IAGenWeb Project

 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project












If westward the star of empire has taken its way until it brightly shines on the Great Republic, the raising of the cereals, one of the firmest bases upon which rests the strength of nations, has been continually shifting westward in the United States of America. With the progress and extension of population and transportation, the raising and distribution of the cereals - notably of wheat and corn - spread fro the Atlantic States up the Hudson Valley and across the old Middle States into the Northwest beyond the Ohio, and from the colonial South to the valley of the Mississippi. The wheat belt has covered a more northern zone than that of corn, and its sway has never had serious competition from the states south of the Ohio while corn had a divided allegiance, and North and South were fighting for supremacy even when the Civil war brought the bloody test of strength. In 1860, the Southern States were producing nearly 31 per cent of the total national crop and the Western States about 45 per cent.


The superintendent of the United States Census of 1860 brings forcefully to the front the supreme importance of the grain trade of the United States in the superb expan-




sion of the nation, thus. The grain trade of the United States, viewed in all its features, is one of the chief marvels of modern commercial history. To trace its rise and progress would be almost to complete a record of the development of the entire continent, for it has been the leading agency in the opening up of seven-eighths of our settled territory. First, in the march of civilization, came the pioneer husbandman, and following closely on his footsteps was the merchant; and after him were created in rapid succession our ocean and lake fleets, our canals, our wonderful network of railroads, and, in fact, our whole commercial system.

“The grain merchant has been in all countries, but more particularly in this, the pioneer of commerce, whether we refer to the ocean or the inland trade, and not till he was established could other commercial adventurers find a foothold. The commercial history of the United States is based mainly on breadstuffs - staples always marketable at some quotation where ever the human family dwells.

Commencing at an early period with the scant products of the Atlantic States, the grain trade was gradually pushed up the Hudson River as far as navigation would permit; and where that ceased, the Erie Canal commenced and carried it to the Great Lakes. It was on the completion of this great achievement that the real history of the grain trade of the United states began. Then it was that our ‘inland seas’ became the highway of a commerce which has already a magnitude surpassing that of many of the oldest European nations. Then it was that the vast territory west of the lakes, hitherto the home of the red man and the range for the buffalo, became the attractive field for the enterprising pioneers of industry and civilization, who laid the foundations of what are now seven large and flourishing States of the Union, peopled by a population vigorous and hardy and well calculated to succeed either in the arts of peace or war.

“At the same time, the grain trade was steadily progressing up the Mississippi River into the heart of the West, and on whose banks were built large and flourishing cities, the great depots for nearly a quarter of a century for the products of the rich valley of that river.
“The grain trade has progressed, year after year, from


small beginnings, till it has become one of the leading industries of the country and among the most important in its influence on the world, as on it depends much of the peace, happiness and prosperity not only of the people of the United States, but also of many of the kingdoms of Europe.”


Prof. Louis B. Schmidt, of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, adds a paragraph of even closer application to Northwestern Iowa: “A study of the grain trade of the United States shows that the production of corn has always exceeded that of wheat - amounting, as a matter of fact, to considerably more than half of all the other cereals (wheat, oats, barley, rye and buckwheat) combined. As an article of commerce it has not, however, been as important as wheat. The reasons for this are, first, that wheat is the most important breadstuff, constituting the article of prime necessity in the food consumption of the American people, and, second, that wheat is especially adapted to the requirements of commerce. It has therefore occupied the leading place in the grain trade of the United States since the beginning of the Colonial era. Corn does not possess these advantages. It is better adapted to the local markets for feeding purposes, going to the ultimate consumer largely in the form of beef, pork, poultry and diary products. Even so, however, corn forms an important article of commerce, second only to wheat in the list of cereals.”

Although as an article of commerce in itself and the chief raw material for the manufacture of flour and white bread, wheat is undoubtedly the leading cereal of the two, when one remembers the variety of food products of which corn is the chief transforming agent, it is extremely doubtful whether the yellow cereal should not be numbered first as a sustainer of human life throughout the world. Any well informed man or woman can trace its indispensable uses in the raising of beef, pork, poultry and diary products, and the preparation of breads, sugar, syrup, puddings and health foods. Nothing is wasted; even its stalks and leaves, whether dried in the field or pressed as ensilage, are transformed into the sweetest of meat or milk.


In view of such facts, the people of Iowa claim that they were wise to come under the sway of King Corn, especially as they came early to realize that their soil, climate and gentle water courses were ideal elements in the raising of the cereal. Even northwestern Iowa was a little too far south to compete with the better conditions for wheat production which prevailed in Minnesota and the Dakotas. It was many years, however, before Iowa became a recognized factor in the corn-producing belt of the country. By 1850, Ohio was leading among the States, Kentucky was second, and Illinois and Indiana respectively third and fourth. Iowa was not even listed among the leading corn States. Ten years later the State was seventh, with Illinois and Ohio first and second, and Missouri leading the Southern States, barely overtopping Indiana. In 1879, Iowa was only second to Illinois as a raiser of corn, and since 1889 the two have run a neck-and-neck race for the wire, with the Hawkeye State, betimes, under it first. Later, Kansas became on of the three great corn States. Missouri is the only Southern State which is in the same class with the corn producers of the Middle West.


Only a few mowing and reaping machines were in use in the older and more settled sections of Iowa before the Civil war, and it was twenty years or more before improved agricultural machinery was introduced to the newer counties of Northwestern Iowa. But it was not until the problem of farm fencing was solved by the invention of barbed wire that agriculture in that part of the State went rapidly forward. As the raising of corn, cattle and hogs was found to be closely allied, the barbed wire fencing was admirably adapted to keep the live stock from the corn fields. A monopoly for its manufacture was formed in Massachusetts, which was broken by the Farmers’ Protective Association and other Iowa organizations, so that by the early ‘80s the farmers could purchase barbed wire for about five and a half cents a pound - a pound being equivalent to a rod of wire. This cheap, effective fencing proved the strongest stimulus ever enjoyed by the farmers of Iowa to the allied industries of corn and live stock raising. The prosperity of Northwestern



Iowa was assured, but not without its heart-rending trials from insect pests.



For nearly a dozen years, Northwestern Iowa was scourged by grasshoppers and chinch bugs. At least fifteen counties in this section of the State were devastated, and their fields of wheat ruined. From 1867 to 1876, the grasshoppers swept wheat fields and vegetable gardens before them; then, with a hiatus of about three years, the less obtrusive but equally destructive chinch bug completed the discomfiture and discouragement of the wheat farmers. The latter departed for more northern and northwestern climes, beyond the stricken lands of Iowa, and soon the corn belt was extended into the abandoned wheat area.

The grasshoppers first appeared in the fall of 1867, and Charles B. Richards, who was then a leading business man of Fort Dodge (which is just east of the Northwestern Iowa of this history), has written the following account of their first visitation: “The first appearance of these pest was on the 8th of September, 1867, when, about noon, the air was discovered to be filled with grasshoppers coming from the west, settling about as fast as the flakes of an ordinary snow-storm; in fact, it appeared like a snowstorm, when the larger flakes of snow fall slowly and perpendicularly, there being no wind. They immediately began to deposit their eggs, choosing new breaking and hard ground along the roads, but not combining themselves to such places and being the worst where the soil was sandy. They continued to cover the ground, fences and buildings, eating everything and in many places eating the bark from the young growth of apple, pear, cherry and other trees, and nearly destroying currants, gooseberries and shrubs, generally eating the fruit buds for the next year. They disappeared with the first frost; not flying away, but hid themselves and died.

“No amount of cultivating the soil and disturbing the eggs seemed to injure or destroy them. I had two hundred acres of new breaking, and as soon as the frost was out commenced dragging the ground, which exposed the eggs. The ground looked as if rice had been sown very thickly. I


thought the dragging, while it was still freezing at night, thus exposing the eggs and breaking up the shell or case in which the eggs (some twenty or thirty in each shell) are enclosed, would destroy them; but I believe that every egg hatched.

“As the wheat began to sprout and grow, the grasshoppers began to hatch and seemed to literally cover the ground; they being about an eighth of an inch long when first hatched. They fed on all young and tender plants, but seemed to prefer barley and wheat in the field and tender vegetables in the garden. Many keep the wheat trimmed, and if it is a dry season it will not grow fast enough to head. But generally here, in 1868, the wheat headed out and the stalk was trimmed bare, not a leaf left; and then they went up on the head and ate that, or destroyed it. Within ten days from the time wheat heads out they moult. Prior to this time, they have no wings, but within a period of five or six days they entirely change their appearance and habits, and from an ordinary grasshopper become a winged insect capable of flying thousands of miles.

“In moulting, they shed the entire outer covering or skin, even to the bottom of their feet and over their eyes. I have caught them when fully developed and ready to moult or shed their outside covering, and pulled it off, developing their wings neatly folded, almost white in color and so frail that the least touch destroys them. But in two days they begin to fly - first short flights across the fields where they are feeding, and then longer flights; and within ten days after they moult all the grasshoppers seem to rise very high and make a long flight, those of 1867 never have been heard of after leaving here and all leaving within ten days after they had their wings.

“Their second appearance was in the summer of 1872, when they seemed to be driven by a series of southwest winds over the country, not coming in such clouds, but spreading in flocks over a territory - taking Fort Dodge for the southeast corner, running north into Minnesota and west, how far I do not know. Only comparatively few settled in Webster County, and those in small swarms in the northern townships along the Des Moines River. Probably the counties of


Clay, Buena Vista and Dickinson suffered as much as those already named. This time they were early enough in the season to nearly destroy all the crops of those counties; evidently having been hatched farther south, and having attained maturity much earlier that those of 1867. The went through exactly the same process of depositing eggs, hatching and destroying crops as before; and were identical in every respect. The only difference was in their mode of leaving. They made many attempts to leave, rising in masse for a long flight, when the adverse winds would bring them down; for it is a fact well demonstrated that their instinct teaches them in what direction to fly; and if the wind is adverse they will settle down, within a few hours; when, if the wind was in the direction they desired to go they never would be heard of again within hundred s of miles.

“Wherever they deposit their eggs in the fall, crops are very certain (that is, small grains and gardens) to be destroyed the next season. But, as a general thing, corn is not destroyed or injured, unless it is done in the fall, when the old grasshoppers first come in. So if farmers know eggs are deposited (and they may be certain they are, if there is a swarm of old ones in the country in September or October, or if a swarm has come any time in the season from a distance and settled down and remained any length of time) they should ignore small grain for the season and plant corn or potatoes.
“I am not certain but that grasshoppers will be a blessing, instead of scourge, if their coming will have a tendency to make farmers devote less time and money to raising wheat and do a more general system of farming.”


Altogether, Northwestern Iowa suffered the worst from the grasshopper ravages during the growing seasons of 1873 and 1874. In June, 1873, they invaded Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota from the Southwest. Their first appearance resembled the approach of a storm cloud, so dense and numerous were the swarms. an ominous buzz, like a battery of distant sawmills, and the darkening of the sun’s rays, were




the next evidences of the approach of the weird, mysterious danger. Then, like a dense, dun blanket, the insects settled upon the fields and gardens of growing wheat and vegetables, stripping everything green down to the ground in an appallingly short period. Billion upon billion of eggs were then deposited in the ground about half an inch below the surface, where they lay until the warm winds and sun of spring hatched them out.

An old settler of Dickinson County writes, as follows, of the sequel: “Early in the spring of 1874, the eggs deposited the season before commenced hatching and the soil looked literally alive with insignificant looking insects a quarter of an inch in length and possessing great vitality and surprising appetites. As if by instinct, their first movements were toward the fields where tender shoots of grain were making their modest appearance. Sometimes the first intimation a farmer would have of what was going on would be from noticing along one side of the field a narrow strip where the grain was missing. At first, perhaps, he would attribute it to a balk in sowing, but each day it grew wider, and a closer examination would reveal the presence of myriads of young grasshoppers. As spring advanced, it became evident that comparatively few eggs had been deposited in the territory that had suffered the worst in 1873. They had been laid farther east. In Kossuth, Emmet, Dickinson and Palo Alto counties, Iowa, and in Martin and Jackson counties, Minnesota, the young ones were hatched out in far greater numbers than elsewhere.

“The early part of the season was extremely dry; no rain fell until the middle of June. Grain did not grow, but the grasshoppers did, and before the drouth ended the crops in the counties named were eaten and parched beyond all hope of recovery. About the middle of June, however, a considerable rain fell, and outside of the before-mentioned counties the prospects were generally favorable for good crops. The young grasshoppers commenced to get wings about the middle of June and in a few days they began to rise and fly. The prospect seemed good for a speedy riddance of the pests, but Providence had ordained otherwise. The perverse insects were waiting for an eastern wind and the perverse wind blew


from the southwest for nearly three weeks, a phenomenon of rare occurrence in this region, as it very seldom blows from one quarter more than three days at a time. During this time, the grasshoppers were almost constantly on the move. Straggling swarms found their way to Central Iowa, doing, however, but little damage.

“About the tenth or twelfth of July, the wind changed to the east, and, as by common consent, the countless multitude took their departure westward. Up to this time the crops had been damaged but slightly in the western counties, but during the two or three days of their flight the grain fields in these counties were injured to quite and extent. after the date above mentioned, with one or two unimportant exceptions, no grasshoppers were seen.
“There is no evidence that this region was visited in 1874 by foreign swarms, though it has been stated that such was the fact. On the contrary, there is every reason for believing that they were all hatched here. According to the most reliable information, the grasshoppers hatched here produced no eggs and the inference is that they were incapable of so doing. They were much smaller than their predecessors, and besides they were covered with parasites in the shape of little red bugs which made sad havoc in their ranks. What became of them after leaving here seems a mystery, but probably their enfeebled constitutions succumbed tot he attacks of the parasites and the depleting effects of general debility.”

The more southern counties of Northwestern Iowa appear to have been visited by the hungry grasshopper at a later period than those nearer the Minnesota border. For in stance, they swept over Palo Alto County for the second time in 1876. In the spring of that year, the farmers organized to conduct a bitter campaign against their arch enemy. The county bought large sheets of tin and barrels of tar which were distributed among the farmers, who constructed what were called “hopper dozers” were then put on wheels or carried through the wheat fields, knocking the grasshoppers off the grain into the tar. form which they were taken by the bushels and to make their extermination doubly sure were burned


This treatments spelled the end of the “hoppers” in Palo Alto County, and much of the adjacent territory.

The grasshoppers lingered longer in Cherokee county and some of the districts thereabouts. The first invasion of 1876 came from the James River Valley, South Dakota, and the dreaded insects were first noted in July of that year. They were fully grown and voracious, and after they had destroyed the uncut grain, as well as that already bound in the shocks, they lingered about until about the middle of August to deposit their eggs and then merrily winged their way hence on a northwest wind. In the spring of 1877, the eggs hatched out despite the cold previous winter, and the native hoppers were joined by more mature associates from Kansas and South Dakota. Cherokee County suffered the most this year, although its farmers wielded a device similar to the “hopper dozer” of Palo Alto and other districts, their sheet-iron scrapers being filled with kerosene oil instead of tar. One farmer vouches for the statement that he killed in one afternoon with his grasshopper slayer, assisted by common flames, seven barrelfuls of the insect enemy.

Notwithstanding, in 1878 the grasshoppers again made their appearance in Northwestern Iowa and were especially destructive in O’Brien and Osceola counties. A few “hoppers” hatched out in 1879, but 1878 is generally fixed upon as the termination of the grasshopper plague which so depleted the northwestern section of the State of its wheat farmers.


The most widespread ravages of the grasshoppers were suffered in 1873, and no county in Northwestern Iowa escaped them. Even Central Iowa, as far east as Fort Dodge and Ames, suffered much; but the insatiable pests after stripping the grain fields and vegetable gardens of everything green and life-supporting, attacked the very dwellings of the farmers and literally drove many of them out of the country. The prices of farm lands went down fifty per cent in many places, and there were no purchasers even at that decline. But it was not the future which most concerned the people; rather the keen distress, actual hunger pangs and physical sufferings of the present.

At this time, Cyrus C. Carpenter, if Webster County, was governor, and continued to serve as such throughout the worst of the plague. The chief executive and the adjutant general of the State were the leaders in the work of relieving the stricken people, and Governor Carpenter describes the public and private measures adopted, with attending circumstances, as follows: “I think that one reason why a Divine Power, whose wisdom and goodness are unquestioned, permits these scourges and disasters to blight the hopes, and bring want and sorrow to various sections of the country, is, in part, to enable those outside the stricken territory, and exempted from its calamities, to practically illustrate their humanity and generosity. Thus the State Legislature, at the session of 1874, made an appropriation to buy seed for the farmers in the stricken district of Iowa. By this act $50,000 were appropriated; but it was confined to Iowa and limited to the purchase of seed for the ensuing season. Under the act making the appropriation, the governor was authorized to appoint a commission consisting of three persons who were to investigate the necessities of the people in Northwestern Iowa, and determine upon an equitable method of distributing to the worthy and necessitous, the seed provided by the appropriation. The governor appointed as the commission, John Tasker, of Jones County, Dr. Levi Fuller, of Fayette County, and O. B. Brown, of Van Buren County (all residents of Eastern Iowa). They traveled over the devastated counties, appointed local committees in each county to receive and issue the seed, covering the remainder of the appropriation back into the treasury. There was never a better investment than this appropriation. It undoubtedly determined a good many to stick to their farms, who, without this small encouragement, would have given up the unequal contest, sold their farms at a nominal price and moved away.

“But this appropriation was limited to the purchase and distribution of seed. How the people of Northwestern Iowa and the territory of Dakota, which perhaps had been more thoroughly devastated that any portion of Iowa, were to be


preserved from suffering was not determined by this legislation. This opened an avenue for the contributions of the benevolent throughout the country. As soon as the necessities of these people came to be understood, money, clothing and the products of the field from the portions of Iowa which had not suffered from the invasion, and from other states (even from New England), were tendered in generous profusion. The question of how to make an equitable distribution of these benefactions had to be determined. Accordingly, a convention was called to meet at Fort Dodge to consider this and other matters in reference to obtaining and distributing supplies. Delegates were in attendance from the various counties of Northwestern Iowa and from Dakota.

“Among these, there was one man whose great heart was thoroughly aroused at the tale of woe which came from the stricken region, and who not only had leisure, but had the disposition, to give his time and energies to the work of relief. I refer to Gen. N. B. Baker, the adjutant general of Iowa. He, with Colonel Spofford, of Des Moines, and the writer, then living at Des Moines, attended this convention. It was determined to appoint local committees through which the work of distribution could be intelligently performed. General Baker was made chairman of this committee. This was in the early part of January, 1874.

“Upon the adjournment of the convention, General Baker, Colonel Spofford and the writer, and several people from Dakota, who had determined to go farther east to solicit supplies, started for Des Moines. A fierce snowstorm had set in during the afternoon. Before the train reached Gowrie (Webster County) it was stalled in a snowdrift. We remained there nearly twenty-four hours, when despairing of getting to Des Moines within two or three days by rail, we left the train, walked about five miles to Gowrie, and then hired a team to take us to Grand Junction, from which point we knew the railroad was open to Des Moines.

“We left Gowrie for Grand Junction just at dark in a two-horse sleigh. It was a clear, cold, frosty night. But


with buffalo robes and blankets we managed to keep ourselves fairly comfortable. There was in the party a gentleman by the name of McIntyre, from Dakota. He was a Baptist minister and a very intelligent man. After getting on the road, the conversation turned upon the dreary situation of the settlers, in their lonely cabins, away on the prairies of Northwestern Iowa and Dakota, shut in by impassable snow-banks, with the fierce wind howling around them; without sufficient clothing to protect them from the frost, and many of them lacking even the coarsest necessities in the way of food. General Baker gave vent to his overflowing sympathies; and then McIntyre broke in a repeated the entire chapter fro Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’ describing the ‘Famine’. The sad refrain of that beautiful song as it rang out upon the frosty air, lingers in my memory to this day.”


Before the grasshopper had disappeared, a tinier enemy than he had appeared to vex the wheat growers of Northwestern Iowa. The tiny, ill-smelling chinch bug was not so much in evidence as the greater and more portentous grasshopper, but he was just as destructive tot he grain. The soil had been exhausted and sapped of its nitrogen by uninterrupted croppings of wheat (except for the protests of the grasshoppers) and the result was that the plants were powerless to resist the ravages of this new enemy insect. They were at their worst, or at the height of their destructive powers in 1879 and 1880. Fresh fields of green would look in a few days as if they had been scorched by an invisible fire, and when there was no wheat to devour they attacked the green corn. The invasion of the chinch bug, almost in the shadow of the departing grasshoppers, put the finishing touch to all the aspirations of Northwestern Iowa to become a wheat-raising region; and the result was to her great advantage. Agriculturally, it then commenced its all-around development; all its golden eggs were no longer hidden in its fields of wheat, which had proven to be the tender and favorite fruit of the grasshopper and the chinch bug.




This was the time when thousands began to leave Iowa, and Cyrenus Cole, in his “History of the People of Iowa,” thus describes the reaction, which was moulding the modern agriculture of the State, so staunchly illustrated by Northwestern Iowa: “For them the land of hope was across the Missouri River, or at least across the Big Sioux. In them, the ancient and honorable spirit of the movers was revived. If wheat could not be grown in Iowa, they would go where wheat could be grown. They were wheat farmers, and they did not want to be any other kind of farmers. Kansas and Nebraska and the Dakotas beckoned to them and the wanderlust of their ancestors was re-expressed in a later ‘Westward Ho.’ By 1881, when it was mostly Dakota-ward, the movement had ‘become an exodus, a stampede. Hardly anything else was talked about. Every man who could sell out had gone West or was going.’ (Hamlin Garland in ‘A Son of the Middle Border.’)

“Newspapers which did not want to see their subscription list depleted, and those who loved Iowa, pleaded for the people not to go. They drew woeful pictures of droughts on the plains and of blizzards in the Dakota. The Farmers’ Institutes pleaded for diversified farming. The mistake had been made in growing nothing but wheat in certain sections of the State. With the coming of the chinch bugs and the departure of the wheat growers, the flouring mills began to suffer. Up tot hat time, every town had maintained its own mill and many towns had more than one mill. But soon the swallows began to build their nests in the smokeless chimneys, and refuse and water-plants filled up the ponds that had fed the mill wheels.

“There was a depression, but the places that had been vacated were soon filled by others; and the others were apt to be foreigners, men who were willing to begin all over again. The racial elements of many communities were wholly changed. It was the Yankees who had moved out. The newcomers were not only willing to begin over, but they adopted new ways and new methods. They made Iowa what nature had made it, a grassland again. They sowed tame grasses


and fenced them in with barbed wire. They did not depend on the increase of their herds as expressed in calves, but they milked the cows and began to make butter and cheese. The older settlers had not believed that the clovers could be grown in Iowa, even after what they called the ‘Indian’ had been taken out of the prairies - that is to say, the tang of the wild grasses. There were still men who believed that what never had been done, never could be done, and some of them were willing to spend their time to prove it. Strange is the tenacity of prejudice and error, and persistent the atavism of reaction. But the clover grew, the re clover and the white clover, and the milk began to flow into the pail of prosperity. It was a double prosperity, for the clovers enriched the lands that bore them.

“Such were the men who laid the foundations of a truly greater Iowa, an Iowa not yet wholly realized. They were the newer pioneers, and they did a work as fine and essential as the older pioneers who broke up the prairies and made the first laws and constitutions. They diversified the country around the cities and they built the cities in the country - live stock men, and diary men, and factory men - each and all of more true and lasting significance in the State than the politicians who made the speeches or the legislators who made the laws.”

To demonstrate what Northwestern Iowa has done and is doing, in the development of the greater agriculture of the State, or, in other words, the greater commonwealth itself, is the aim of the concluding pages of this chapter.


In the first chapter of this history, which demonstrated that Iowa was foreordained by Nature to be a land of plenty, it was also proven that Northwestern Iowa was especially favored in this grand act of creation. In this section of the State, if any area is favored by the elements of its soil above other regions, the western counties bordering the Missouri and the Big Sioux rivers may be safely named. The reason for this superiority of soil is that not only did the Kansas drift (geologically speaking) gather various elements from


the rocks, as it traveled southward in its grinding way and passed over Northwestern Iowa; not only did it thus lay a varied basis upon which the upper soil might draw for its strength, but deposited the mantle of fine yellow clay, known as loess, upon its great body. What has made the Valley of the Rhine one of the gardens of the world has made the valleys of the Missouri and Big Sioux one of the wonderful cornucopias of the United States - which is saying much indeed. Not only is the loess there in various depths and various widths, but even above that, is deposited the rich alluvial soil of the great rivers. It is deepest and widest toward the south and gradually thins and tapers toward the north and northeast.


Plymouth and Woodbury counties are virtually the agricultural children of the loess soil. Gauged by the measures laid down by the farmers of Northwestern Iowa, Plymouth is the banner county of that section of the state. The total value of its agricultural properties, as published in the national census of 1920 - and these include lands, buildings, agricultural implements and live stock - is $152,000,000, and no county in Northwestern Iowa exceeds these figures. In 1910, they were assessed at $63,000,000 and in 1900, at $26,000,000. Plymouth also is the largest raiser of swine in Northwestern Iowa - or was, when the figures were gathered in 1919; the 157,000 swine within her borders were assessed at $3,800,000. The corn crop of the county amounted to nearly 7,600,000 bushels, and earned Plymouth County second place; Sioux County which bounded it on the north was first. With its 53,000 beef cattle valued at $2,800,000 Plymouth was third in the list of the twenty counties in the northwestern part of the State in this class, and second or third as a dairy section, with 20,000 milch cows valued at $1,200,000. Palo Alto, one of the northern interior counties closely competes with Plymouth as a raiser of dairy stock.

Early in the history of Woodbury County, the farmers nearly all engaged in grain growing, making wheat the


leader. Although they did not suffer as severely as the counties farther north from the grasshopper invasions, still the agriculturists of the county came to realize in the ‘70s and ‘80s that other lands and other climes could produce wheat better and cheaper than they; that the pulverized prairie soils were primarily adapted to wheat and the rich and heavier soils of the river bottoms, with the underlying loess, was made for the raising of corn and the fodder of live stock. The consequence was that as early as 1885, the acreage devoted to corn covered one-eighth of Woodbury County and more than 2,700,000 bushels were harvested. Had its hundreds of cornfields been thrown together in one tract, they would have covered an area six miles wide and eighteen miles long - 74,000 acres of corn, or over three congressional townships. The pure water, the cheap land and the luxuriant growth of both wild and cultivated grasses, with all the ideal conditions of corn-production, so encouraged the raising of all kinds of live-stock as to attract numerous producers and dealers to the county. The grand result has been to bring Woodbury County to third place among the twenty counties embraced by this history, in the total value of its agricultural property, including lands, buildings, implements and live stock. The figures of the last census are $129,600,000, as compared with $55,300,000 for 1910 and $23,700,000 for 1900. Woodbury County stands seventh in Northwestern Iowa in the number and value of its beef cattle assessed in the year of the last Federal census, viz., 44,000 and $2,600,000 respectively; the dairy cattle numbered 16,000 and were valued at $1,1000,000. The status of its dairy cattle placed the county slightly ahead of O’Brien in second place. Northwestern Iowa is known the world over for the excellence of its swine, as much of its corn crop goes to make the flesh of the porker both fat and firm. In 1920, there were 132,000 swine in Woodbury County, valued at $3,000,000, and it stood fourth in this class throughout Northwestern Iowa. It was third in the list of corn counties, its crop for the census year amounting to 6,600,000 bushels. It raised more hay and forage than any other of the twenty counties; and 140,000 tons is quite a bit!




Crawford and Monona counties lie in the broad and deep southern belt of the Kansas drift and the productive loess formations, and, as would be expected, are among the most productive regions of the State. In the second tier of counties from the Missouri River, Crawford is one of the ideal sections of the State for the raising of live stock. Beef cattle especially thrive on its grassy, well watered and rolling uplands, and there is no county in Northwestern Iowa which has any advantages over it. In fact, Crawford County leads the list, the census takers crediting it with 57,000 cattle of that class, with an assessed value of $3,200,000. In dairy cattle it is not so prominent, although its 13,600 milch cows, valued at $880,000, rank it fifth in Northwestern Iowa, slightly below Cherokee to the north. Crawford County is fifth in the production of hay and forage (101,000 tons annually) and sixth of the twenty counties in the raising of corn. Its corn crop, as recorded in the last Federal census, amounted to nearly 5,700,000 bushels. In the total value of its farm properties, Crawford County stood fourth in 1920. For that year, the figures were represented by $128,000; by $52,000 in 1910, and $23,000,000 in 1900.

In the northern half of Monona County along the Missouri River the loess belt is particularly noticeable and the deposits extend to a great depth. There has been a progressive increase in all agricultural values, so that by 1920 the farm properties of all kinds, including live stock, had doubled in the preceding two decades. In 1920, they were computed at $79,000,000 for purposes of taxation; in 1910, at $35,000,000, and in 1900, at $17,000,000. Great strides had been made in the raising and improvement of cattle, especially in the finer varieties of blooded stock. In the northwestern part of the county, around Whiting and Onawa, were several fine stock farms which have continually advanced in reputation among the breeders of blooded cattle. Its 24,000 cattle raised for beef were valued at $1,400,000, and its 13,000 milch cows, at more than $810,000. The census enumerators assessed 83,000 swine in Monona at $1,700,000, and computed the corn crop at 4,000,000 bushels and the hay and forge production at 91,000 tons.



These counties are the uppermost in Northwestern Iowa boarding the Big Sioux River, and combined they cover some of the choicest lands for the raising of cattle and swine in this section of the State. Sioux County lead them all in the value ($1,600,000) and number (24,000) of its dairy cattle, and is among the first dozen of the twenty counties as a raiser of beef cattle. At the time that the Federal census of 1920 was taken, only Plymouth County was ahead of Sioux in the raising of hogs. The figures of the latter were, as to numbers, 146,000, and as to assessed value, $3,700,000. Sioux County is the banner district of Northwestern Iowa in the extent of its corn crop; it raised 7,900,000 bushels in 1919, and was closely pressed by Plymouth County. It produced 128,000 tons of hay and forage, being exceeded by Woodbury County in the amount if this crop and slightly leading Plymouth. The figures given by the census of 1920 indicate that the properties devoted to agricultural purposes, as well as its live stock, were assessed at $111,000,000, as compared with $47,000,000 in 1910, and nearly $22,000,000 in 1900.

Lyon County is in the great corn belt of Northwestern Iowa, in the valley and the swelling uplands of the Big Sioux. It is not supreme either as a producer of the foods which tend to advance the raising of cattle and swine, or of the crops themselves, irrespective of their ultimate value when transformed into live stock. Lyon County, on the other hand, goes along in a substantial middle course. AS with other section of this part of the state, it is instructive to remember the views held by the farmers of the county fifty years ago. Fortunately a presentation of these views is at hand, for in 1873, before the worst of the grasshopper scourges had descended upon Northwestern Iowa, S. C. Hyde, a pioneer and the son of a pioneer, wrote a little history of Lyon County endorsed by its Board of Supervisors, in which he prefaces his paragraph on wheat with these words: “We doubt if anywhere since being transported from its native plains in Central Asia has this great cereal found a more congenial climate than in Northwestern Iowa and Lyon County.” The writer mentions the drawback of long transportation, but believes


that its easier production and certain and grater yield than in the East much more than overbalance the greater cost of its transportation. Mr. Hyde then turns to corn, with less enthusiasm, but with some assurance. “There is an impression prevailing to a considerable extent,” he says, “that this cereal can not be raised with success in Northwestern Iowa owing to coldness of the climate. This opinion has no foundation, as will be shown in our article on climate. Actual experience and experiments show that the mean summer heat of this region of the Missouri slope is equal to that required for the successful growth of corn. With a congenial climate and a warm soil, rich in nitrogen, it is one of our most certain and valuable productions. Mr. L. F. Knight has cultivated corn on his farm at the forks of Rock River since 1869, and has never failed to secure a good crop; and it has never been cut off by drought, frost or blight, yielding, in some years, as high as eighty bushels of shelled corn to the acre. With good management the yield is from fifty to eighty bushels per acre. This crop, as well as all others, is raised with less than half the labor usually required on the worn-out soils, or among the stumps and stones, with which the eastern farmer has to contend. A man and a boy can tend forty acres, besides devoting a portion of their time to other crops, the hoe hardly ever being used. This, with a yield of from forty to sixty bushels to the acre, would give all the way from 1,600 to 2,400 bushels of grain, which will give some idea of our facilities for stock and pork raising. If one-fourth of the area of Lyon County was planted to corn, producing forty bushels to the acre, the yield of one crop would be 3,680,000 bushels.”

These many years corn has driven out wheat as the bumper crop of Lyon County and Mr. Hyde’s golden dream of fifty years ago has been more than realized; for although the county holds only a middle station as a corn producer in Northwestern Iowa the census figures for 1920 show that it raised a crop of more than 5,500,000 bushels in the previous year. Its beef cattle numbered 31,000 and were valued at nearly $1,400,000, and its 16,000 dairy cows, at $922,000. In the raising of the dairy stock Lyon County stands about sixth in Northwestern Iowa. Although it is not so well to the


front in the raising of swine, it makes a good showing with its 83,000 porkers valued at $2,000,000. Its hay and forage crop amounted to 58,000 tons, which materially added to its strength and promise as a live stock country.


Pocahontas and Calhoun counties are on the watershed which drains into the valley of the Des Moines, or Mississippi, while Sac County, the third of those to be grouped at this point is traversed by the great divide which runs through its central sections and along its southern border. A portion of the waters of sac County therefore drains into the Mississippi and its western sections into the Missouri.

The lands of Pocahontas and Calhoun counties embrace the headwaters of the Raccoon, or Coon River, and principal western tributary of the Des Moines River. The entire surface of Pocahontas County is an upland prairie or elevated plain, sloping toward the southeast into Calhoun; the latter, therefore, being of lower elevation and the source of numerous streams flowing in to the Coon River, was originally largely covered with swamps, which were the objects of some of the most successful drainage projects in the State. The main valley of the Des Moines enters the extreme northeastern section of Pocahontas County, and this locality shows about the only sharp break in its elevated prairie lands.

The extraordinary qualities of the prairie soil of Pocahontas County which also extends into neighboring territory, especially toward the north, is thus described by a local writer: “The soil of this county is a rich, dark loam, that varies in thickness from two to eight feet. It is an undisturbed drift soil under laid with a deep subsoil of porous clay mixed slightly with gravel, and possesses a uniform richness and fertility throughout the county. It differs somewhat from similar soils in other parts of the State, in that it contains a slightly greater proportion of sand and less clay; a circumstance that imparts physical properties to it that are very beneficial in agriculture, giving it a warmth and mellowness that is favorable not only t the growth of crops, but their maturity in this locality as early as upon the more


clayey soils two hundred miles further south. It has also the additional advantage of becoming sufficiently dry for cultivation sooner after the frosts of early spring have ceased, or the showers of summer have ended, than those that contain a greater proportion of clay. It is a soil that is easily subdued, may be cultivated in the most convenient manner with the latest improved machinery, and is well calculated to withstand the extremes of drought or excessive rainfall.

“In these characteristics of the soil is found the secret of the uniform productiveness of this locality under all conditions of the weather, and of the superiority of Northwestern Iowa over some other parts of the State. the wonderful power of this soil to withstand the injury arising from either excessive drought or moisture, had been demonstrated year after year, ever since the pioneers turned the first furrows in this section.
“During a series of seasons in the ‘80s, when the crops in many other localities were seriously damaged by unusual rainfall, the farmers of Northwestern Iowa moved steadily forward, gathering abundant harvests. This ability to withstand excessive moisture is no doubt due tot he fact that the subsoil of this region is rarely an impenetrable clayey hardpan near the surface, acting as a bowl to hold the water in great quantities, but is sufficiently porous to allow an excessive rainfall to percolate to an indefinite depth and leave the surface available for cultivation.

“In 1886 and during the period from 1894 to 1895, there was afforded a striking illustration of the remarkable capacity of this section to resist the general blighting effects of draught. In February, 1895, when the famine prevailed in Central Nebraska, and the unusual drought was more or less severely felt in all parts of this and the neighboring states, two carloads of grain and provisions were freely donated by the citizens of Pocahontas County and sent to the sufferers of Custer County, Nebraska. This incident will always be a reminder not only of the generosity of the people, but of the bountiful harvests gathered here at a time of general scarcity elsewhere. In this particular instance, the local showers that visited this section in the summer of 1894 contributed greatly to insure the crops of that year. It remains,



which enables it to receive and retain moisture to a great depth, so that while the surface cultivation acts as a sort of mulch, the roots of growing crops strike deeper in search of needed moisture.”

The potentialities and the actual productions of this soil have brought Pocahontas into the foreground of the rich counties of Northwestern Iowa; which statement is supported by the statistics furnished by the census of 1920. It shows that the total value of its farm properties was then $107,300,000; $35,200,000 in 1910, and $16,700,000 in 1900. Its 21,000 beef cattle were valued at $1,100,000, and its dairy cattle numbered 12,000 and were assessed at $670,000. The corn crop of Pocahontas County amounted to 5,500,000 bushels, and the hay and forage, to 55,000 tons.

It was forty years after President Fillmore approved the congressional grant of certain swamp lands to the several states, before actual drainage ditches were constructed in Calhoun County. The act was approved in 1850 and in 1853 the Iowa grant was accepted by the Legislature. A survey of the lands determined that more than 42,000 in the county would come within the provisions of the grant, and in 1862, both by act of the Board of Supervisors and by popular approval, the lands were taken over by the American Emigrant Company, which agreed therefore to build bridges over certain streams and sloughs, as well as to erect some minor public buildings. From this arrangement arose many complications and not a few law suits, and it was not until 1888 that the interests of the American Emigrant Company were conveyed to private parties. In the meantime, provision had been made, under authority of the General Assembly, for the drainage of about 20,000 acres of marsh lands in the northwestern part of the county. They were divided into two tracts known as Hell Slough and Shipman Slough, the natural outlet of which was through a marshy strip to the head of Camp Creek. By the fall of 1890, two ditches were constructed to drain this area, characterized by these two




sloughs. This was the beginning of the drainage system that has added millions of dollars to the wealth of Calhoun County. Of all the counties in the State that received swamp lands under the grant of 1850, none has given a better final account of stewardship than Calhoun.

There is no better criterion as to the advancement of Calhoun county in agricultural opulence than the figures furnished by the Federal census of 1920. In the assessed valuation of farm properties (including live stock) it stood seventh among the twenty counties which have made Northwestern Iowa all this characteristic of American prosperity brought from the soil. In the year named, the valuation of the lands, farm buildings, implements and live stock in Calhoun County was placed at $119,500,000; 1910, $39,600,000; 1900, $18m600,000. It was fourth, in 1920, both as a corn producer and a raiser of milch cows; its corn crop amounted to 6,560,000 bushels and its 17,600 dairy cattle were valued at over $1,000,000. More than 30,000 beef cattle were roaming its well-drained, grassy lands, and represented $1,880,000 in wealth, while its 61,000 hogs had been assessed at $1,600,000. As a distinctive crop which had not been transformed into live stock, that of hay and forage was an item of much value to Calhoun County; it was represented in quantity by 43,000 tons. Some of the most productive of her lands were under water thirty or forty years ago.

The lands of Sac County, which lie partly in the great basin of the Mississippi and partly in that of the Missouri, have produced abundantly without artificial drainage, as nature has attended to watering them and draining them. The United State census for 1920 shows that Sac County was second among the twenty counties in Northwestern Iowa in the value of agricultural properties assessed for taxation. The showing was $130,300,000 for that decadal census, as compared with $49,000,000 for 1910 and $20,000,000 for 1900. The county is rich in live stock its 27,000 beef cattle being valued at $1,500,000 and its dairy cattle, numbering 11,000 at $760,000, while its 94,000 swine were assessed at $2,200,000. The corn crop amounted to 5,300,000 bushels, ad 94,000 tons of hay and forage were raised from the uplands of Sac County.



There is no profound difference in the soil, climate and rainfall of the interior counties of Northwestern Iowa, especially when they are along or near the divide. Of the three in this group, Carroll lies along the spine of the divide which passes northward through it s western sections to the southern boundary of Sac County. To the east of the watershed the soil in mainly of the Wisconsin drift, a gravelly loam; which also prevails in Greene County, adjoining Carroll tot he east. West of the divide in Carroll County, the drainage is into the tributaries of the Missouri, and the soil in common tot he Missouri Valley. Ida County also lies on the western slope of the watershed, and is in the Missouri Valley with all that the statement implies.

One might dilate on the wonderful fertility and the riches of the soil which characterize these counties on the southern border of Northwestern Iowa, but figures drive home the truth more effectively, and we turn again to Uncle Sam’s census of 1920 for the truth. They say that Carroll County in that year had agricultural properties valued at $114,500,000; in 1910, nearly $48,000,000, and in 1900, $20,000,000. It was sixth among the twenty counties in Northwestern Iowa as a raiser of beef cattle; they were numbered at 50,000 and valued at $2,500,000. The 11,000 dairy cattle were assessed at $586,000, and the 89,000 swine at $2,000,000.

The figures for Greene County were: Value of agricultural properties, including live stock, nearly $111,000,000; in 1910, $42,000,000; 1900, $18,000,000. Number of beef cattle, 37,000, valued at $2,100,000; of dairy cows, nearly 9,000, assessed at $539,000. The 70,000 swine had a valuation of $1,700,000. The corn crop was represented by 5,800,000 and gave Greene County fifth rank in Northwestern Iowa, and 73,000 tons of hay and forage were cut from her lands.

In 1920, Ida County property devoted to agricultural and live stock interests was valued at $93,500,000; in 1910, at $38,500,000, and in 1900, at $15,000,000. The most recent figures place her 32,000 beef cattle at a valuation of


$2,000,000, and the 10,000 dairy stock, at $750,000, with 97,000 swine valued at $2,500,000. The corn crop amounted to nearly 4,000,000 bushels, and the yield of hay and forage was 56,000 tons.


Cherokee County, which lies west of the Missouri-Mississippi divide, drains its waters in a southwesterly direction into the Little Sioux. Its soil is deep and black, and typical of the Missouri Valley, and radically differs from that of the district farther east in that sand is almost absent from it. It is based on the bluff deposit and is especially adapted to the growth of timber. In fact, when the first settlers located in this portion of Northwestern Iowa there was more timber in the region now embracing Cherokee County, along the Little Sioux and its branches, than in any five counties of that section of the State. Black walnut which only thrives in “strong” soil, was noticeably prolific here; and the fame of its black-walnut fences spread far into the West. Many of the first cabins in this part of the State were also built of black walnut and cottonwood. The surface of Cherokee County is so eroded and “troughed” by the Little Sioux and its tributaries that the expression “the monotony of the prairie” never applied to this offshoot of the Missouri Valley, with its flowing wells and gushing springs enlivening and fertilizing all the beautiful country so drained. It is upland prairies country, but, with all its fruitfulness, fair and varied to look upon.

Although the first settlers in Cherokee County split fence rails and built their cabins from noble black walnut trees with reckless prodigality, the succeeding generations came to realize what such waste meant and commenced to conserve and extend the area of the native timber. Artificial groves were therefore early planted over the prairies, and today one would scarcely believe that many of the townships were once entirely treeless. It is claimed that no county in Iowa planted more artificial groves than Cherokee, save possibly Buena Vista County. As a rule, these trees were not panted for the they might later afford, but for wind breaks against



the winter storms and for the shade afforded live stock and humans in the heats of summer. In the late ‘60s, by authority of the General Assembly, the Board of Supervisors inaugurated its policy of encouraging the planting of trees in Cherokee County. The property owner was exempted from taxation (except for State purposes) to the amount of $500, should he within the year plant one or more acres of forest trees for timber, or one mile of hedgy for fence, or on-half a mile of shade trees along the public highway. One thousand forest trees were to be planted to the acre exempt from taxation, shade trees were not to exceed twelve fee apart and fruit trees, thirty three feet. In 1888 there was exempt from taxes, under such regulation, property amount to $200,000, and in the following year there were 600 acres more of artificial timber than of native growth in the county. This prolonged encouragement of tree-planting and the expansion of the timber areas in Cherokee County have not only tended to beautify the country, but to conserve the water supply and benefit all the agricultural and live stock interests.

Cherokee County is now in the first division of the northwestern Iowa counties embraced in this history. In 1920, the value of all its agricultural properties and live stock was assessed by the census enumerators at $118,300,000; the census of 1910 placed it at nearly $47,000,000 and that of 1900, at $19,000,000. Its beautiful prairie highlands, garnished with green grove thickly planted by nature and by man, supported plumb and hardy beef cattle to the number of more the 54,000 animals, valued at nearly $3,500,000; dairy cows 9,500 assessed at $671,000. Its swine, numbering 113,000, were valued at $2,600.000. Cherokee County is in the eastern border of the Missouri Valley corn belt, and the last census figures indicate a crop of nearly 5,600,000. It is also a fine grass country, its hay and forage crop amounting to 95,000 tons.

Buena Vista County lies along the Missouri-Mississippi divide and its general topography is similar to that of Calhoun County. About the only good natural drainage of Buena Vista County is in its southwestern sections into the Little Sioux. The entire eastern and central districts were originally covered by wide marshes and low sand hills, and



the headwaters of Coon River are in the northern sections. The characteristic topography of Buena Vista County is what is known as morainic, and one of the most striking evidences of the remaining glacial lakes in Northwestern Iowa is Storm Lake, south of the central part of the county. Most of the territory of the county has a naturally sluggish drainage into Coon River or the Valley of the Des Moines, and the crops raised and the live stock supported are those common to the Mississippi basin. As the divide separates the headwaters of the Coon River (Des Moines) from those of the Little Sioux (Missouri), the soils of Buena Vista County partake of the Wisconsin and loess subsoils and the later alluvial deposits. Many of the most fertile lands and most attractive groves are around the lakes, especially in the Storm Lake region. Like Calhoun County, and other regions in Northwestern Iowa, subject to the swamp lands act of 1850, Buena Vista County suffered by the manipulation of land adventurers, and it was many years before the actual drainage of her lowlands commenced. Now, however, they are among the most productive in the county.

The total value of the agricultural holdings of Buena Vista County, as indicated by the census figures of 1920, is $120,600,000, slightly above that of Cherokee County; in 1910, it was $39,600,000 and in 1900, $18,600,000. Buena Vista stood sixth among the twenty counties of Northwestern Iowa as a cattle raiser for beef; the 47,000 animals within her limits were valued at $2,500,000, and nearly 15,000 milch cows, at $800,000. Corn was produced to the amount of 5,200,000 bushels, and hay and forage yielded more than 100,000 tons.



Immediately east of the first tier of counties bordering the Big Sioux River in Iowa and in the far northern section of the State are the counties of Palo Alto, Clay, and O’Brien in the second tier from the Minnesota line, and Emmet, Dickinson and Osceola, immediately along the inter-state boundary. The divide runs diagonally through Palo Alto County and not far from the west boundary of Emmet



County; so that all but about a half of Palo Alto and most of Emmet of these six counties of Northwestern Iowa lie in the basin of the Missouri, immediately tributary to the Big Sioux Valley. The northeastern portion of this picturesque country embraces the distinctive lake region of the State, and is also fertile, as well as beautiful.

Palo Alto the southeastern county of this group, which is furrowed diagonally by the West Fork of the Des Moines River, was dotted with little lakes and sloughs and covered with swamps and lowlands as to its northern sections. After wrestling with the problem of their drainage for many years, the county authorities followed the usual custom of virtually giving away the swamp lands, which were afterward reclaimed through private efforts and made as valuable as any tracts for agricultural purposes. They finally entered as a large item into figures compiled by the census enumerators showing the agricultural wealth of the county. Their statistics published in the Federal census of 1920 credit Palo Alto with possessing farm lands, buildings, agricultural implements and live stock valued at $84,300,000; that of 1910 at $26,500,000, and the census of 1900, at $13,000,000. The figures also show that Palo Alto is among the foremost dairy counties in Northwestern Iowa, Sioux County being the only one which showed a decided supremacy according to the 1920 exhibit. Plymouth was a near competitor. The 20,000 dairy cattle of Palo Alto County were valued at $994,000; the beef cattle, 21,000 in number, at over $1,000,000, and the 63,000 hogs were listed at $1,400,000. The county raised nearly 4,000,000 bushels of corn, and 77,000 tons of hay and forage.

The waters of Clay County all drain into the valley of the Little Sioux or Missouri. The lakes are in the eastern part of the county and there are many fertile lands around them. The upper soil of dark loam, from two to eight feet in thickness, with clay subsoil, prevails. All the conditions of soil, natural drainage, pure water and the raising of nutritious grasses combine to make Clay County ideal for cattle, especially those produced for beef. The census figures for 1920 indicated that it stood fourth in that branch of industry, 50,000 cattle of that class having been enumerated with an estimated value of $2,800,000; its 10,800 dairy cattle, on the



other hand, were valued at $600,000. A valuation of $2,000,000 was placed on the 81,000 swine listed in Clay County. In connection with the great basic feeds for the live stock, it is also well to know that the county raised 4,000,000 bushels of corn for the year and 88,000 tons of hay and forage.
O’Brien is a distinctly prairie county, its only rough sections being in the northeast and southeast which are broken by the Little Sioux and its tributary, the Ocheyedan, into bluffs and irregular pastures. But it is all good land for corn and live stock, and is variegated by both natural groves along the river courses and artificial timber planted largely in the form of tree claims. It is splendidly watered and the rise in the value of its lands is largely due to the adaptability of the country to the raising of cattle and hogs. O’Brien County stands fifth in the total value of its farm buildings, lands, implements and live stock, in comparison with the other counties of Northwestern Iowa. The census figures for 1920 give it at $121,500,000; the total for 1910, at $40,000,000, and for 1900, at $19,000,000. Its 36,000 beef cattle were valued at $1860,000 in 1920, and the milch stock, 16,000 in number, at $946,000. The 91,000 hogs listed in the county were assessed at nearly $2,240,000. For the year covered by the census of 1920 O’Brien County raised a corn crop of 5,300,000 bushels and one of hay and forage amounting to 104,000 tons.



Emmet and Dickinson counties, which are immediately south of the Minnesota-Iowa line, are substantially the same in contour and general physical characteristics. These are determined by the course of the Mississippi-Missouri divide, which substantially follows the west boundary of Emmet County and passes into Minnesota over the northeast corner of Dickinson. The numerous and striking lakes of the two counties are strung along the valleys of the upper Des Moines and Little Sioux. In a general classification, this portion of Iowa would be described as undulating or rolling prairie, though in places there are high and precipitous hills, such as are seen along the West Fork of the des Moines River in Emmet County. They are especially prominent in the northwestern part of the county and extend in a broken series in a


southeasterly direction. One of the notable features of Emmet County, which has much to do with its agricultural strength, is the great alluvial plain, with a gravelly base, which abuts the hills and is believed to be the bottom of an ancient river unrelated tot he Des Plaines of the present.
Dickinson County occupies the highest position on the divide of any region in the State. Its hills and lakes around the headwaters of the Little Sioux seemed to be massed, or thrown together in confusion. As an early surveyor describes them: “The hills about Diamond Lake, those northwest of Silver Lake and those of Eastern Osceola County, simply defy description or classification; they pitch toward every point of the compass, they are of every height and shape, they rise by gradual ascent and fall of by precipices so steep that the most venturesome animal would scarcely attempt the descent; they enclose anon high tablelands, anon wide low valleys that open nowhere; they carry lakes on their summits and undrained marshes at their feet; their gentler slopes are beautiful prairies easily amenable to the plough, their crowns often beds of gravel capped with bowlders (as spelled in the book) and reefs of driven sand.” In various places on the hillsides of Dickinson County, especially by the margins of the larger streams, there are gravel deposits greatly unlike the ordinary gravel beds of Northern Iowa. Now and then these deposits widen out into plains of considerable size, like those along the Des Moines in Emmet County. It is sandy, gravely prairie, two or three miles in width, following the general course of the Little Sioux River and extending to the southern boundary of the county. In the southern parts of the county are also numerous terraces lifted fifty or more feet above the present river.

The irregular topography of the two counties has a tendency to render its streams more than usually tortuous. This is especially true of the eastern part of Emmet County and the western and southern parts of Dickinson, as may be seen in the windings of the East Fork of the Des Moines River in Emmet and those of the Little Sioux River in Dickinson. The farmers of these counties have the privilege of being able to live and thrive in a wonderful region of lakes, valleys, rugged cliffs and rolling, grass-clad prairies. In the midst of



such inspiring surrounding, they also live in progressive comfort and prosperity. This statement has been forcefully demonstrated within the past twenty or thirty years, and there are few counties in Northwestern Iowa which show a greater proportional increase in the value of agricultural property and live stock than Emmet and Dickinson. The Federal census figures for 1920 showed that these properties had been assessed in Emmet County at a valuation of $57,800,000, as compared with $17,600,000 in 1910 and about $9,500,000 in 1900. The figures for Dickinson, in the same census years, were $49,700,000, $16,600,000 and $8,600,000, respectively. As ascertained by the enumerators of the last national census, Emmet County had 31,000 beef cattle valued at $1,500,000, and Dickinson, 28,000, assessed at $1,400,000; of milch cows, 10,500, valued at $575,000, for Emmet County, and 10,400, valued at %60,000, for Dickinson. In the raising of swine, Emmet County was also slightly in the lead of her sister, viz.: The 46,000 porkers credited to Emmet were valued at $1,100,000, while the 43,000, in Dickinson, were assessed at $986,000. Emmet raised 2,400,000 bushels of corn as compared with the 2,200,000 bushels produced in Dickinson, and the hay and forage yield were respectively 66,000 and 51,000 tons.


Osceola County, tot he west of Dickinson, is different in its physical features from the lake counties of Northern Iowa. It has no lakes of importance and even its sloughs have nearly all been ditched and drained and the bottom lands been made productive. This county was originally an open prairie and destitute of timber with the exception of a little willow brush that escaped the annual prairie fires along Ocheyedan Creek. Otter and Ocheyedan creeks are the only streams of importance in the county, the former draining its western sections into Little Rock River, Lyon County, and Ocheyedan Creek, its eastern and central districts, into the Little Sioux, which it joins in Clay County to the south. The land along both these streams is nearly all tillable and excellent for farming. The surface of the county is generally rolling, with small


level districts both in the eastern and western portions. The soil is a dark prairie loam, with a porous clay subsoil, which ensures crops against seasons which are unusually wet or dry. It is from two to four feet deep, of fine quality and free from stone and, with proper cultivation and rotation of crops, is practically inexhaustible.

Although one of the younger counties of Northwestern Iowa in point of settlement, Osceola has made rapid advancement in agricultural matters for the past twenty-five years. The Government census of 1920 showed that its properties devoted tot he raising of crops and live stock were valued at $70,500,000; 1910, at $21,000,000, and 1900, at $10,600,000. At the completion of the last census year, its 18,000 beef cattle were valued at $902,000,and its dairy stock (13,000 animals) at $731,000. Its 35,000 swine were assessed at nearly $1,370,000. An important item in the development of its live stock interests was the raising of its crops of corn and of hay and forage, represented by nearly 2,600,000 bushels of the former, and 62,000 tons of the latter.



Thus the main physical advantages of Northwestern Iowa have been exhibited, county by county, from the more regular, more mellow, more cultivated and more settled districts of the south and the immediate valleys of the Missouri and Big Sioux, to the more swampy, broken and less improved northern districts. Throughout the narrative, the effects of the great divide between the valleys of the Des Moines and the Missouri, on the drainage and soil of northwestern Iowa have been kept in mind - the advantages, as well as the drawbacks, which tended to develop this great section of the State. Soil, climate, drainage were in its favor; offset by the disadvantages of Indian fears, inadequate transportation until a comparatively late period, and, after these had been in a measure surmounted, the plagues of devastating insects which cursed this section of the State far more than other districts. The story also led to the sequel that the wheat fields, which had been constantly exhausting the soil and which were easy prey to insect enemies, were almost



abandoned in Northwestern Iowa and replaced by the more hardy and resisting corn and by the clovers and grasses, which not only thrived, but reinvigorated the soil and passed into the systems of the live stock, which also returned invaluable fertilizing elements to the soil. What seemed at first to be the darkest calamity which could befall Northwestern Iowa proved therefore to be the commencement of a brighter agricultural day.


~ transcribed and submitted by Mary E. Boyer for Iowa History Project, August 2008

Northwestern Iowa Table of Contents