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Full text of "Indian Corn.: Genesis of Reid's Yellow Dent"

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576 



INDIAN CORN. 
Genesis of Reid's Yellow Dent. 

By William Reid Cubran. 

The Corn, product of the earth; ark of the secret of veg- 
itable life, the staff and sustenance of that life. The mystery 
of creation and chief illustration of the truth of the resur- 
rection and future life. Chief product of creation. The Cre- 
ator's most complete blessing to His creatures and of all cre- 
ated material things, the crowning act. It has within itself 
the element of the earth that we call death; by it Life is per- 
petuated, it must needs go into the earth and die. If it die, it 
will live again. It has within its golden casket the most vivid 
picture of the destiny of man. When it dies, it yields again 
that generation within its narrow house and comes forth to 
newness of life; comes bounding out into the sunshine, to live 
anew and continue to bless the world. 

Look at the glorious field, as it stands waving its 
prophetic arms in the July sun, full of life and song, its very 
breath fragrant with the promise of harvest and blessing to 
the world! See it — glorious vision of waving- emerald sea. 
As the summer grows older, it produces the most marvelous 
flower spikes of any known plant and fertilizes the shooting 
ears that come forth, with tropical luxury, almost in a day. 
The flowering of the corn and the shooting of the ears is one 
of the marvels of nature. As we gaze, we see the hand of the 
Creator performing anew the miracle of feeding thousands 
with less than five loaves and two fishes. We see the abode of 
the clods of the valley made into the House of Bread; abun- 
dance comes to take the place of want; wealth and opulence 
fill the room of pinching poverty. We should marvel not then, 
that the red man danced for joy when the green corn was fit 
for food. That the corn dance was expressive of his thankful- 
ness to the great Spirit for his bounteous blessings. We 
should marvel indeed if civilized man did not thank God also 




James L. Reid. 



577 

for his bounty for the same cause. Look on the waving, ripen- 
ing field, when the maple and oak leaves are turning red. Its 
tasseled plumes are waving jauntily the ensign of victory. 
Watch the bended caskets, bursting with golden fatness. The 
fulfilment of promise, the reward of faith and intelligent 
effort. 

This vision adds a new meaning to the majestic words of 
the ancient Hebrew prophet and poet, when he says: " There 
shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the 
mountain; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon; and 

they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.' ' 

# # # 

The Genesis of the corn plant is shrouded in the mystery 
of creation. It was called Indian corn probably by common 
consent and usage by the first white man who came in con- 
tact with it for the same reason that the Aborigines of this 
country were called Indians. Columbus started on his great 
western voyage with the purpose of sailing to India and hav- 
ing sailed till he reached the shore, he naturally imagined he 
had found India and called the wondering natives that he met, 
Indians and as they were the primitive farmers who were 
then raising corn, he naturally named it Indian corn. 

While the origin of the plant is surrounded by mystery, 
its actual existence as a food plant, is well authenticated by 
the records of the world, extending over many centuries. At 
the time of the discovery of America, its cultivation as a 
domestic cereal, was extensive over the whole western conti- 
nent. It was among the first objects that attracted the atten- 
tion of those who landed upon our shores. In A. D. 1002, it is 
recorded that Thorwald, brother of Lief, saw wooden cribs for 
corn upon the Mingen Islands, and Karlsefn in 1006 and Thor- 
wald also saw and brought aboard their ship, ears of corn from 
the portion of land that is now called Massachusetts. Columbus 
found it cultivated extensively in Hayti on his first western 
voyage in 1492. Iii 1498 reported his brother having passed 
through eighteen miles of cornfields on the Isthmus. Magellan 
was able to supply his ships with corn from Rio Janeiro in 
1520 and after that American explorers mentioned this corn 
from Columbus' time to that of the arrival of the French at 
Montreal in 1535. De Soto landed in Florida in 



578 

1539 and speaks of fields of corn, beans and pumpkins that 
they found there in great abundance. In 1605, Champlain 
found fields of corn at the mouth of the Kennebec river and 
Hudson in 1609 saw a great quantity of maize along the river 
now known as the Hudson. 

Captain Miles Standish relates that when the Puritans 
landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, they found about five hun- 
dred acres of ground that showed the evidence of a former 
corn crop and that later they discovered a cache where the 
crop was stored. It was this maize that carried the; colony safe- 
ly through the first long and dreary winter and when spring 
came, they began to plant the new plant themselves. " We set 
the last spring some twenty acres of Indian corne and sowed 
some six acres of barley and peas; our corne would prove well 
and God be praised, we had a good increase. ,, We will note 
that Miles did not send the good John Aid en, to plant this 
field or deputize him to write the report of it. All of which 
proves that Miles Standish was a better and more efficient 
officer in the commissary department than he was a lover. 
The Indians at that time knew the value of applying fertilizers 
to their fields. In Mexico, they used ashes for this purpose ; 
the Peruvians used bird guano, gathered from the small 
islands off the coast and went so far as to protect the bird and 
assure the supply, by putting to death anyone who disturbed 
them during their nesting season. The North American In- 
dian, used dead fish as a fertilizer; the Plymouth colonist were 
taught by the Indians: "Both ye manner how to set your 
corne and after how to dress and tend it, and were also told, 
except they gather fish and set with ye corne in old grounds, 
it would come to nothing." This makes plain to us how hard 
it is now to raise a corn crop in classic old New England, com- 
pared with the fat fields of Illinois. 

The point of origin of this plant is left practically to an 
unaided guess by the botanists based upon the characteristics 
of it and its apparent development. There is no doubt that In- 
dian corn originated in America. At the discovery of the west- 
ern hemisphere ; it had been in cultivation so long, that many 
of its forms, had reached nearly the perfection they have to- 
day. There is the same difficulty in positively identifying its 
progenitor as in the case of many prehistoric vegetables now 




West End of Reid House on Homestead Farm. 



579 

cultivated for food by men. It probably originated in Para- 
guay, or on the upper plateau of Mexico and subsequently de- 
veloped into its present form and productive usefulness. 

Corn is so essential to the life and welfare of the native 
tribes of North America, that it has formed the basis of their 
religion; the subject of their songs, and the object of their 
prayers to deity. Corn has now become the greatest crop 
raised on the western hemisphere and we may say with con- 
fidence, in the world. It employes more acres and more in- 
dustry than any other crop, amounting in the aggregate to 
nearly if not quite, as much as they devote to wheat, oats, rye, 
barley, buckwheat and cotton, combined. In its culture, 
harvesting and feeding it provides more employment for men 
than all other agricultural staples, yet in my study of this 
subject, I have been profoundly impressed by the remarkable 
fact that I find in the books, in examining a standard en- 
cyclopedia, I made the startling discovery that the subject of 
Corn occupied ten lines, while the subject of Cotton in the 
same volume occupied five pages and a colored chart. Where- 
upon I concluded that cotton as king of vegetable life, was a 
matter of much emphasis and proclamation, but that corn as 
king, was a matter of sturdy presistent, practical fact. 

# # # 

James L. Reid, was a citizen of Tazewell County and per- 
formed a noble and unselfish work in the development of a 
strain of corn which has given him and the county, world wide 
fame. He was a son of Robert and Anna Moore Reid. He was 
born near Russelville, Brown County, Ohio, December 26, 1844. 

His parents with their family, consisting of their son, 
James L. Reid, and their daughter, Mary Reid, came to Taze- 
well County in the State of Illinois in the spring of 1846, and 
commenced farming on Delavan Prairie in that year. With 
their party, was a cousin William Reid and his family, who 
settled in Mercer County. Robert Reid the father was the 
last of a family of five sons, who left Ohio in response to the 
call of "The West." His older brother Daniel had preceded 
him to Delavan Prairie, his sister Eleanor Reid Glaze with her 
family had previously settled near Tremont in Tazewell 
County and two brothers, Davis and James Reid had prev- 
iously located near La Fayette, in the State of Indiana. 



580 

Daniel Eeid had previously sent word to his brother Robert 
to bring with him seed corn, as Illinois had no corn to com- 
pare with the Ohio variety which the family had before that 
grown. Eobert therefore made space in his covered wagon for 
a few bushel of yellow corn, known as the Gordon Hopkins in 
the State of Ohio, their former home. This was a yellow corn 
having a peculiar copperish red tint below the surface of the 
kernels, but not red corn as many people, not acquainted with 
the facts have thought. The ears were small and very taper- 
ing. The kernels were small and inclined to be flinity. This 
variety was rather late in maturing. 

Eobert Eeid, the father with his family located on a 
rented farm about four miles northeast of Delavan and there 
the seed corn he had brought with him was planted in the 
year 1846 on ground already prepared by his brother Daniel. 
Owing to the lateness of the date of planting crop, that year it 
made only a fairly good development with many immatured 
ears. The best of the matured corn was selected for the next 
year's planting and the result was a poor stand of corn in the 
spring of 1847. The field was replanted with a small yellow 
corn found in the neighborhood, the missing hills being put in 
with a hoe. From the spring of 1847 until the present date, 
this corn has not»been purposely mixed with any other variety 
by the Eeid family, although grown by them and their de- 
scendants annually up to the season of 1918, a consecutive 
period of seventy-two years. 

In the year 1850, Eobert Eeid bought a farm two and a 
half miles northeast of Delavan, described as the northwest 
quarter of Section 2, Town. 22, range 4 west of the 3rd P. M. 
It was upon this farm that the seed of the Ohio variety re- 
ceived special care for fifty-one consecutive years, the father 
Eobert Eeid, keeping it pure, preventing it being mixed with 
other varieties and the son James devoting his especial atten- 
tion to developing the strain in order to meet the needs of the 
commercial world. He was assisted by his brother John and 
his sister Mary, all of whom grew to manhood and womanhood 
on this place. James L. Eeid, when a mere lad, learned to 
follow the plow, select seed corn and developed a knowledge 
of farm management. He was the product of the soil, the 
guidance and example of his father Eobert and not of the 




Robert Reid — 1887. 



581 

schools or universities. He early grasped the vision of how 
much could be accomplished for his fellow-countrymen by the 
development of the character of crops raised to feed the world. 
By the example of his father, he was impressed that diligence 
and excellence were the essentials of farm work. His father 
taught him to read when he was four years old. He had his 
early schooling in the district school and from there, he at- 
tended the academy at Tremont conducted by James Kellogg. 
It was one of the early means of education established in the 
new country. Early in life, he became a student of the Bible 
and of the spiritual lessons they taught. He learned the won- 
derful truth that it is possible for man, the creature to put his 
hand in the hand of the Father and be led in the secrets of 
Nature to make it more abundantly productive. During the 
winter and spring of the year 1865, James L. Reid became a 
teacher in Tazewell County. During that time, he taught the 
Heaten School in the neighboring township of Boynton. Fol- 
lowing this teaching engagement, he began farming on his 
own account near Boynton Center. 

In April 1870, he was married to Marietta Jenks, daugh- 
ter of George and Henrietta Jenks of Tremont. It is apparent 
that while attending the Academy at Tremont, his attention 
was not exclusively devoted to the pursuit of letters. 

From 1865 to 1880, James L. Reid gave special attention 
to the development of Reid's Yellow Dent Corn, raising that 
variety himself exclusively and endeavoring to induce his 
neighbors to cultivate the same variety. In 1880, he yielded 
to the siren voice calling him to Kansas and moved with his 
family to a farm in Osage County in that State. There he en- 
deavored to grow Reid's Yellow Dent Corn by the Illinois 
method. He continued the struggle until 1888. The hot winds 
of August and September of that year, proved fatal to the crop 
and he returned to Illinois and took up his residence on the 
home farm of his father and there continued his work of de- 
veloping yellow dent corn. His father, Robert Reid removed 
from the home farm to Delavan in the fall of 1880, where he 
resided until the time of his death, which occurred in Decem- 
ber, 1888. When Robert Reid removed to Delavan, he rented 
his farm to Mr. John Withrow, who occupied it for seven years 
and continued to raise Reid's Yellow Dent on the home farm 



582 

during that time. During the tenancy of Mr. Withrow, the 
loss of the strain of Yellow Dent Corn being developed, was 
seriously threatened, in the neighborhood of Reid's farm on 
account of an early freeze many farmers lost their seed and 
Mr. Withrow with others, purchased corn shipped from the 
State of Missouri. When the corn was received and they com- 
pared it with the corn in his own crib, the landlord and 
tenant, decided to discard the imported seed, and planted yel- 
low dent corn selected from the open crib, producing a good 
crop. Mr. Withrow was no exception to the general rule 
among tenant farmers. He continued to grow corn consecu- 
tively on the Reid farm, until it was almost "corned to 
death", when James Reid came back to his father's farm in 
1888, he had before him the problem of re- vitalizing and re- 
claiming the old place. He at once established a system of 
crop rotations, procured a herd of jersey cattle and fed much 
of his crop on the land. After he had brought his father's 
farm back to corn producing life and possibilities, he began a 
systematic development of yellow dent corn from the home- 
grown strain. 

The type of corn chosen was an ear of medium size, more 
cylindrical in form than the early type, with rather a smooth 
surface, deep indented grain, bright red cob and clear yellow 
kernels. Considerable attention was given to development of 
well filled butts, and tips, with deep kernels, later the ears 
were roughened more and care was given to the characteris- 
tics of corn stalks producing the crop. Much stress was laid 
upon the thorough maturity of the crop and absolute freedom 
from all appearance of mixture. While he maintained a 
single type of kernel characteristic for show ears, as de- 
manded by exhibitors. When it come to seed selection for the 
corn crop, he chose the ears of corn that showed a high per 
cent of corn to the ear, regardless of kernel, shape and type 
of dent. These are facts that have been controverted by 
various amateur corn' breeders. In the development of the 
characteristics which James L. Reid considered to be of the 
greatest importance to farmers, he worked consistently and 
untiringly. Gradually, under improved soil conditions, the 
type of corn responded to the efforts made for its develop- 
ment, and within a few years the yield in bushels per acre in 
some fields, reached the one hundred mark. 



James L. Reid 

KAST LYNN, VKKM1LION COUNTY, ILLINOIS 

KOUMKKI.Y UK LA VAN*. ILLINOIS 

HHKKDKK (UK 

I Rbid's Yellow Dent Corn 

- ' AMI 

AIKMHKK ILLINOIS COKX HKKKIlKKS' ASSOCIATION 




Reid's Yellow Dent Corn. 



583 

It became the custom to gather several bushels of splen- 
did ears from the fields early in the fall. The best looking 
ones were used for exhibition purposes and the rest kept for 
a part of home stock. 

. In 1891 James L. Eeid made a corn exhibition consisting 
of twelve ears at the Illinois State Fair in Peoria and then 
and' there, received the highest award. This was his first in- 
troduction outside of his home county, and brought James L. 
Eeid the first recognition of the work he had performed. Mr. 
Orange Judd, editor of the Orange Judd Farmer, and former 
editor of the American Agriculturist, was present and was one 
of the judges, passed on that corn exhibit. Mr. Judd 
measured and weighed each ear examined them all carefully, 
and shelled a part of them in order to determine the percent- 
age of corn to the bulk of the cob in the ear. Two years 
later in the famous World's Fair year 1893, James L. Eeid 
made an exhibition of Eeid's Yellow Dent Corn at that ex- 
position. Which won for him the highest "score a medal and 
a diploma. A brief history of the corn, its genesis and de- 
velopment under the name of Eeid's Yellow Dent, accom- 
panied that exhibit. 

In 1893, Mr. Eeid established a retail mail order seed 
corn trade. The corn was sent to many growers in Illinois, 
and neighboring States ; State colleges of agriculture carried 
on experiments covering several years. Shipments were sent 
North, East South and West, also to South America. Eeports 
of yields in different parts of the country proved the corn 
to be adaptable to varying conditions of soil, temperature, 
and length of growing season. The business of the produc- 
tion of this seed corn promises to increase a larger farm on 
which to grow corn, seemed necessary. Only a comparative 
small portion of crop on the home farm, was put on the seed 
market. This, however, required a great deal of labor, time 
and capital. A larger farm would mean more seed corn, 
better facilities for handling the crop and possibly a better 
price for seed. In 1902 the larger farm purchased the year 
previously, was made the home for the family of James L. 
Eeid and the scene of his developing business. It was located 
in Vermilion County, Illinois, near East Lynn. In time a 
large seed house and corn crib were built, including an ele- 



584 

vator ran by gasoline power and geared to run slowly, so 
that seed ears might be selected from the crop at corn husking 
time, was installed. All corn intended for seed was again 
hand-selected and stored where it would thoroughly dry. 
Under his management, early in the spring a great portion 
of his seed was given a germination test. 

High protein and high oil strains of corn was developed 
in cooperation with the State Experiment Station at the 
University of Illinois. Mr. Reid developed ears showing 
under test, as high as 16.85 per cent protein. 

His high tension program of growing corn eight months 
of the year and caring for the seed crop during the remaining 
four months, was exceedingly trying to the health of a strong 
man. In January, 1910, Mr. Reid took his first rest. He 
spent a few weeks in Florida with beneficial results. In 
January, 1910, his health being considerably impaired, he 
again sought the benefits of a Florida climate, but the winter 
was cold and conditions unfavorable. He returned to his 
home at East Lynn in May and on the first-day of June, 1910, 
he passed to his reward. His life work finished. 

In the fall of 1910, Doctor L. H. Smith, Professor of 
Plant Breeding in the University of Illinois, and Mr. W. G. 
Griffith of McNall, Illinois, selected seed from the^ last corn 
crop grown from James L. Reid's seed corn selection. This 
crop had been produced by his son Bruce Reid. 

It was their plan and purpose to keep up as near as 
possible, the strain of Reid's Yellow Dent. Up to the present 
date their purpose has been realized. The widow, Marietta 
Reid, has continued to grow corn from the 1910 crop, in order 
to keep it for the future needs of the grand-children of James 
L. Reid, Harry and Virgil, who seem to be developing agri- 
cultural tastes. 

In his lifetime, James L. Reid was director of the Illinois 
Seed Corn Breeders Association; a member of the Illinois 
Corn Growers Association, was also a member of the Top 
Notch Farmers' Club. 

In 1908 he accepted an invitation from J. Wilkes Jones 
of Lincoln, Illinois and manager of the National Corn Exposi- 
tion at Omaha, Nebraska, to attend the big corn show. Mr. 
Jones gave him most generous public recognition of his 



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585 

achievements in developing and distributing "Reid's Yellow 
Dent." He introduced him as the man who had put more mil- 
lions into the pockets of the corn belt farmers, than any other 
living man. 

While corn was the special medium through which his life 
found expression, yet all lines of farm work, home life, and 
community betterment, received an impetus for good through 
his work and influence. 

He was quiet and reserved in his manner; a generous, 
faithful friend; a public spirited citizen and a man of big 
faith in eternal truths. 

"No life can be pure in its purpose and strong in its 
strife and all life not be purer and stronger thereby."