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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Agriculture in Kansas

Agriculture in Kansas.

The following interesting particulars are furnished by a correspondent to the Field:—

According to promise, I now proceed to state what Kansas is as a new field for English farmers. I beg, however, to be clearly understood that I do not enter into the enticing field of emigration discussion. 1 am no "emigration agent," or "land shark;" I am just one of those who struggled under the same burdens that I. find hundreds battling to overcome. I have myself been through the mill, in every sense of that term, and if I can aid and guide those who are honestly striving to find the best place for them to prosecute, and succeed in their life's mission, my duty is performed. The perusal of the newspaper discussions, which must bewilder and perplex the anxious inquirer, and the increasing private correspondence on this subject, has filled me with a deep sense of the magnitude and serious importance of it. To cover the whole ground in a manner suitable to each case is impossible in a letter. I shall endeavour, however, to simplify much that may be obscure; and, knowing whereof I speak, I do so without the fear of successful contradiction.

It is not every one who possesses the essentials of the successful emigrant. It is utter folly for an almost penniless clerk to expect in any new country to make a sudden fortune at farming. If such must leave home, let him hire out, if only for his board, till he learns the business; then, when he has earned enough to make a start, for himself, he will be likely to have brains enough to make the best use of his own earnings. Gentlemen's sons with plenty of money, and more to fall back on, are likely to need it all, if inexperienced and disinclined to work. I cannot advise a professional man, unless thoroughly clever, to try his fortune solely at his profession in a strange land. Our, no doubt, well meaning friends who say they cannot work, who wish to take their servants with them, and would not like to rough it too much, are sure to find themselves out of place and out of heart when their home luxuries are curtailed; or, it may be, entirely inexpedient in their new homes. Of course, ample means, decided talents, and a fixed determination to succeed, will overcome almost any obstacles; but I am certain that the round man will get sooner into the square hole in emigration matters than in anything else I know of. Let each be satisfied in page 200 his own mind that it is certain he cannot succeed in his present position; find out the business, his means, abilities, disposition, and circumstances best fit him to follow, then at once set about accomplishing it.

The best place for this purpose now engrosses the mind, and much unsatisfactory perplexing study is given to it. It is not my business to say which is the best. I am supposed to be talking to fanners, or those who intend to become farmers; and, knowing as much as I do of the world's fanning grounds, I may aid your decision by saying, that, all things considered, there are none better than the Western States of America, Oregon, and Northern California, and New Zealand. If you can hold on for ten years, my firm conviction is that in the continent, of Africa the farmer will find the best farms the sun shines on. I have myself selected the first-named, and of that I have now to speak.

The climate of Kansas is very similar to that of England; the main features of difference are a drier, purer atmosphere, and the cold in winter and heat of summer more intense; the former, however, acting as a regulator of the latter. Neither is felt to be more oppressive than the cold and heat of England, except during a few intensely cold days of an occasional cold winter, or a few days in a hot summer, with a cold north or a hot south wind blowing, as the case may be. I have myself suffered more from the raw, wet, chilling cold of this mild winter here than I ever remember doing in Kansas, with the thermometer at zero, or below it.

Like England, Kansas is liable to sudden changes; but these are always during the transition from winter to summer, or summer to winter, when they may be looked for. The winds, too are troublesome, having such a sweep over an unbroken territory; but these, with the exception of an occasional storm, which never lasts long, are not a whit more severe than what I have faced in my travels during the past two months. And then, when the storm is over, a number of fine days follow, making it safe for me to say that the twelvemonth through, there are five fine days for one bad day; while here I have hardly been out of storms, perpetual rain, or snow, and positively not seen the sun for weeks.

To those afflicted with consumption, I would say that the air and climate of Kansas are very favourable, particularly in the earlier stages: if advanced, injudicious exposure I have known to be trying; but by care the consumptive will find a true friend in Kansas. "For rheumatism?"—Yes, the climate is even more favourable than for consumption. A neighbour of my own left London, despairing of his life from this disease. He has been there seven years, and only once has the old enemy visited him, and then it was his own fault; being an ardent, extraordinary worker, he exposed himself during a wet spell unnecessarily, and was brought to his senses. For children it is remarkably favourable. The much-talked-of ague is not indigenous to Kansas, where there are no swamps but plenty of breezy uplands. If men would be more careful of exposure, overwork (especially at night and morning, and during the breaking season and fall), and indulge in richer living, sure am I that ague would be all but banished from that land. I had ague myself very severely; but I laboured so hard when I first went there, and did not know how to govern myself, the wonder to me was how I escaped so long. With this exception of ague, in our family of six, during nearly seven years, we never knew what real sickness was.

Compared with Canada, my objection to that praiseworthy country is its intensely cold and long winters, and its intensely hot and short summers. Several Canadians have settled in Clay County; and if their new home had attained the advanced position of the section (Toronto) they left, they told me they would not return. The climate of Oregon is more mild and equable still, and is a highly commendable country; but, being generally well settled up, the stock raiser has no chance against the prairies of Kansas. Texas is best suited for large stock runs. Some places afford a good prospect for the settler; but, as a whole, that territory is not best suited for Englishmen; the climate, soil, markets, and society are far behind Kansas.

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By Kansas, I mean also Nebraska and portions of the surrounding States; and, to my mind, the best and fairest portion of that is the region traversed by the Republican, Solomon, Kaw, and Arkansas rivers.

That much-abused term "roughing it" demands a word here. That the early settlers and pioneers of that and every new country have to rough it more or less, is perfectly true; but it is equally true that any one going from here with sufficient means has no more necessity for roughing it than the Englishman of to-day has, as compared with his great-grandfather of a hundred years ago or more. The majority of these pioneers are poor, and have to make their farms and positions out of nothing, often amidst great losses and at long distances from markets. The "dug-outs" still exist, and I suppose will exist, as some people seem to consider that the height of their ambition; but everywhere these are fast giving place to neat, well-built cottages and houses—indeed, I have seen in England many homes which the above houses and farms put to shame. The opening up of the country by railways has brought supplies of all kinds, at reasonable and still improving prices, to the door almost of the settler, and, despite the high freight tariff, also improving, enables the fanner to get a nearer and better market for his produce. The fact is, the true interpretation of "roughing it" is poverty; and when a man starts with nothing, gets overhead and ears in debt, fights the up-hill road, these—and the inevitable troubles and losses attendant upon the development of his country—make for him, he must rough it. But I repeat, let a man start with means equal to his ambition; let him make good selection of a location, keep out of debt, and manage his affairs with judgment, economy, and perseverance, and such a man need never know what the true meaning of "roughing it" is. I must further remind our friends that, although the average society in Kansas is as good as that of England—indeed, in our section, the society is English—they will find one man as good as another, as men, and that the character is gauged, not by the length of the purse or aristocratic blood, but by the ability to work and extent of intelligence. I have known several come to us plainly staling they expected the streets paved, gas and water laid on, and that they had only to walk out of the back door to gather all the fruit their fancy desired; and certainly because this was not the state of things, but that all had to be worked for, it was considered "rough" indeed. To such the Kansan will give a wide berth.

The religious and educational systems are good—nearly every district of a few square miles has its school, also used as a church; in the towns all denominations are represented, and have pretentious church edifices. The Agricultural College and University are as good institutions as the most fastidious can desire.

Having, I think, answered most of the questions pertaining to general things, I will now give my opinion on the prospect there for the farmer and stock raiser. Some talk of stock raising, some of farming, others of speculating in a general way. Farming, in my opinion, includes stock and grain raising. A man may make a speciality of either, but I always maintain that the most successful farming is by a judicious combination of all.

The speculator is a man I do not believe in—rather I should say speculating. Of all the trades the world over, the successful speculator must be the shrewdest of men. If any are gifted in this line, Kansas offers as fine a field as I know of. With £800 to £1000 one may speedily make a fortune in buying cattle a penny a pound; put them up a few weeks, ship them, and pocket a net profit of not less than a penny per pound. In grain and corn he can sit by his fireside and do the same thing. At present these are the pet trades for speculators, and truly they are successful; but by a novice as much may be lost as made, unless he gets the aid of someone who "knows the ropes." Spare capital can always find a ready and safe investment at ten per cent. A man can soon make himself "land poor;" still—in land and property, and in the development of the vast resources of the country—the shrewd man of business can have fine scope for his talents.

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The farmer who means to follow his own business cannot be too careful of every step in his start. Leaving every prejudice behind, and ready to fall in with the ways of his new home, with ample means he sets himself diligently to work. His capital may be anything from £500 to £10,000 when arrived at his destination. On no consideration let him make a settlement before taking a good look round the section of the country he prefers. He may return to his first, choice, but the time and money thus spent is not lost to the intelligent observer. Let me also say that it is a decided mistake to believe the lands, however cheap, far removed from railroads, markets, and society, are really the cheapest; and to many Englishmen such an outlandish settlement would be intolerable, for obvious reasons, especially to ladies used to refined society. Again, a good improved farm can easily be got much cheaper than a stranger can open up for himself; indeed, I know of many to be had in fee-simple for less than the cost of the improvements. I cannot here refrain from a word about the chief reason for this, namely, the number of farms under mortgage, the majority of which I believe can only be paid by the loss of the farm. I am fully aware of all the drawbacks experienced by these farmers, but I am positive these would never outweigh that one monster—debt; and, like those who fly to drink as a panacea for all their ills, these men have eagerly pledged their very bread in the vain hope that they will get free from debt. There is no earthly reason why they should be in debt. A firm determination to have nothing until it could have been paid for would prove their salvation. I speak advisedly; I have been there, through as much trouble, labours, swindlings, and debt as any of them, and so far as I know, "I owe no man anything but love." Whether it be an improved or unimproved farm, let no man spend more than half his capital at starting; the other half will do well enough in the bank; and if his first, or even the second year, fail to realise his expectations, he is still independent. Unless far out, good homesteads—the 80 acres inside railroad limits, twenty miles on either side, or 160 acres beyond this—are all taken up, so the land must be bought. The prices vary from $3 to $12 per acre, on five or ten years' time, at 6 per cent. Splendid land can be had in favourable locations at $5 or £1 per acre. A good frame house can be built, with every comfort and convenience, for £100 to £200; and in this consists one of the principal elements of success and happiness. Generally houses are run up too cheaply and quickly, and when a convenient season comes it is to be finished and made comfortable; but, alas! other ever-pressing demands on time and means keep that time always coming, and the whole family freeze in winter and roast in summer, and the country gets the blame. Build a good comfortable house, whatever you do—of stone, if you can, which is good and plentiful, or of lumber, which is comparatively cheap.

A good team can be bought for £40, harness £6, waggon £15. All other necessary farm implements, a complete outfit—which will enable one good man, with the help of a boy, to work 100 acres—will cost £80; household furniture for an ordinary family and house, from £50 to £100, or less or more as may be desired. Living will cost less than in this country, groceries about the same as here. As I believe in cash I quote cash prices, and, I may add, it is astonishing what wonders the "almighty dollar" can work"; only see to it that you know what you are about, or get the help of someone who does. A good servant girl gets 10s. per week; help on the farm, £3 to £4 per month and board. Use as little of the latter as you possibly can.

The soil is a rich dark sandy loam, from one to three feet deep, generally underlaid by limestone and covered by rich, natural grass. The appearance of the country is undulating or rolling, and the farmer can in most places at once start his plough in a furrow four miles long if need be without any obstruction.

Breaking the prairie costs 12s. per acre; the best and only proper time for this is from May 1 to July 1. Those who have means "speculate" in buying large tracts of land under railroad contract, making the first payment of one-fifth or one-tenth, and "contract" with any responsible farmer who is in need of money under bond to break up the tract. This is then prepared in August and sown to wheat in Septem- page 203 ber, generally yielding in the following July a crop sufficient to pay all expenses, and the balance of the purchase-money for the land, too. Some contract for the whole thing, i.e., to break, sow, reap, and thresh, and deliver the crop, for $9 per acre, the grain when sold yielding to the contractor about $18. This is the "contractor's" and "wheat raising does pay." But, stop! This is not farming, and is subject to the variations of markets and seasons. To say the least, it is a risky game, hundreds engaging, and successfully too, in the mania, notwithstanding.

The steady-going farmer will divide his farm into a judicious variation of crops; wheat and Indian corn always leading off, as these are the staple crops, and I have never known wheat seasonably put in on well-prepared land to absolutely fail. The same may be said of corn, though dry seasons affect this more than wheat, but by careful working, even then a quarter or half a crop can be secured. Rye, oats, barley, sorgum, beets, mangolds, potatoes, flax, castor, beans, and a good garden, each and all paying well in average seasons, will have due attention.

The only serious drawback of Kansas has been drought, but I believe these times are gone forever. The area of land under cultivation, the planting of trees, building of houses, and retention of all moisture, has effected a most marked change. Bad seasons are to be found everywhere, and they will come in Kansas; but by the use of past experience in greater variation of crops, more careful husbanding of resources, in a word, better fanning, the troubles of the past will only belong to the past.

Stock farming may, however, be said to be the enchanting ground for the Kansas farmer. In this, I think, a man of ordinary gumption and fair capital can hardly fail to succeed. Cattle, sheep, hogs, and horses, can now be had as good as here—stay! I must yield the palm to England for horses. I have often found myself standing in a brown study, lost in wonder and admiration of several very fine specimens of this noble animal; all honour to England's incomparable horses! The same breeds can be had in Kansas, and in horses and cattle the enterprising breeder will find unlimited pleasure and profit in improving the stock. Of cattle, I have not seen any in England better than Major Crane's (Durham Park), herd of shorthorns, nor several of the Jersey herds. In sheep, my friend Jones would have stood a good chance of his usual success in prizes at the Smith field show; while in pigs, thanks to the able and enterprising editor of the Kansas Farmer, a careful search has failed to produce better Berk shires than my own. Like wheat, cattle is the present mania, but sheep are even more profitable and deserve more attention.

The prevailing system of stock raising and feeding is, through farmers and dealers breeding more or less themselves and purchasing from the "farther west," or Texas, as necessary or desired. The Texan longhorn is not the most profitable beef animal, all things considered; but a cross on the pure shorthorn produces a prime beef. The "natives," or a mixture of many breeds, chiefly shorthorns, which are improving in quality with wondrous rapidity, form the principal trade, and can be extended ad infinitum. In summer large herds, tended by young men on horseback, are driven and fed on the rich grass of the unoccupied lands, often costing nothing at all. Hay, from similar land, is put up for winter, and those intended to be fattened are put up in corrals, and fed on that and com. As they are ready, and the market-right, they are shipped off. In addition to this, hogs are turned to run in with them, generally one for every ox, and these are well fattened on pickings from the droppings, the whole of the pork being clear profit over and above the cattle, which seldom fail to pay well. It may be, some will say, the quality of such pork must be inferior. Not necessarily so; the pork is usually of superior quality, but I think lacking in richness of flavour of the high-fed pork. Calves cost 15s.; year-olds, 50s.; two-year-olds, 70s.; three-year-olds, £5 to £8. The cost-of summer herding is about 10s.; wintering costs 20s. Three men, with a horse each, can herd 500 head. The principal markets are Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago; but the day cannot be far distant when the Mississippi to New Orleans, and the railway road to Galvaston, will take the grain and stock from those vast, plains to England instead of by the costly route to the Eastern Coast.

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I am also a disbeliever in the present happy-go-lucky, slipshod style of fanning generally in the West. With an era of better farming would inevitably come one of greater prosperity, happiness, and contentment. The same thing may be said of the system of stock-feeding; the unjustifiable exposures of winter eat up the fat laid on in summer. I long to see the man with capital and brains walk in and win in these particulars. It appears to me there is a danger of the present "American meat" trade being overdone; but there is no danger of overdoing the stock-raising of the "West for some generations yet to come.