleven dollars per acre in 1873, and is easily worthy fifty dollars now. 
"See chapter on Land Values. 



not be fairly compared in price per acre with a dairy farm ten 
times its size. In the one case the selling price is half contained 
in the improvements, in the other the improvements make a much 
smaller percentage. The possibility of a large income from a 
few acres has induced many foreigners to pay a hundred dollars 
an acre for small pieces of land, thus getting a home with a small 
absolute indebtedness. 


Although in nowise responsible for the introduction of tobacco 
culture, the Norwegians are the main growers and have been al- 
most from the beginning. It so happened that these people set- 
tled in Christiana and Albion at a very early day, and 
during the years of the great Norwegian immigration there were 
always great numbers of new arrivals, with large families and no 
money, keenly on the lookout for an opportunity to earn a living 
and get homes of their own. Here was a rare chance. They 
could buy a small piece of land on time, or become "sharemen"^" 
and plant some one else's land to tobacco, the landlord furnishing 
all the capital; the tenant doing all the work; and each getting 
half the crop when ready for the market. This was an especially 
good thing, in view of the fact that a large part of the labor re- 
quired in growing tobacco is such as can be done by women and 
children. The Norwegians knew nothing about tobacco culture 
before coming here, but they soon became experts, and the same 
reasons that turned their attention in this direction at first have 
kept them in the business. Their standard of life was frugal; 
few comforts, fewer luxuries, rigid economy, and hard work 
have brought many of them up from poor sharemen to owners of 
hundreds of acres. The Americans who grow tobacco usually 
plant a few acres on a larger farm, while the small farms, which 
are the distinctive tobacco farms, are held by Scandinavians. 



In its general appearance the tobacco district is striking'. It 
takes some persuasion to convince one who has ridden through 

^Thls term seems to be peculiar to this locality. 


Other parts of the county toward the tobacco section that he is 
coming to land worth a quarter or a half more than that which 
he has been viewing. 

In the dairy and general farming districts the houses are large, 
well painted, often as fine in appearance as average city resi- 
dences, the barns have a capacious, substantial look, and the whole 
homestead gives the impression of prosperity and comfort. In 
the tobacco section the houses are little more than a story in 
height, and are often in poor repair ; there can hardly be said to 
be any barns, and the omnipresent tobacco sheds are seldom 
painted or shingled. Nor is this all; the crops, other than to- 
bacco, present rather a neglected aspect. At the time of my visit, 
when almost every acre of corn in other parts of the county was 
in the shock, and the fall plowing well under way, there was not 
a quarter of the corn in the tobacco district cut, and hardly a fur- 
row of the stubble ground had been turned. This was as late as 
September 20th, and the corn was long past its best as a fodder 
crop, though the tobacco farmers expressed themselves in favor 
of late-cut corn. Mr. F. A. Coon of Edgerton writes of the to- 
bacco crop : "It is a great monopolist of manure and attention. 
If any crop is neglected it is not the tobacco crop. That must be 
cultivated and fertilized even though the corn is wrapped in 
grass, or the hay crop suffers for want of cutting, ... it 
is usually the petted crop." This testimony is from one of the 
strongest friends of the plant, yet it can be duplicated at pleasure, 
and any observer who does not happen to approve of the business 
will express the same sentiment in stronger terms. It is not 
denied that many men have become rich growing tobacco, but it 
is by no means self-evident that they have done better than their 
neighbors who have farmed on other lines ; they, too, have grown 
rich, as wealth is counted among farmers. Often, side by side, 
two farmers have lived for twenty years, the one growing tobacco 
continuously, the other raising com and cattle, and as they are 
both about to retire it is remarked that one is worth as much as 
the other and the opportunities have been equal. This proves 
very little either way, but it does seem to show that there are 
as great possibilities in ordinary farming and dairying as in the 
much-lauded tobacco farming. 

The poor appearance of the tobacco district is partly explained 
by the system of renting land out in small tracts and putting up 


buildings merely good enough to answer the purpose. It is also 
urged that many of the tobacco growers began with nothing and 
cannot be expected to pay for such high-priced land and put on 
good improvements all within a few years. There is some truth 
in both of these arguments, but the fact remains tliat the other 
parts of the county have more of the appearance of permanent 
prosperity. A system of farming which encourages investment 
in land for the hopes of big returns and no work, as seems to be 
the case where land is held by a man living in town, and let out 
to sharemen, can hardly be commended from either an economic 
or a moral standpoint. 


For the following tables no minute accuracy is claimed. The 
acreage figures are taken from statistics given in the reports of 
the secretary of state ; they were compiled from the assessors' 
books, made out in May of each year, and, therefore, based on 
estimates of what was intended to be planted. The census enu- 
merators invariably find more acres than do the assessors, and 
this is hard to account for unless it be that there is less reserve on 
the part of the farmer in dealing with an officer whose duties 
are of a scientific nature and in no wise connected with taxation. 
No doubt there are many inaccuracies in the best of these figures, 
as tobacco fields are so often small and irregular and seldom ac- 
curately measured. There are still greater difficulties in getting 
representative prices. Each year there is some tobacco which 
sells for a cent or two a pound, and any attempt to average such 
extremes is useless. The prices given are for good grades, the 
highest prices are not quoted and the very lowest are not con- 
sidered at all. For the years previous to 1870 the data are very 
meager; since that time price lists are abundant. The average 
given for 1862-1865 is an estimate made by a government statis- 
tician. However, the table is sufficiently accurate to show the 
general tendency of prices over the main tobacco period. 


Prices and Acreage of Tobacco in Dane County, 1840-1901. 

(Compiled from reports of assessors and censns enumerators.) 




per ponnd. 
























1879. . 























per ponnd. 























^Complete returns were not available far the early period of tobacco raising* 
These numbers represent the number of pounds produced In entire state. The 
acreage relates to Dane. 

tA few sales were made at $.25. 

tThis was the estimate made by assessors, but it is probably 40 per cent, too 
high, as much planting was prevented by the drought. 





As in most new countries, dairying in Wisconsin was slow in 
getting a start. The first American settlers almost invariably 
brought one or two cows with them and were thus more or less 
well supplied with milk and butter. The foreigners just as in- 
variably brought no cows, and it was often some years before they 
were able to buy them. As a consequence butter was always 
scarce and usually dear throughout the first twenty years, unless 
it was for a few weeks during midsummer, when the weather 
would not permit the producer either to ship or hold it for a better 

A glance at the prices paid®* makes it clear that a single pound 
of marketable butter was often worth more in Madison than a 
bushel of wheat, yet with a small investment in cows it was en- 
tirely possible to turn the produce of an acre into seventy-five 
pounds of butter instead of eight or ten bushels of wheat, and 
the cash outlay for maintaining the dairy after once it was started 
was not equal to the expense of raising wheat. In spite of these 
possibilities, and they were thoroughly tested,®^ butter and cheese 
were shipped from other states to Wisconsin even as late as i860, 
while for half or more of the farmers to buy butter, cheese, and 
even milk was so common as to excite no comment.®* The usual 
answer to the query, why was this so, is that farmers were too 
poor to. buy cows and build barns; they had no good place for 

"^See table at the end of this chapter: prices of wheat at the end of the chap- 
ter on wheat. 

•^ Trans. State Agr'l Soc„ I, 239; III, 50; Pat. Office Rept. Agriculture, 1852- 
63, 329. 

*^ Wisconsin Btate Joumalj August 22, 1857. 


making butter, and besides, butter could not well be shipped a 
thousand miles with the transportation facilities then available. 
Let us see : A cow was worth about twelve dollars in 1848 and 
hardly double that within ten years following. The plea that 
barns could not be provided was nonsense, yet some farmers 
argued that cows hardy enough to stand winter weather must 
be had before dairying would succeed. True there were not the 
best of opportunities for taking good care of butter during the 
hot weather, but cheese could be made instead, and that would 
stand shipping to the eastern market. During the cool part of 
the year butter could be handled without loss, and the cost of 
sending it from Milwaukee to New York was only about a cent 
a pound, that is from five to ten per cent, of its value, while wheat 
at a little less per pound for freight could not be carried to New 
York short of twenty to forty cents per bushel during a long 
period of years, and this was seldom less than a third of its value, 
sometimes indeed absorbing the whole.®' 

Of the few farmers who did go into dairying during the wheat 
period there seems to be not a single adverse report given ; even 
v/ith indifferent management a dairy at that time was bound to 
succeed. Occasionally a man kept an account of his receipts 
from sales of butter and cheese,®* and though the amount produced 
was small these were the few farmers who were not in debt at the 
stores ; they were the only ones who believed that tame grass and 
clover would succeed. During the summer months cheese was 
made at home, for there were no factories, and where one family 
had not milk enough for a cheese of respectable size, several 
neighbors would "change milk," one making a cheese one day 
and another the next, out of the combined supply. This may be 
called the germ of cooperative cheese factories. In this primi- 
tive way a fifteen-dollar cow on four acres of land worth from 
two to ten dollars per acre could be made to produce from twenty 
to forty dollars per year ; not a bad percentage, even though the 
necessary labor, otherwise expended in futile efforts to raise 
wheat, had been reckoned at the outside figure. 

These were the conditions up to i860, and it cannot be said that 
they changed much during the war, although prices were high; 

•* Trans. State Agr'l 80c., Ill, 50. 
•*7W<I., I, 133, 167. 


but by 1870 the tide had turned, the census of that year showing 
the product of Dane county to be about a million and a quarter 
pounds of butter — ^a gain of 33 per cent, within a decade. There 
is no occasion to dwell upon the reasons for giving so much atten- 
tion to dairying at that time : it was a mere turning from a dead 
industry to a live one, from a process which was fast sapping the 
soil of its remaining fertility to one which would slowly but surely 
replace the needed richness. From 1870 to 1880 prices were low 
and the increase in butter production was small. 

With cheese a remarkable change had taken place. In 1870 
the quantity of cheese was less than one twenty-eighth that of 
butter; in 1880 it was almost one-sixth. This gjain was due to 
two principal causes: first, the relative price of cheese was high, 
and second, the Swiss people from Green county spread over into 
Dane and engaged in cheese making, since which time cheese has 
steadily taken a more important place. During the '70's cheese 
factories were established in nearly every town; there were two 
in Bristol, two in Dane, one in York, one in Blue Mounds, etc. ; 
but by 1880, or soon after, the most of these were closed for want 
of patronage and the cheese and butter industries instead of run- 
ning side by side in direct competition began to localize them- 
selves with respect to physiographic areas. It may be shown 
that Wisconsin is a cheese-producing state because of climatic 
conditions; it may also be shown that social influences have re- 
sulted in localizing the industry, as in Green county, where the 
map is dotted with Swiss cheese factories; but neither nor both 
of these reasons can explain satisfactorily why there are thirty- 
nine cheese factories in the "driftless" area in the southwest part 
of Dane county and a single one in all the remainder. True this 
section is near to Green county and the Swiss gradually spread 
to the north, or at least furnished cheese makers whenever there 
was a demand for them, but they were equally near neighbors to 
the southeastern part of the county where the single cheese factory 
is found. The explanation seems briefly to be this: There is 
more money in making cheese, especially Swiss or Limburger, 
than in butter. But on the other hand, the whey is worth almost 
nothing, while skimmed milk and butter-milk are excellent feed 
for pigs and calves. In the hilly districts corn cannot be raised 
in large quantities, hence it is useless to attempt raising large 
numbers of hogs. With these facts before him the farmer in the 


hilly region sees a larger profit in making cheese, and the farmer 
in the better com district refuses to patronize a .cheese factory at 
all, and sends his milk to a butter factory. That this is not a 
fanciful statement of the case may be seen in the following table 
made from the assessors' returns for 1894. 

IDaibi Towns. 

Blae Mounds 





MixBD Fabming Towns. 






No. of 





No. of 

Bu. of 


Lbs. of 






























367, (JOO 

Lbs. of 








In these representative towns we find that in the dairy group 
there are not half as many hogs as cows ; in the other group there 
are forty per cent. more. In the dairy group there is a third as 
much corn as in the other, and the amount of butter is less than 
two-thirds that of the mixed farming group, while in the relative 
amounts of cheese made there is no comparison. The conclusion 
is that growing hogs and corn is, other things beifig equal, in the 
estimation of the farmer, the more profitable industry ; but where 
corn cannot advantageously be raised the number of hogs will 
be small, and milk not being needed for feed, cheese will crowd 
butter making out. This analysis would seem to hold good in 
explaining why Wisconsin is a cheese-making state and almost 
no cheese is made in Iowa, which ranks high in butter produc- 
tion; but allowance would also need to be made for the more 
favorable climate for cheese making in Wisconsin. And in gen- 
eral it would be necessary to take the three factors, climatic, social, 
economic, into consideration before making dogmatic statements 

•This Item was wanting, but the estimate Is certainly a low one. 


as to why any particular dairy section makes, or does not make, 
cheese instead of butter. 

The profits of dairying are by no means small. The names 
can be furnished of men who have gone in debt for high-priced 
land and paid for it within a few years, getting almost the entire 
sum from the sale of butter or cheese. One dairy of thirty cows 
brought in twenty-four hundred dollars in the two years, 1899 
and 1900. Others can be cited which have done equally well. 
The labor involved is of course a big item but here as in tobacco 
growing the labor is of a cheap kind and is nearly all done by the 
family. This is an important point. It has never been found 
profitable to hire much help on a dairy farm ; the main part of the 
work is milking and taking milk to the factory, which is done 
morning and evening, and the amount of general farming to be 
done on a dairy farm does not furnish employment for a large 
force of men. It is safe to say that the major part of this indus- 
try is carried on without any hired help at all. Dairying is in the 
hands of the men with large families — Norwegians, Germans, 
Irish, and to a less extent Americans. Hardly a dairy can be 
found, that is, a large one, managed by a man who must depend on 
doing all the work himself or hiring it done ; such a farmer pre- 
fers raising sheep, hogs, horses ; and once in a while a man whose 
interest has long been in dairying, finding himself left to do his 
own work, continues to raise cows, but sells them to his neigh- 
bors. There is little to be said against this custom of requiring 
children to do the work of the dairy ; the work is not excessively 
disagreeable; it is not severe or long continued; it does not inter- 
fere with their school work, or take them away from home, or 
lead to unwholesome surroundings or associations — ^almost every 
count of which must be given an opposite answer in regard to 
tobacco culture. 

There are several reasons why dairying has gained so much 
importance during the past ten years. Instead of the former 
great fluctuation in the price of butter, it being down below cost 
of production in the summer and correspondingly high in winter, 
the price for the past decade has been remarkably uniform for the 
diflFerent months of the year. Winter dairying is common since 
the obstacles in its way have been overcome. Factory-made but- 
ter is of a higher grade than that made on the farm. And fur- 
thermore it is possible to put butter in cold storage and keep it 


several months without any perceptible change in quality, and the 
improved equipments in transportation enable it to go to the best 
market however distant. The whole general average of excel- 
lence in dairy cows has been materially raised by processes which 
make it easy to pay for milk according to the butter it will make, 
as with the "Babcock Test," and the inefficient and untidy dairy- 
man is still further discouraged by the system of state dairy and 
creamery inspection in vogue in almost all dairy sections. Ex- 
pense of manufacture has been, and is still being, greatly reduced 
by the concentration of the business. The good results to be 
gained by the system of establishing skimming stations at con- 
venient intervals over the country or by using hand separators, 
and shipping the cream to some common center where it can be 
handled by experts and made into gilt-edge butter at the lowest 
possible cost, is a problem not fully worked out. But there has 
certainly been an "industrial revolution" so far as dairying is con- 
cerned, and it is still in progress. Moreover, dairying is self-sus- 
taining; there is no constant nightmare of over-production, or 
fear that the addition of a new island to the flag, or the diange in 
the political complexion of congress will pauperize those depend- 
ent on its prosperity. To the anxiety of tobacco growers over 
tariff, and frost, and hail, and drought, the dairyman is almost a 

As to the details of managing a dairy farm little need be said 
to anyone familiar with dairying in any part of the upper Missis- 
sippi Valley. With the exception of a comparatively small num- 
ber of dairies kept primarily for the sale of milk by the quart, they 
are all of a plain business-like sort. Little fancy stodk is kept, 
and little fancy or unusual feed used. The cows are a motley 
lot in color and breed, there seldom being a herd showing much 
uniformity. In the mixed farming sections the Shorthorns are 
the most common; in the dairy sections there are more Jerseys, 
Holsteins, Guernseys, and what not, each cow being chosen for 
individual excellence, primarily for dairy purposes, yet with the 
secondary object of producing a fair amount of beef; as to the 
ratio in which these qualities should be combined there are about 
as many opinions as farmers. The feed of the dairy cow is grass 
in summer; no soiling is practiced, though a very small feed of 
meal is sometimes given at milking time. Almost invariably 
green com is fed in the fall as soon as it is well grown or as socm 


as the pasture begins to fail ; this fodder also constitutes one of 
the standard feeds for winter and is usually cured in the shock 
and fed in an open yard, though occasionally it is cut or shredded 
and fed in a manger. Clover and timothy constitute the prin- 
cipal hay, which, together with corn and oats, sometimes ground^ 
but as often whole, and possibly a few pumpkins or turnips, make 
up the ration. 

Probably dairying has worked a greater change in the people 
engaged in it than has any other kind of agriculture in the state. 
During the wheat period it was customary for the German to 
get up early, harness his team, eat a light breakfast, and at six, 
or six-thirty o'clock, go to the field, where in a slow but steady 
and painstaking way he would plod along at his work, stop 
about ten for lunch of brown bread with ham or sausage 
and a few cups of coffee, take an hour or a little more for his din- 
ner, repeat the program in the afternoon, reaching the house a 
little before dusk even in the longest days, and after taking the 
harness from his horses, and eating supper, go to bed; the 
"chores" were invariably left to his Frau. This routine in a 
little less methodical manner was carried out by other foreigners 
and even by many Americans, though the latter always worked 
fewer hours and at a brisker pace. These various nationalities 
have all gone into dairying, and their habits of work have under- 
gone a transformation. They still must arise early in the morn- 
ing but the first duty is to get the milk started to the factory and 
in this the boys and girls have a part. Breakfast comes at a later 
hour and by the time the teams are started to the field the sun is 
high. The leisurely manner of the farmer of a generation ago 
will not do now, and with a fast-moving team, with little lingering 
at the ends of the field, with the lunches omitted, the Germans as 
well as the rest have adopted the genuine American hustle. 

Dairying is here to stay. If it does not offer as many possi- 
bilities for sudden wealth as does tobacco, it is less of a lottery, 
and has fewer failures charged to its account. It will go on mak- 
ing the soil richer for an indefinite number of years. It is to the 
ameliorating effects of dairying that tobacco farming owes its 
success and permanence, and it is fast coming into favor as a sup- 
plement to that industry.^*^ It is, however, the opinion of both 

^Wisconsin To'bacco Reporter, December 15, 1893. 


dairymen and real-estate dealers, that the price of land in some 
parts of the county has gone beyond the point where it will be a 
profitable investment for dairy purposes. To make any net gain 
at dairying on land at a hundred dollars an acre, with interest at 
five per cent., requires keener business ability than most farmers 
possess; and these conditions are likely to continue while there 
are such limitless possibilities for dairying to spread over north- 
ern Wisconsin and other similar districts. 


1836 45 to 50c 

1840 to 1850 — Reported by old settlers to have been worth 3 to 5 
cents In summer and 25 cents in winter. 

1851 .10 to 12%c 

1855 20 to 25c 

1860 9 to 15c 

1865 15 to 40c 

1870 25 to 38c 

1875 16 to 25c 

1880. 18 to 25c 

1885 : 15 to 22c 

1888 10 to 16c 

1889 15 to 29c 

1890 14 to 28c 

1891 17 to 30c 

1892. ..*. 17 to 31c 

1893 20 to 33c 

1894 16 to 25c 

1895 17 to 25c 

1,906 15 to 24c 

1897 14 to 23c 

1898 15 to 22c 

1899 16 to 27c 

1900 18 to 29c 

1901 18 to 25c 

1902 ! 19 to 29c 

1903 20 to 29c 



Amounts produced. 











* Batter and cheese. 




• ••■•■•••••••9- 























In studying the size of estates®* for an early period either for 
the state of Wisconsin or Dane county, it is necessary to notice 
several chapters of contemporaneous history. To begin with, 
the movement of settlers to this district began at a time when 
wild-cat banking was at its height, when paper money was as 
easily made as paper cities, and both were offered on long time, 
easy terms, and small payments. Several of these paper towns 
contended for the location of the capital of the new territory, 
which had been cut off from Michigan in 1836, and within a few 
weeks it was located at the Four Lakes. This was by no means 
an accident, for although hardly a man on the territorial council 
had seen the spot, or even knew where it was, there were at least 
two men who knew very definitely — these were the governor of 
Michigan and the man destined to be the first governor of Wis- 
consin. Their powers of persuasion exceeded that of any 
of the rival aspirants, each of whom had the best possible 
site for the city which was variously located from Des 
Moines, Iowa, to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Be that as it may, 
the location of the capital city at Madison had a direct influence 
on the adjacent country, and during the same year a large amount 
of land was purchased, proximity to the new city being the main 
desideratum. The size of the purchases ranged all the way from 
single forties taken by men who carried the chain in surveying 

**The term estate Is used to mean the amount of land owned by one person. 
On the size of the eartates, which Is surely an exceedingly Important Item, In- 
yolylng as it does the subdivision or concentration as the case may be, In land 
ownership, the censuses are uniformly silent. In the report of the eleventh 
cMisus (see "Agriculture by Irrigation," p. li this matter Is disposed of by 
the naive remark that "a person can hav© >mr one farm unless the estate Is 
•0 large as to require a resident farmer upon each tract." 


parties, to half a dozen sections gobbled up by eastern politicians, 
prominent among whom was Daniel Webster, who for a time 
owned the land on which Stoughton now stands. The average 
size of these purchases was somewhat above six hundred acres. 


We will pass over a considerable number of years including 
the panic of 1837 and the period of slow recovery which fol- 
lowed, since they furnish nothing of importance to our subject. 
Sales practically ceased for a year or so; many of the large es- 
tates changed hands frequently and by 1850 few of them re- 
mained. During the early '50's the influx of Germans and 
Norwegians directly from Europe, having but little ready cash, 
resulted in a multitude of small purchases, and in 1854 the aver- 
age purchase was ninety-two ocres; this was raised very mater- 
ially above what it otherwise would have been by several exten- 
sive purchases by speculating companies. There are no figures 
available, but a study of the old entry-book, the various plats for 
the '6o*s. together with the manuscript census returns for 1870 
show that these settlers added to their original homesteads an 
occasional forty or eighty. This is well indicated in the census 
reports, it appearing that the farms below fifty acres decreased in 
number about sixteen per cent., while those above that increased 
nearly sixty per cent. Again, in i860 the farms between twenty 
and fifty acres not only ranked first in numbers but comprised by 
far the largest aggregate acreage, while in 1870 those from fifty 
to one hundred acres exceeded the smaller class in the aggregate 
area and also outnumbered them. 

The census returns for 1880 and 1890 throw very little addi- 
tional light on the question under consideration; there is, how- 
ever, a steady falling oflF of the number of farms below one hun- 
dred acres ®^ and a corresponding gain of those above that figure 
from 1870 to 1890. So far as the small farms are concerned this 
showing is no doubt correct and not wholly without meaning. 

"See note at beginning of this chapter. It is impossible to dlsfcuss this 
Kubject without some comparison with the census returns, but it must not be 
forgotten that estate and farm are two distinct things, although they do not 
•In the towns worked out minutely (see below), differ widely in number and 
are for the most part Identical. 


but not so much can be said of the larger ones. Here we have a 
group from one to five hundred acres inclusive, and in 1890 
nearly three-fifths of the farms in Dane county fell within these 
hmits, but it signifies next to nothing beyond the bare fact that 
farms had on the average increased in size. Within these wide 
limits are comprised the hundred-acre farms which are by no 
means few, the hundred-twenty-acre, the hundred-sixty, the two- 
hundred, and the two-hundred-forty acre farms all of which 
are commonly met with, not to mention the half-sections 
which appear in every towilship. All of these are dumped 
promiscuously together as though it were of but slight conse- 
quence what changes happened so long as the acreage remained 
above the hundred mark, yet the average for the year 1890 was 
one hundred twenty-four acres ; thus the major part of all farms 
are, so far as classification is concerned, within this wholesale 
grouping. However, there are a few above and below these 
limits that reveal some general tendencies. For example, there 
were four farms above five hundred acres in i860; in 1870 these 
had disappeared; in 1880 there were forty-three of the size men- 
tioned, while in 1890 they had dropped to twenty-eight. Turn- 
ing to the other end of the list we find the number of farms of 
twenty acres and less decreasing until 1880 and then increasing 
some twenty-five per cent, by 1890. These results are not be)rond 
explanation. The small farms were not suitable to wheat culture 
and especially when that crop began to fail these little farmers got 
rid of their few acres as best they could and went farther west or 
gave up farming altogether. With the advent of the tobacco 
industry the small farm was given a new lease of life, and odd 
scraps, or even portions of large farms were brought up and 
turned into tobacco farms. It is not so easy to speak definitely 
regarding the unusually large tracts. 

As stated, there were four farms of over five hundred acres in 
i860. The number is small at most, and part of these consisted 
of poor, undesirable land which had hardly advanced beyond gov- 
ernment price. The lack of any further tendency toward con- 
centration in ownership is of more consequence than the mere dis- 
appearance of these four large pieces by 1870. 

As explained in another connection the value of land failed to 
respond to the general rise in prices during the period of green- 
back inflation, and hence was not a favorite object of investment, 



railroad bonds and the like taking precedence. The soldiers were 
inclined to do business on a larger scale than they had been con- 
tented with before, and this tendency was manifested in at least 
two lines; they either sold their small farms and went west or 
they bought out their neighbors and so increased their acres. 
These causes together with financial changes resulted in a rise 
in the price of land finally, and by 1880 the large farms of 
over five hundred acres had risen to forty-three, the greatest num- 
ber since the early days of speculation. The average size of 
farms for the county at this date was one hundred twenty-eight 
acres. The falling off of large farms during the period since 
1880 will easily come within the more detailed discussion of the 
different parts of the county. 


The data on which the following comparisons are based are 
taken from the manuscript census reports of 1870, from the 
Dane County Atlas, by Foote & Company, of 1890, and the Atlas 
by L. W. Gay & Company, 1899. These are fortunate dates, the 
first being about on the dividing line between the wheat period 
and the time of diversified farming, and the atlases dropping in 
so closely to the census dates since that time.®® 

Eight towns chosen with reference to physiographic and social 
conditions have been considered separately at these dates : Albion 
and Christiana in the southeastern, Vermont and Perry in the 
southwestern part of the county, the others variously located. 
The estates are divided into seven groups, which happens to be 
the same number used for farms in the census, the main differ- 
ence being the more minute classification of the estates of over 
one hundred acres. 

The towns of Albion and Christiana lie almost wholly within 
the rich Trenton limestone area which has proved to be the 
choicest tobacco district of the state. Vermont and Perry are in 
the "driftless" portion of the county, are rough and broken, ^nd 
in consequence have gradually turned to dairying. Vienna and 

■*The federal census reports do not give town returns, and the manoBcrlpts 
are not to be had subsequently to 1870 because of the mortgage statistics ancL 
kindred matter which Is thought to require secrecy. The state census reporta 
contribute nothing of value on the subject. 


Fitchburg are fairly representative of the mixed-farming district. 
York was taken because of its wholly disproportional share of 
the sheep of the county, while Dane is kept in the table as an 
example of negative results which are likely to obtain where the 
classification is on too broad a scale. 

Table showing size of estates in representative towns for the years 

1870, 1890, 1899. 




No. OF Estates. 

Whssb Locatkd. 

Under 10 









Over 320 

Total No. 
each year. 

Average in 

MixBD Kabhimg Towns. 

























138 8 





















143 9 















Tobacco Towns. 
































81 9 

Daibt Towns. 

Perry ;. 













154. & 

















It will be seen that in 1870 the number of small estates, say 
below twenty acres, was about the same' for the different towns, 
what difference there is, however, being in favor of the towns 
which still lead in this respect. This was on account of social 
rather than economic causes ; the poorest of the foreigners some- 
times dividing a forty into two or more pieces while the Ameri- 


cans usually scorned such little patches. Running over the dif- 
ferent groups for the year 1870, one can draw no particular infer- 
ence respecting the different types of towns. It appears that 
the same kind of farming had resulted in farms of approximately 
the same size, and the variations that do occur seem to be the 
result of social forces, or mere chance. It is noticeable that 
in the tobacco towns the number of estates below forty acres 
increased frran eighteen in 1870 to two hundred four in 1899; 
a very large increase; while in the case of estates of one hundred 
sixty to three hundred twenty acres the decrease is more than 
fifty per cent, and estates over three hundred twenty acres 
have all but disappeared. In dairy towns estates below forty 
acres show a decided falling off ; the next larger group increases 
up to 1890 and then takes a considerable drop ; in the remaining 
groups the increase in number is definite and almost uniform, 
though not very great Thus the tendencies in the dairy district 
seem almost the exact counterpart of those in the tobacco district, 
the latter showing a movement toward small estates, the former 
toward those comparatively large. In the three towns character- 
ized as mixed farming areas we find but few estates below forty 
acres and they seem to be disappearing since 1890. The medium- 
sized estates show a slight increase in number, while those which 
may be called large, that is above one hundred sixty acres, have 
declined in numbers in every instance. Dane remains, and here 
we have a paradox. The number of estates in each group, with 
the single exception of the one comprising those above three 
hundred twenty acres, decreased between 1890 and 1899.®® When 
the plat of the town is seen this peculiar result is at once ex- 
plained: there has been a general increase of size within each 
group, but it so happens that the larger share of the farms have 
their boundaries enlarged by the addition of a twenty or forty, 
and still stayed within the group, yet thirty-two estates disap- 
peared altogether. The exception to the decrease seen in the 
largest sized estates is of no significance as the additional one is 
not extremely large. 

It may be noticed further that in the town of Christiana the 

••The first of the two groups is here omitted on account of the difficulty 
of distinguishing estates from wood-lots belonging to someone a few milee 
distant, often in another town or even another county, but there are few small 
estates in the town and the result could not thus be seriously changed. 


average size fell from eighty-two acres in 1890 to seventy-seven 
acres in 1899. During the same period the change in the town 
of Perry was from one hundred eleven acres to one hundred 
twenty-three acres; yet if these two be averaged there is little 
meaning to the result. 

No better illustration of the point in question could be found 
than the census figures for Wisconsin which show the average 
size of farms to be one hundred fourteen acres for the years 
i860, 1870, and 1880, yet all sorts of changes must have been in 

It may be of some slight consequence to know that the size of 
estates in those two towns is on the increase, just as it may be of 
some avail for a dealer in fruit to know that the average price pet 
bushel of apples, pears, and grapes taken together has fallen ten 
per cent., but before he makes further sales or purchases it will 
be necessary to inquire into the market. Thus before anything 
can be predicated as to the changes in landed estates it would seem 
desirable to know what is taking place under the various systems 
of farming within definite physiographic areas, and during 
periods of time which have some business significance, rather 
than to take arbitrary divisions of both time and territory, and 
adding together the like and the unlike, strike general averages, 
into which, and out of which, the economist and the historian 
may read results illustrative of pre-conceived notions. 

It may finally be said that there is positively no tendency in 
this county toward either large estates or large farms. 




In discussing the values of land at the various periods it is nec- 
essary to deal with data gathered from many scattered sources 
and differing widely in trustworthiness. Anyone who has given 
the question of real-estate values serious consideration is aware 
of the fact that the subject is a slippery one. Politicians, and 
even historians, talk glibly about the rise and fall, or the stability 
of farm values, without giving any basis for the generalizations, 
and if the present treatment does nothing more than to show 
unmistakably the character of the matter that must be wrestled 
with before dogmatic statements should be made, it is felt that 
some purpose has been served. Not that it is impossible to 
arrive at definite results; by no means; but that unusual care 
must be taken, and the figures must be criticised, corroborated, 
and subjected to conscientious analysis before conclusions worthy 
of the name can be reached. To begin with, it seems desirable 
to pass in review some of the more weighty obstacles which con- 
front the man who has occasion to pass judgment on the value 
of a farm as compared to the difficulties in valuing personal prop- 
erty. It may be said that in the case of valuations for assess- 
ment of taxes it is the latter, not the former kind of property 
that causes the trouble. Very well; but the question of finding 
personal property and of putting a fair price on it when once it 
is brought to light are two very distinct propositions. 

The kinds of personal property which are considered fit sub- 
jects for taxation are, almost without exception, such things as 
are daily bought and sold on the market. Perhaps an importer 
of fine woolens may hoodwink the custom house officer into list- 
ing it for a third of its actual value, but this is a fault to be 
charged to the clumsiness of the system as well as to intrinsic dif- 


ficulties involved in judging cloth. The same can be said of mer- 
chandise in general ; it also holds good in the case of bank stock 
or live stock — ^they are daily and hourly put upon the market in 
large or small quantities as circumstances may determine and 
what they bring may be taken as their real values. And will not 
the same hold true of real estate? It will, unquestionably, ex- 
cept — and the exception is the all-important thing to be under- 
stood — ^that land is not normally a kind of property to be bought 
and sold in the ordinary course of business transactions which 
the wants of man and the division of labor make necessary. For 
the most part the sale of land pre-supposes a change of business 
or a change of residence, which is entirely wanting in the usual 
buying and selling of chattels. This is entirely true of rural real 
estate however it may vary in the case of cities. Very few farms 
are the subject of speculation, though they are sometimes so con- 
sidered when held for long periods by non-residents as perma- 
nent investments. Another difficulty comes in the matter of 
classification; cattle, grain, groceries, what not, can be put into 
grades and quoted at prices with reasonable accuracy, but in 
grading land only the roughest outlines can be set and even these 
must be elastic or they will be obliterated by over-lappings and 

Another difficulty, and this probably as serious as any, is in the 
records of sales. The carefulness and accuracy with which rec- 
ords of transfers of land are made may seem at a glance to make 
it possible to investigate this phase of prices more easily than in the 
case of personal property, but when the purpose of the record is 
considered the balance is found on the other side. When even 
so loose an authority as a newspaper quotes wheat at fifty cents, 
and calico at ten cents, at a date now out of memory, it may safely 
be assumed that these prices are approximately correct. In the 
first place there are probably no reasons for deliberate misstate- 
ments ; more than likely the accuracy may be tested by comparison 
with other quotations. And, moreover, the sole purpose of pub- 
lishing the price-list was to let it be known that goods could be 
bought and sold for the sums named. On the other hand, a piece 
of land IS sold, and the deed, containing a statement of the con- 
sideration, is recorded by a county officer and the record carefully 
preserved. But the ultimate reason, in fact all save ^he only rea- 
son, is to furnish proof that the farm was sold by one person to 


another, each of whom was competent to be a party to such a 
transaction, and each properly identified as the person whose 
name appears in the instrument of conveyance. As to the price 
named it is a mere form to satisfy one of the fundamental requi- 
sites of a contract, that is, that there n\ust be a consideration. 

We find, then, that the consideration named in the deed may 
bear almost any possible relation to the price actually paid. 
In the concrete instance of Dane county it will be seen by a 
mere glance at the early record books, that there is no possibility 
of tracing any considerable proportion of sales for those years. 
The complications resulting from partnerships when small un- 
divided fractions of widely scattered pieces of land were sold, or 
worse yet, traded for merchandise in Baltimore or bank stock in 
New York, render the whole mass unintelligible. So dropping 
these we turn to smaller individual sales and the confusion, 
though very much less, is still sufficient to preclude any possibil- 
ity of satisfactory results. A man sells a piece of land, classed 
by the assessor or census-taker as improved land; the improve- 
ments may vary from a mere trifle to the major part of the value. 
Nor is this all ; there may have been some personal property trans- 
ferred, either one way or the other, and pride, carelessness, or 
dishonesty may have prevented any mention of it in the deed. 
In going over some hundreds of records in the office of the reg- 
ister of deeds it was found that out of every hundred there were 
a few obviously unreliable, not to mention such transactions as 
involved chattels. For example, a farm is sold three times within 
a year, and although land is known to be advancing in price, the 
sum named in the deed remains the same. This is not a clear 
case of failing to name the sum actually paid but in all proba- 
bility it is such. Another class of transfers which must be dealt 
with cautiously are those where land is transferred from one to 
another member of the same family, yet after the family is gone 
from the vicinity it is unsafe to label every transfer of Smith to 
Smith as one of this class, and again, even the suspicion of such 
a case may be hidden by the different surnames of persons who, 
after all, belong to one family. A mother deeds two pieces of 
land to two married daughters, the price named is a nominal one 
taken at a hazard, or merely to strike a rough balance of accounts 
and yet these figures will slip into a list made up by a serious in- 
vestigator for scientific purposes. 


Shall we then conclude that it is a hopeless task to arrive at 
credible results in the rise and fall of land values? Not at all. 
It does, however, appear plain that no one method is without 
faults, and therefore that all possible checks and comparisons are 
needed, but more than all these, the worth of the results depends 
almost entirely on the knowledge, patience, and skill of the one 
on whose judgment the elimination, balancing, and computation 

It seems reasonable that the history of the transfers of a given 
piece of land, about which the exact conditions of each transfer 
may be known, is much more valuable than an aggregate of sales 
where little or nothing is known in detail ; and also that the recol- 
lections of men who helped to make the history of the times, and 
whose business it was, in part at least, to know the selling value 
of land, is testimony worthy of careful consideration. It is in 
this composite way that the material for the following discussion 
was obtained. The elements entering into land values will be 
touched upon at the close of the chapter. 

To begin with we will notice the significance of the aggregate 
sales and average prices for a series of years as reported by the 
register of deeds.®** 

Land sales of Dane county. 

Year Ending Sept. 1. 



No of 







Acres sold. 




Price per 

$2 84 
17 05 
21 80 
20 91 
32 24 
31 40 
29 00 
31 00 

43 50 
46 65 
45 60 

44 30 

•«For the years before 1885 the figures were made out directly from the 
ord books at the office of register of deeds. 


Before 1845 little land sold under warranty deed, and the land 
that did change hands was for the most part in the nature of 
transfers of preemption rights or a sale of the improvements 
where the land itself was reckoned at government price and the 
purchaser of the improvements took his chances of getting it 
whenever it should be put upon the market. By 1845 many mort- 
gages fell due and in very few instances was the mortgagor ready 
to meet his obligation and this must have been the cause of many 
transfers. There was so much fairly good government land 
still to be had it is unreasonable to suppose that the land, 
aside from the improvements, could be worth much above the 
original dollar and a quarter an acre. This supposition is well 
borne out in the price for which land sold, for on an average 
there was a margin of but one dollar fifty-nine cents to include 
both the value of the improvements and the rise, making it prob- 
able that the rise was practically nil. Ten years later the matter 
had a decidedly changed aspect. The reasons are apparent : gov- 
ernment land had ceased to be a factor in land values, since little 
of a desirable quality remained ; the excitement over wheat dur- 
ing the boom of 1854 resulted in a marked rise in land, and al- 
though the boom was exceedingly brief, a considerable part of 
its force was expended between September i, 1854, and the fol- 
lowing spring, that is, within the year for which the figures are 
taken. Thus in all likelihood the average price is not only higher 
than for any previous year, but the rise during the year ending 
September i, 1855, was proportionally greater than for any pre- 
vious year. The inability to meet payments was still a great fac- 
tor in land sales; in fact, it was during the 'so's that the influ- 
ence worked out its greatest results, and, as is often remarked by 
the oM settlers, a comparatively small proportion of the pioneers 
kept the land first entered. They sold out when compelled to do 
so, and moved to a location a little less desirable, or to one where 
a farm could be had on time, and began again. 

In 1865 the results are interesting. The number of sales was 
less than half that of 1855, while the price seems to have ad- 
vanced in about the same ratio as in the preceding decade. But 
it must be remembered that this seventeen dollars an acre was 
reckoned in greenbacks, which were worth about seventy cents 
en the dollar. Thus it is entirely fair to say that land had not 
risen over about two dollars per acre, and this would certainly 


not exceed the value of the improvements made since 1855 ; or in 
other words, land had failed to make any rise whatever. The 
explanation is simple: land had faifed to respond to the general 
rise of prices because the farmers had gone to war, leaving an 
inadequate force to carry on the ordinary farm operations; the 
general unrest of the times led many to seek new homes in the 
farther West, thus putting their Wisconsin farms on the market 
at a time when buyers were few. Wheat \^as not yielding re- 
turns for the immediate expenses of raising; it could not com- 
pete with the new lands of the West, and other crops were not 
sufficiently well established to create a demand for land on which 
to grow them ; as a result, much old wheat land was not wanted 
at any price. 

This might seem to mark the year as an abnormal one, but 
when it is remembered that the same conditions had existed for 
three or four years before, and continued till near the close of the 
'6o's, it appears to be a fair example for our purpose. It is the 
year 1875 that is farthest removed from the normal, for here we 
find the sales to be less than one-seventh as many as ten years 
before. Again the reasons for the situation are not obscure. The 
price of land had made a considerable advance as business recov- 
ered its stability in the early '70's. With the collapse of 1873 
sales became few, but did not reach the lowest ebb till two 
years later, by which time the discouraged farmer was rejuctant 
to put any more money into land, and yet he was equally reluctant 
to sell at a sacrifice. This is reflected in the figures of the table ; 
the few farms sold, brought a fair price.®^ Emigration 
to the West had continued, but this was partly offset by the new 
system of farming, and the inventions in agricultural machinery, 
both of which enabled a farmer to manage more land with a 
given amount of labor. It was, then, conservatism rather than 
any active agency that kept land, from sinking below the prices 
reached in better times,®^ and the new elements in farm economy 
were still too rudimentary to force the price up. 

It would seem, then, that the results of the table are fairly re- 
liable in the sense of showing the general trend of farm values. 

•^OurreDcy was now worth about $.87%. 

•2 In 1880 there were twenty-three thousand, eight liundred seventy-two acres 
sold at $20.91, but this was on a gold basis and, therefore, does not represent 
a decline. ► I i ; i 


In the first place, the number of sales is large and therefore the 
percentage of error coming from the unusual instances should be 
small. Another matter of consequence is the comparative insig- 
nificance of the improvements throughout this period. True, 
some of them were good, but on an average, they were far from 
it, and thus the upper and the lower limits of prices were 
not very far apart. Land could be classified as arable and 
not arable, and within each of these two classes the variation was 
not great. Since about 1875 these classes have almost disap- 
peared, as dairy farming has made both swamp and hilly land 
more valuable than ever before, and the more desirable lands are 
carefully differentiated according to the crops which they pro- 
duce to the best advantage. Houses and bams, fences and wind- 
mills, and improvements of every description have added to the 
value of many farms from twenty-five to a full hundred per cent. 
The chance element is thus much greater for the later years, yet 
the results do not appear meaningless. 

By 1883 business was again brisk and land was once more in 
the ascendency, 32,929 acres being sold at an average price per 
acre of $32.24. The year 1885 shows a little drop from this in 
both acres and price, but the change is not sufficient to warrant 
any generalizations. Perhaps it was due to the fall in the price 
of farm produce, but just as likely the discrepancy would be ex- 
plained by a minute classification and comparison of the land sold. 
It was at this time that tobacco land firs.t began to command a 
premium ; also the hilly land in the southwest part of the county 
rose in price as never before. A year is a short period in the his- 
tory of land and it often happens that for a given year there will 
not be over two or three sales in one town, while a dozen are made 
in a town adjoining, with no visible reason, and the next year 
may see the matter reversed. The sales of 1887 seem to show a 
decided drop in price, 9,299 acres selling at twenty-nine dollars. 
In the first place, the sales are small and it is possible that a third 
of this was swamp land, which always goes at a low figure ; but 
without guessing, the apparent decline can be shown to be nothing 
formidable. The report of the register of deeds gives the sales 
by towns and we find that more than one-fourth of the land sold, 
2,521 acres was in five of the poorest towns of the county, and 


this land averaged less than seventeen dollars per acre, while in 
five of the towns where land was high, only 1,046 acres changed 
hands, but the price was more than forty-five dollars per acre. 
The average taken within a single town means little enough, but 
when the average involves towns lying in districts so unlike as 
the tobacco section and the dairy section^ of Dane county, the 
vagueness of the result is obvious. In reality the prices of land 
in both these sections advanced between the years 1885 and 1887, 
and it was the mere incident of many sales in the one and 
few in the other that gave the appearance of decline. In 1890 
the sales were well distributed among the towns, and the price was 
approximately as in 1885. Between 1880 and 1885 there was 
much excitement over tobacco growing, and choice land for that 
purpose sold for one hundred dollars an acre. During the last half 
of the '8o's the tobacco business experienced a relapse, and this 
accounts for the small number of sales in that district, while at 
the same time the interest in dairying continued, and in conse- 
quence there was a marked movement in lands suitable for that 
purpose. A general averge conceals these facts and appears to 
show a decline in all land values. 

Coming to the latter part of the '90's, we have some excellent 
data on the subject of values. The Wisconsin State Tax Com- 
mission has calculated the value of all property of the state, and 
its method of computing farm values is no doubt as reliable as 
any yet in use. Thev took the whole number of sales as reported 
by the register of deeds for the years 1895 to 1899, inclusive, and 
after eliminating such as were obviously not bona fide sales, the 
acres sold in each town were taken year by year and the rate per 
cent, of assessment to selling price computed. This was done 
for each town for each of the five years. Then an average rate 
was struck for the period and with this ratio of assessment to sell- 
ing price, or true value, and the total assessed value, the true 
value of all land of the town was found, the process being merely 
a case in simple proportion. With this elaborate process it turns 
out that the average value of land for the entire county during the 
five-year period is forty-seven dollars per acre. This, it will be 
noticed, is a trifle higher than it would appear from the prices 
based simply on the assumption that actual sales may be taken as 
, representative, but the difference between the two results is not 


serious. No doubt the percentage of assessment to selling price 
gives the better basis for estimating values, yet for the purpose of 
showing the general movement of prices the average of sales 
seems fairly satisfactory; at least the same percentage of error 
which appears in the results by this method for the period 1895 to 
1899 would not be sufficient to change the general trend, and for 
reasons already given it is believed that the error would be much 
less over a good part of the early period. Again it may be said 
that land has never yet declined in price in this county. The av- 
erage for 1896 is higher than in succeeding years, but as shown 
for a previous year, this deceptive average comes from an uneven 
distribution of sales. In the few dairy towns where land is cheap, 
eight hundred acres were sold at about twenty-two dollars per 
acre, while in four towns in the opposite corner of the county 
more than three times as many acres changed hands at fifty-five 
dollars per acre. In the years following, when the price seems 
lower, the sales in the dairy section were two or three times as 
great, and in the other section much less than for the year 1896. 

It is of interest to notice that the valuations of real estate for 
the four distinctive tobacco towns fall below that of four other 
towns where almost no tobacco is raised. This, however, may 
not be considered a fair comparison, as the town of Madison, 
where proximity to the city gives an added value, was included 
in the latter group; but taking four towns in the northeastern 
part of the county, where there is not even a village of any con- 
sequence, the price of real estate falls but little more than two per 
cent, below that of the tobacco-growing section. Surely this is 
conclusive evidence that tobacco growing is not responsible for 
any considerable part of the advance in farm values ; yet, as before 
admitted, the very choicest of tobacco land sells higher than any 

In looking over the records for some forty or fifty pieces of 
land, with data as to improvements and quality of land, it is re- 
markable that the results coincide closely with those reached by 
the statistical treatment used above. The prices in the individual 
cases are much higher, but that is because no swamp or hilly land 
was considered. Swamp land is still sold as low as five or ten 
dollars per acre, and some of the roughest land is hardly salable 


at all. The choicest land is worth nearly one hundred dollars an 
acre where improvements are an inconsiderable part of the value, 
and a great deal of land with good improvements, say three thou- 
sand dollars worth on two hundred acres, sells for eighty dollars, 
leaving the bare land at sixty-five. 

With land at this high figure can it go still higher, or must it 
cease to rise? In the first place, the causes" of the present high 
price are of interest. No one pretends that the average farmer 
can make actual returns on the investment in the highest-priced 
land ; far from it. It takes the best of them to make more than the 
current rate of interest. Yet land not only shows no tendency to 
drop in price, but persists in climbing steadily upward. In the first 
place, the entire agricultural community has implicit confidence 
in the stability of farm values ; on the other hand, they expect a 
decline in the rate of interest, and they often express the belief 
that an investment in land, where the returns are three or four per 
cent, a year, is sure to be better in a term of years than twice that 
rate from other investments, because of the rise in the value of 
the land itself, and because of the comparative safety of land as 
an investment. There have been not a few instances of men who 
have felt that land at eighty dollars an acre was not yielding 
proper returns and so disposed of it, but on getting hold of the 
money found no better place to put it, and again bought land at 
a price as high as that received. Land, above all other kinds of 
property, is the best place for the man unfamiliar with business 
to invest his money. The owner of land has a honie; living in 
the country is much less expensive than in the city or even in a 
village ; and besides, many people prefer to live in the. country. 
The constant increase of the conveniences of farm life must also 
be a factor in keeping the price of land at a high level. Just as 
improved street-car accommodations raise the price of suburban 
property, so the telephone, now to be had almost as cheap in the 
country, as in town, the free delivery of rural mails, the improve- 
ment of country roads, the lessening cost of comfortable and at- 
tractive carriages, must result indirectly in adding value to the 
farms. The cheapening and improvement of farm machinery 
gives a chance for added net returns, and perhaps more than any 
or all of these influences the constant falling in interest charges 
makes land a favorite investment. What effect the latent pos- 


sibiHties of the West have in store for us will not be known until 
irrigation is reduced to a more scientific basis and extended to 
fields as yet untried. This might conceivably have somewhat the 
effect on the Mississippi Valley that the latter had on the farming 
of the eastern and middle states, but at present the limit of the 
upward trend of land values is not in sight. 




The table below, showing density of population, has been care- 
fully made out with the intention of giving changes in population 
actually on farms. This has not been altogether possible, but 
where villages are included the fact is mentioned. 

The first thing of interest is the large population of i860, and 
the comparatively uniform distribution over the county, indicat- 
ing that about all the available land was occupied. From i860 
to 1870 ten different towns show a decrease; that was, at least in 
part, owing to the large numbers who entered the army and failed 
to return, or who returned, but with others had gone to the new 
lands of the West before 1870. 

At least twenty-three towns show a decline in the decade fol- 
lowing, this being the time of the greatest exodus of discouraged 
wheat growers in search of greener fields. At the same time 
there was a marked increase in some half-dozen towns, and with 
unimportant exceptions the increase was in Albion, Dunkirk, 
Christiana, and Pleasant Springs, that is to say, in the towns that 
were fast coming to the front in the new business of tobacco 
growing.®^ Farms were divided, either by sale or rent, and more 
help was needed to raise tobacco than had been required in gen- 
eral farming. 

From 1880 to 1890 there was a decrease in some fourteen towns 
and an increase in about an equal number. Here we find the 
same influences at work. The increase is in the tobacco district, 
following the spread of the crop to new towns, noticeably Burke 
and Cottage Grove. The increase in tobacco culture and the in- 

•«Dane and Cottage Grove srhdw increases, but this was owing, for the most 
part, to villages which had recently taken a start. 



crease in density of population, fail, about this time, to coincide 
as closely as during the earlier period because the application of 
machinery to tobacco raising made it possible to dispense with a 
part of the labor, and also because the tendency to subdivide farms 
has been less pronounced since about 1885. 

In the last decade twenty-two towns show a gain, and eight a 
decline, the rest being the same as before or doubtful. Here 
the trend seems to vary from former periods in some par- 
ticulars : the tobacco sections show an advance of four per cent ; 
while the advance of the whole county is eight per cent. Evi- 
dently those who desire small farms for tobacco growing are find- 
ing them outside of the distinctive tobacco district ; this might be 
hard to establish, but it is certain that tobacco culture has spread 
to nearly every town of the county, and that within the last ten 
years. In the general farming towns the better culture practised 
in all respects has resulted in the employment of more farm la- 
borers, and the tendency toward smaller farms®* means an in- 
crease in density of population. 

It remains to speak of population in the dairy section. In the 
towns of Perry, Montrose, Springdale, and Vermont, there has 
been an almost uniform decline for the three decades since dairy- 
ing became important. Vermont, which has become more ex- 
clusively a dairy town than any other in the county, shows a 
decline in population of almost thirty-four per cent, during the 
thirty years. The remaining towns which show declines for the 
whole period are those where dairying is fast gaining on other 
kinds of farming, as in Middleton and Oregon.** Still, two more, 
Roxbury and Berry, show a marked decline in population and 
these towns are not easily classified ; they are settled very largely 
by Germans; are, for the most part, hilly and broken, and as 
wheat growing, which persisted longer with them than in other 
parts of the county, had finally to be given up, the hills were 
turned almost entirely into pastures. The conditions and the re- 
sults are thus practically the same as in the dairy district, and no 
doubt these towns will before long be classed as dairy towns. 

A smaller number of people are required to farm a given num- 

*^See chapterl on Size of Farms and Estates. 

**The Tillagea of Middleton and Pheasant Branch were larger in 1870 than 
In 1800, but the exact nnmbers cannot be fonnd. 


ber of acres by dairying than by any other system of farming in 
this section, and the decline in population in the dairy district 
means that an economic, adjustment is taking place and tells noth- 
ing as to prosperity or dissatisfaction of farmers in general. 

Considering the county as a whole, the substantial gain in 
rural population during the past ten years would hardly seem to 
mark it out as a good subject for dissertations on "rural depopu- 



Density of population per square mile, 1850 to 1900,* 

































86.8 - 



























Barry ; 

25 9 

Bloomlnff Orovo ,-■,*■,-, r- 


87 8 

Rln* If nniMlfl 

29 1 


85 2 



84 2 




Cottase OroTO 


Cross Plains 



25 9 









If asomania 


Modina , »,..,, , 













44. St 







29 2 










P'eflsant StHnfirVr. t 














flnn Prairie...! 








^^ G4 vDQCw •^ •«.«««^j» •••• «••• •••• 





*Thi8 table is partly taken from a thesis on the **The Social and Economic DoTel- 
opment of Dane County," by F. E. Harrigan, University of Wisconsin, 1901. The 
other parts were worked out from the Census Reports. 

t For this and preceding years a villaffre was included. Black Earth and Madi son 
are omitted because it is impossible to separate the village and city populations from 
the rural. 

1 For this and preceding years a village was included. 

8 Probably this included inmates of the insane asylum . 










XJ >1 «\ *l _*^1., 

XI k:|/.7 * 
V '^ > X \ 






S 5 ^ a 

„ TS fl) •^ _^ 


O Oi 



at OB W4 
CD w -M Od "3 

t4 3 O r* » 

U f^ Q 

_ bi 

o &< 

n 93 



a d 3 

^ n n Q P3 

at d) 



Di 00 IS S 
S 5 ±i S 

S d 
0) o 

US rt g 
Q SQ S > S 




r< etf « 




^ a 

g3 d>l 
S n t> m pk 


Ti^BLE I — Principal farm crops. 














390,174 ^ 













118, SOO 

(and rye) 

1860 ... 

























Table II — Principal farm stock. 


No. of 
horses . 













No. of 


No. of 







No. of 



No. of 






Table III — Miscellaneous, 



























• • • • • 



(c. t.) 






• # • • 






« • • ■ • 


• • • • • • • 

JloOU • • • V 












■ • • • 


















XW^Va • • • 

IMXl • • • • 







American State Papers: Public Lands. 

Census Reports — National and State. 

Claim Association of Johnson County. 

Iowa. B. F. Shambaugh. Iowa City. In. 1894. 

Dane County, History of. A compilation. Chicago, 1885. 

Dane County, History of Madison, and Surroundings. D. S. 

Durrie. Madison, 1874. 

Journals of Congress. 

Life in the West. N. C. Meeker. N. Y., 1868. 

Life in Prairie Land. Eliza W Farnliam. 2^. Y., 1846. 
Norwegian Immigration. Rasmus Anderson. 

Patent Office Reports — ^Agriculture. 

Proceedings of American Association for Advancement of 

Public Domain. Thomas Donaldson. Washington, 1884. 

Senate Documents (U. S.). 

Statistics of Dane County (pam.) Anon. Madison, 1852. 

Transactions of State Agricultural Society (Wis.). 

Wisconsin. I. A. Lapham. Milwaukee, 1844 and 1849. 

Wisconsin, History of. W. R. Smitfi. Madison, 1854. 

Wisconsin, History of. Tuttle. Boston, 1875. 

Wisconsin, History of the Territory of. Moses C. Strong. 
Madison, 1885. 

Wisconsin, Industrial Resources of. John Gregory. Mil- 
waukee, 1855. 

Newspapers and Periodicals: 
Belmont Gazette. 
Buffalo Advertiser. 


Newspapers and Periodicals — continued 
Dubuque Visitor. 
Elgin Dairy Report. 
Madison Argus. 
Madison Express. 
Michigan Pioneer Collections. 
Milwaukee Advertiser. 
Milwaukee Sentinel. 
Niles' Register. 
Wisconsin Enquirer. 
Wisconsin Farmer. 
Wisconsin Historical Collections. 
Wisconsin Local Histoty-Collections. 
Wisconsin State Journal. 
Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter.