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Chapter XI

Despite their enthusiasm over the wonderful promise of the section of the State which they were promoting, the Close brothers did not imagine or prophesy that forty years later Plymouth and Sioux counties together would lead Iowa, the garden spot of the Mississippi Valley, in the value of land, farm buildings, machinery, and live stock; stand first in the value and production of farm crops; and tower high in agriculture as perhaps the richest of the counties of the whole United States. (144)

The Closes made no mistake when in 1880 they advertised the fertility of the soil in this region. They were convinced that grasshoppers alone had discouraged agricultural industry in the decade just past; and they invested in the prairie lands of these newer counties on the chance that the scourge was at an end. Time proved that in the face of the risks which they had assumed they and their friends were wise in trying their hand at agriculture and animal husbandry in the counties of northwestern Iowa.

In Garfield Township, Plymouth County, near the present town of Kingsley, the Closes anticipated the coming of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and ventured to buy their first large tract in the autumn of 1878, the same year in which they had begun operations in Crawford County. The following spring saw much of the prairie sod broken for cultivation, some thirty odd houses built on as many one hundred and sixty acre farms, and tenants procured for most of them. (145) Early in 1881 a New Jersey editor who had met the brothers at Sioux City informed his readers that the Closes owned 28,000 acres in the county, of which they had more than 11,000 under the plow; besides they had made an actual outlay of $100,000, having built 150 houses at an average cost of $350 each, and expected to break 15,000 acres during the year and obtain one hundred renters on favorable terms. The editor's conclusion that these young Englishmen showed "considerable enterprise" and a great amount of "cheek" was capitalized at Le Mars in the following retort:

Jes' so, jes' so. And since the Jarsey scribe met them in Sioux City, the Close Bros., have been cheeky enough to purchase 20,000 acres more in Lyon county, some forty miles north of here. They have had the cheek to advertise for teams to break an additional 18,000 acres to that spoken of above. They had the cheek to give a contract the other day to one of our builders for the erection of 75 more dwelling houses, and have actually the cheek to invite the struggling and sturdy young farmers of New Jersey (they have no prejudice you see against foreigners) to purchase those farms thus improved, or rent them on most favorable terms. They have the cheek to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in actual improvements, and the cheek to believe the investment a good one. Yes, they have "a great amount of cheek." (146) 

How many houses and outbuildings the Closes had constructed on their own farms and others throughout northwestern Iowa it is impossible even to estimate. For a number of years S. B. Sawyer, Wm. McKay, and George Warner, builders and contractors, seem to have been busy following the pace set by the Close brothers in their purchase of lands. Whenever new farms were laid out, these artisans made bids and received con tracts to put up the necessary buildings in Ply mouth, Woodbury, Sioux, Lyon, and Osceola counties. In June, 1881, upwards of two hundred houses of uniform size and style and as many barns were reported in course of construction, ninety alone being under way in Osceola and Lyon counties to be completed for occupancy in the autumn or spring. Although the first dwellings were plastered, some of the later ones were ceiled with matched lumber and after January, 1882, their dimensions were enlarged.

The Close brothers are credited with having made the first and greatest improvement in Osceola County when in January, 1882, they had completed about one hundred houses in Viola, Wilson, Holman, Gilman, and Goewey townships. (147) This number was only a starter and was subsequently very much increased. In Lyon County, where they managed over 20,000 acres, one-half of which was broken and seeded in the spring of 1881, the Closes built over 100 houses with barns, and during this year they are said to have spent $100,000 with Lyon County merchants, carpenters, blacksmiths, and common laborers. (148) In Sioux County they managed over 46,000 acres, an area equivalent to two whole townships, of which probably 7000 acres were brought tinder cultivation in 1881 and divided into about sixty farms. (149)

Some idea of the firm's activity as the creator of homesteads may be gathered from a list of its accomplishments in five counties in the year 1881: there were 25,777 acres broken up, 14,318 acres cultivated, 24,211 acres purchased, 319 houses built, 318 barns, 142 granaries, 122 corncribs, and 70 wells dug. Later years witnessed a greatly increased showing in the same direction: a house, barn, cribs, and other improvements arose on every quarter of a section controlled by the Close brothers. (150)

Besides carpenters, masons, and plasterers, laborers with teams and plows had no dearth of work for several spring seasons: breaking the virgin prairie or shallow plowing of the tough sod became their principal occupation for many years to come. In 1881, a typical year, contracts were let for 12,000 acres in Plymouth County at $2.25 per acre and 30,000 acres in Lyon, Sioux, and Osceola counties (151)  - at the end of the year about 26,000 acres having been actually broken up. Not only professional "breakers" but also tenants were engaged for this important work.

In April, 1881, the Close brothers wanted 180 farmers as tenants on unbroken farms. After breaking the sod at the usual rate of $2.25 per acre and sowing it to flax, the seed being supplied free by the firm and half of the threshing bill paid later, the settler divided his first year's crop on equal shares with the Closes. In this way settlers ran no risk, were assured of wages and free house rent, and had a chance to look around and choose good permanent locations for future farming operations. (152) Furthermore, when the flax was harvested, the firm paid a good price for "back setting", that is, plowing deeply the flax stubble or rotted broken prairie sod in preparation for the next year's planting of corn and wheat, cereals not nearly so exhausting to the soil as flax.

Another characteristic feature of the opening of a new country was tree planting on the farms. George H. Wright, called the horti-agriculturist of Sioux City, at various times obtained contracts to set out thousands of trees upon the Close and other lands throughout northwestern Iowa: early in 1881 alone he was engaged to plant 325 acres of trees, and a little later 400 acres more. His first work consisted of planting principally , in the southeastern part of Plymouth County and the northeastern corner of Woodbury County. The trees planted were mostly cottonwood and elm, with a liberal sprinkling of ash, box-elder, and maple. The same nursery man closed a contract to plant one thousand acres of trees in the spring of 1882. (153)

Various reasons may be ascribed for this kind of activity. The whole region was treeless prairie except for a little timber along the streams. Groves were, therefore, planted early, several acres on every farm, to supply not only the fuel demands of the inhabitants as soon as possible but also for shade and for protection as windbreaks in winter for man and beast. So rapid was the growth of the softwood varieties that a few years sufficed to effect the objects desired. Moreover, the State legislature had stimulated the culture of forest trees by farmers by the passage of a law providing that for every acre planted to trees $100 be deducted from the taxable value of the farm for ten years from the time of planting, thus helping to reduce taxes. (154)

Through their untiring energy and perseverance the Close brothers succeeded in attracting not only a large number of their countrymen to locate on farms of their own but also hundreds of tenants to work on the farms belonging to their firm and to the Iowa Land Company of London. In the years 1880 and 1.881 the Close farms could have been let twice over, a fact to which a Le Mars editor alluded as "landlordism on business principles - landlordism active, enterprising and trotting about." (155) By judicious advertising the Closes found it easy to procure renters, as may be guessed from the following newspaper story:

These improved farms will be rented to enterprising and thrifty farmers, either for cash rent, or a share of the crop. When desired seed will be furnished, and in some cases cows and stock, and the renter given an opportunity to pay for the same in breaking or other work, at a good price for his labor. Each farm or quarter section is provided with a well-built house and all necessary farm buildings, and all that is required by the renter is farming implements sufficient to plant and harvest his crops. These farms, scattered throughout the several counties above alluded to, comprise some of the most desirable farming lands on the American continent or in the world. The country is well watered and adapted to the growth of corn, wheat, oats, barley, rye, flax and in fact all the cereal crops known to the temperate zone. For grazing and dairying purposes the country is unparalleled, which features will, in the near future, assume an important place in the agricultural achievements of the country. The lands are all within easy reach of railroads and markets; good schools abound, and every advantage in fact is vouchsafed to the settler that are afforded in the older settled states of the Union. Situated in a climate proverbially healthy, free from all malarial taint, and in a latitude free from the severe rigors of winter and the melting rays of the summer sun, it is a "land of promise" to the poor, and to the rich an investment that will return ten fold. (156)

Not counting the farms already occupied, the Closes had one hundred to let early in 1881. Of the 319 farms opened in 1881 only about thirty remained unoccupied in February, 1882, and these were soon disposed of. (157) The tenants were chiefly Americans, although some Hollanders took advantage of the opportunity to devote themselves to agriculture. Indeed, a considerable Dutch colony had been established in Sioux County, the firm of Richardson and Hospers at Le Mars having busily directed the tide of Dutch immigration to Sioux and Plymouth counties for several years. (158) These people came with little of the world's goods; they familiarized themselves with the country, crops, markets, and prices; and eventually many of them bought farms from the Closes.

So numerous were the holdings controlled by the Closes that stewards were appointed to superintend about forty farms each. (159) Thus, John Hopkinson received an appointment to look after the farms in Lyon and Osceola counties. At harvest and threshing time especially, the steward's vigilance in the interest of his employers was very much needed. Sometimes the Close brothers, in order to protect themselves as well as their tenants, procured extra labor - as shown by their advertisement in the autumn of 1883 for three hundred additional hands to help harvest and care for crops on Sioux County farms. (160)

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144 This is no empty boast. The United States census for 1920 reveals the fact that Iowa leads the nation as a farming State, other States taking second place in the following respects:

 Value of all farm property





 Value of land alone





Value of farm buildings





Value of farm machinery 





Value of live stock 





     With regard to the value of' all farm property Sioux County came first in 1920, Pottawattamie second, and Plymouth third; Sioux leads also in the value of land and farm buildings, Pottawattamie being second, Plymouth third, and Woodbury fourth.
     Pottawattamie led in the value of live stock, Plymouth came second, and Sioux third. In regard to the value of all crops produced in 1919, Sioux stood first, Pottawattamie second, and Plymouth third.
     These counties are, of course, among the largest in the State. Furthermore, by using monetary forms of measurement, especially in 1920 when all values were inflated, it is no wonder that we find these counties in Iowa enormously wealthy. Perhaps inflation had gone farther there than elsewhere, but even so no land in Iowa is more fertile than that of the northwestern counties.

145 History o f the Counties of Woodbury and Plymouth, Iowa (A. Warner & Co., 1890-1891), pp. 507, 508; The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), February 2, 1881.

146 The Monmouth Inquirer (New Jersey), quoted in The Lemars Sentinel, February 3, 1881.

147 The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), February 2, 9, 1881; The Lemars Sentinel, May 5, 12, June 9, July 14, 1881; The Sibley Tribune, quoted in The Lemars Sentinel, January 12, 1882.

148 The Rock Rapids Reporter, quoted in The Lemars Sentinel, January 12, 1882.

149 The Lemars Sentinel, July 14, 1881.

150 The Lemars Sentinel, February 2, 1882.

151 The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), February 9, 1881; The Lemars Sentinel, May 5, 1881.

152 The Sibley Gazette and The Sioux County Herald, quoted in The Lemars Sentinel, April 21, May 12, 1881.

153 The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), February 9, 1881; The Lemars Sentinel, February 10, April 21, June 9, August 11, 1881.

154 Laws of Iowa, 1868, pp. 126-128.

155 Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIV, p. 68; The Lemars Sentinel, June 16, 1881.

156 The Lemars Sentinel, February 2, 1882.

157 The Lemars Sentinel, February 24, 1881, February 2, 1882. These farms were advertised for rent in The Lemars Sentinel, July 21, August 4, 1881.

158 The Lemars Sentinel, February 24, 1881.
     Of the life led by tenants on these pioneer farms the present writer has no recollection but from a conversation with his parents, after this article was written, he discovered that he had spent most of his first year on a Close farm in Osceola County, one and a half miles south of Bigelow, Minnesota, and eight miles north of Sibley. There, on the treeless prairie, shortly after their arrival from Holland in the spring of 1884, .the writer's parents took up their abode. Then, having harvested a crop of flax, they decided to abandon farming. Owing to a shortage of houses in Sibley, they had no choice but to spend the autumn and winter months in another of those cheerless tenant houses. Before removing to town on March 1, 1885, they sold their horses and farm machinery to the writer's uncle and aunt who were also recent immigrants from Holland.
     A news item in The Lemars Sentinel of June 16, 1881, hinted at the promotion of Dutch immigration to northwestern Iowa in the following terms:

"Some five or six weeks ago two Hollanders, brothers, named Harry and Mello Dykema came to Lemars. Harry had been a business man in Holland, and Mello had served four and a half years on the Parisian journals. Both are brilliant, talented and energetic. Lemars did not seem a promising field for a foreign journalist and the whilom manager of a great mercantile House, but they were bound to make a career of some sort. Soon the real estate firm of Richardson & Hospers saw in these dashing young men, the ablest of immigration commissioners, and last week Harry was sent back to Holland to direct the tide of homeseekers towards Plymouth and Sioux counties. He will doubtless give a good account of himself, and in two or three months we expect to see several hundred sturdy and well-to-do Holland farmers, with their families, added to our population.
     "In In the meantime, Mello, the ex-journalist, is writing letters to the leading papers in Holland, calling the attention of intending emigrants to the advantages of northwestern Iowa.... We congratulate Richardson & Hospers in having secured the services of such gifted and active young men, and hope they may prosper in their new home."
     Henry Hospers in 1869 began to promote the immigration of Hollanders to his "colony" in Sioux County not many miles north of Le Mars. Himself a native of The Netherlands and for many years a prominent figure at Pella in Marion County where thousands of fellow-countrymen had found homes since 1847, Mr.'Hospers induced a large number of his energetic young neighbors to leave that rapidly filling portion of the State and go with him to found the towns of East Orange (now Alton) and Orange City in northwestern Iowa. Those pioneer farmers of Dutch birth and ancestry blazed the way and thousands of emigrants fresh from Holland afterwards joined their settlement, Le Mars being the nearest railroad town and trade center for many years. For further information on the subject the reader is referred to Van der Zee's The Hollanders of Iowa.

159 Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIV, p. 68.

160 The Lemars Sentinel, May 5, 12, 1881, September 27, 1883.

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