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Chapter X

It is not necessary here to trace the expansion of the Iowa Land Company into Minnesota. The Closes were advertising 500,000 acres for sale in the summer of 1882. At the new town of Ireton in Sioux County they erected an elegant brick block. (132) In the summer of the following year the firm bought from the St. Paul and Sioux City the town site of Bigelow, Minnesota, and from the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul 100,000 acres in Pipestone County farther north.(133)

In 1883 they still advertised 500,000 acres for sale in Plymouth, Woodbury, Lyon, and Osceola counties in Iowa, and Nobles, Murray, and Rock counties in Minnesota. (134) Indeed, the Close brothers brought the hum of industry to southwestern Minnesota by giving contracts for the building of farm houses before the snows of winter came in 1883 and even built a hotel at Pipestone. (135) What they had done for Le Mars and Sibley where they still maintained' offices, Pipestone also expected. In the autumn the Closes are said to have shipped a wagon load of advertising matter to different parts of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin to induce immigrants to the region which they were promoting. (136)

In the month of February, 1884, the Close brothers gave up the management of the Iowa Land Company and the partnership known as Close, Benson and Company dissolved, C. W. Benson leaving it to take over the management of the Iowa Land Company. The three Closes then formed the new firm of Close Brothers and Company; but Fred, who had charge of the business at Pipestone, withdrew in 1884 and became a resident of Sioux City. (137) For some months, in order to care for their farms and the lands of English investors still in their hands, James and William Close maintained offices at Le Mars, Sibley, and Pipestone; but early in 1885, to compete on more even terms with railroad and other land companies, the firm incorporated, set up at Chicago, where they have remained to this day, although the Closes have not kept up their connection with it all these years. (138) How long they kept offices in Iowa or continued to own or manage farms in Plymouth, Woodbury, Sioux, Osceola, and Lyon counties it is impossible to state. (139)

As the country settled up, the Closes gradually disposed of their holdings to tenants, chiefly Americans, whom they had started on the road to prosperity. As for the Iowa Land Company, it was reported as doing business in Osceola County several years later, with Cecil F. Benson and K. D. Dunlop as active partners. (140) What this corporation did in that county may be told in the words of local historians:

While the Iowa Land Company operated here it was quite a rendezvous for young Englishmen, who had nothing to do but spend an allowance. They gave Sibley the appearance of being a lively town. Horse racing, polo playing, fox hunting and toboggan sliding were the usual sports for pastime. The company sent agents east to look up tenants and a vast number, good, bad and indifferent, were brought in by their enterprising agents. During those years, Sibley seemed to have a boom, but as a lot of the floating class of tenants moved on, the merchants found that they were losing more from poor accounts than they had ever lost before. It was probably the hardest time the Sibley merchants ever experienced. The managers of this company were fine gentlemen and free buyers, as well as prompt paymasters, but many of their tenants were a damage to the town. Finally the Iowa Land Company closed out its interests here and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where it is still doing business. (141)

How much land Englishmen owned in Iowa and Minnesota in the spring of 1884, which date may be regarded as marking the zenith of their operations in the region, was estimated by a St. Paul newspaper as follows:

Along the lines of the St. Paul & Sioux City and Sioux City & St. Paul, now the western division of the Omaha, foreign owners are more plentiful; and easily first in magnitude are the Close Brothers, formerly of Le Mars, Iowa, but lately removed to Pipestone City, Minnesota. It is scarcely correct to call these gentlemen aliens, as they live in the United States, and are thoroughly identified with American interests. Their possessions foot 270,000 acres, of which 150,000 are Milwaukee & St. Paul in Pipestone county, Minn.; 30,000 from the same company in Osceola and Dickinson counties, Iowa; 50,000 from the Sioux City road in Rock and Nobles counties, Minn. and 40,000 from the same road in Osceola, Sioux and Lyon counties, Iowa. The gentlemen have many thousands of acres under cultivation; have built towns, roads - rail and wagon - and brought to this country thousands of Britons. The following table shows the total of alien ownership, those owning more than 5000 acres being designated separately: (142)

C. M BEACH, LONDON  10,000
                         GRAND TOTAL  459,380

That the accumulation by foreigners of vast quantities of American land had begun to agitate the citizens of the country, especially the Anglophobes, is clear from the fact that bills were introduced in Congress in 1884 to restrict or prevent the acquisition of public lands by these "leviathan squatters". Two members of Congress addressed their colleagues on the subject and expressed their alarm at the condition of things by pointing out in almost identical terms that these foreigners had bought up nearly 21,000,000 acres of land within the past few years. (143) There seems, however, to have been little opposition to the English land holders in Iowa.

Congressmen were asked if they did not tremble for the future when they saw that subjects of the British Empire in only thirty-two different tracts owned an area equal to one-fourth the size of the British Isles. Nothing, however, was done at this time to check the absorption of vast quantities of land by foreigners or interfere with the growth of large landed estates ; nor did Congress take steps to aid the horde of settlers who alleged they had crowded to the frontier only to find themselves pitted in a desperate struggle against corporate greed and combined foreign capital.

It may also be recorded in this connection that the Closes formed the first Kansas Land Company and bought about 100,000 acres in Trego County, Kansas. In a letter from London, dated November 30, 1921, William B. Close writes:

There had been rain for three years before we bought these lands, and we sold most of them off at double the price within a year; but unfortunately a period of drought set in and the lands, being sold on time, reverted to our Company. We also bought another 100,000 acres on the Atchison Road in Kansas, near Colorado, and another 100,000 of beautiful land in the Panhandle of Texas. But unfortunately a period of drought set in, coinciding with the period of financial depression in the United States, and for a number of years there was no demand for these lands, and heavy taxes were paid each year, so that when a demand began to spring up, our friends here urged us to sell, get what money we could back out of the investment, and stop paying taxes. Had these lands been held for a year longer when the secrets of dry farming were being discovered, there would have been a large fortune waiting for the investment instead of which we did not get the whole of our money back.

At Chicago it appears that Close Brothers and Company developed a large and very successful farm loan business, borrowing money in England at from four to five per cent in those days and realizing from six and one-half to seven per cent net on their loans in this country. They had other enterprises as well, including an irrigation project at Lamar, Colorado, and the building of the White Pass and Yukon Railway in Alaska, which they financed from London.

A brief biographical statement about the four brothers who did so much to promote the settlement and up-building of northwestern Iowa will not be out of place here. The tragic end of Frederick Brooks Close occurred on the polo grounds at Sioux City, in June, 1890. James Brooks Close died on July 31, 1910. John Brooks Close, who never entered the firm but supplied it with capital, died on March 20, 1914. William Brooks Close, the sole survivor of the original partnership, was still enjoying good health, except for the effects of an operation and influenza from which he was recovering in a London hospital, when he wrote on November 30, 1921.

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132 The Le Mars Daily Liberal, August 24, 1882.

133 The Minneapolis Tribune, quoted in The Evening Sentinel (Le Mars), March 8, 1883.

134 The Evening Sentinel (Le Mars), June 29, 1883.

135 The Pipestone Star, quoted in The Evening Sentinel (Le Mars), July 12, August 16, 1883.

136 The Evening Sentinel (Le Mars), October 31, 1883, February 19, 1884.

137 These facts were obtained from Mr. J. W. Probert, the present manager of Close Brothers and Company with offices in the Conway Building at Chicago, farm loans being its chief business.

138 The Le Mars Daily Sentinel, February 3, 1885.

Samuel Houghton Graves, another Cambridge University man, joined the firm at Chicago in 1885.

139 The Le Mars Daily Sentinel for February 3 and March 17, 1885, shows that the Closes were still doing business in Iowa.

140 Peck, Montzheimer, and Miller's Past and Present of O'Brien and Osceola Counties, Iowa, p. 673.

141 Peck, Montzheimer, and Miller's Past and Present o f O'Brien and Osceola Counties, Iowa, p. 674.
     Mr. J. W. Probert of Chicago declares that he knew hundreds of the Iowa Land Company's tenants and regarded them as a fine class of Iowa and Illinois farmers.

142 The St. Paul Pioneer Press, quoted in The Le Mars Daily Sentinel, May 14, 1884.
     The aliens named here, except Mr. Sykes who had land in Lyon County, must have owned Minnesota land. The owner, last referred to may include the Englishmen who had farms in northwestern Iowa. In any event, all these lands were probably being offered for sale by the Close brothers.

143 Congressional Record, 48th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 2359, 4794. Members of Congress were given no authority for the following list:



English syndicate No. 1 (in Texas).


English syndicate No. 3 (in Texas).


Sir Edward Reid, K. C. B. (in Florida).


English syndicate, headed by S. Philpotts.


C. R. and Land Company, of London Marquis of Tweedale


Phillips, Marshall & Co., of London.


German syndicate.


Anglo-American syndicate, headed by Mr. Rodgers, London


An English company (in Mississippi)


Duke of Sutherland.


British Land and Mortgage Company


Captain Whalley, M. P., for Peterboro, England.


Missouri Land Company, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Hon. Robert Tennant, of London.


Scotch Land Company, Dundee, Scotland.


Lord Dunmore.


Benjamin Newgas, Liverpool, England.


Lord Houghton.


Lord Dunraven.


English Land Company (in Florida).


English Land Company, represented by B. Newgas.


An English capitalist (in Arkansas).


Albert Peel, M. P., Leicestershire, England.


Sir John Lester Kaye, Yorkshire, England.


George Grant, of London (in Kansas).


An English syndicate (represented by Close Bros.) in Wisconsin [probably Iowa and Minnesota] 110,000
A Scotch company (in California) 140,000
M. Ellerhauser (of Nova Scotia) in West Virginia. 600,000
A Scotch syndicate (in Florida) 500,000
A. Boyesen, Danish consul at Milwaukee  50,000
Missouri Land and S. S. Co., of Edinburgh, Scotland 165,000
English syndicate (in Florida) 59,000
Total acres 20,941,666

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