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During his visit to England in 1880, it is said, William B. Close had a conference with the famous Commoner, John Bright, and gained his support for a scheme which had "happily suggested itself to the Closes": they determined to accept young men as farm pupils for a fixed compensation, just as in England young men were taken into a barrister's office or chambers. (177) And so the Closes undertook to receive on their own stock farms a certain number of newcomers, show them all they themselves had done, and help them to avoid pitfalls in their dealings with local farmers and land agents until they were ready and able to make a start for themselves. (178)
These young "gentleman" pupils, according to an eye-witness, were made to plow, drive cattle, and perform every sort of farm labor. (179)At the end of a year they were presumed to be introduced to the mysteries of western farming and qualified to buy land for themselves and "employ one or two experienced hands to look after their affairs."
Generally speaking, "the young gentleman emigrant ", a product peculiar to England, had two courses open upon arrival in Iowa: either he could hire out to the ordinary American farmer for his keep and possibly a small wage from the start; or he could "board in the family of people of his own social grade and education and have much the same comforts and refinements he would have at home, say in a farm-house of the better class or in a quiet country vicarage, with the social advantages pertaining to that style of life." (180) For an American it is not difficult to judge which alternative appealed to a member of the English "gentleman" class.
Early in 1881 the Closes were reported as having some three hundred boys under tuition for farming or stock raising. However exaggerated that newspaper statement may be, Robert Benson of London testified that the system had on the whole worked much better than could have been expected, "considering that many of the newcomers came out with somewhat extravagant notions, and were as ignorant of how to hold their own in matters of business as they were of practical farming." (181) In a letter penned from England in 1921 William B. Close writes of the young men who came to Le Mars:
I offered for the sum of £25 to give all advice in England as to going out; to get cheap first-class transportation by the White Star Line (and I may mention the rate was £12 in those days); that my brothers Fred and James would meet the newcomer at Le Mars, find him a place on a farm where he could learn something about the conditions in the country; and to buy 160 acres of land for him without any commission if required, engaging to see that he got good land and title.
I was young and I did not know what I was doing, for although we had some splendid fellows join us, yet a number of parents seized the opportunity of loading on to us sons and relatives that were an embarrassment to them here, and who never would make good, so we had our hands full, as you may imagine. In addition we took some pupils on a stock farm we had, but never had any trouble with those boys. Amongst others who came there was Almeric Paget, now Lord Queenborough, who married Miss Whitney of New York, William Farquhar, Sir Basil Thompson, and others.
Some of the £25 boys behaved very badly indeed. They got money from their parents, spent it in riotous living, and then to shield themselves, wrote home that Close Brothers had invested their money and lost it. A Bishop's son was the worst among them ! The consequence was that I found that stories affecting our credit were being spread about in England. I had great difficulty in hunting up the source of these stories, and we had an unhappy time. The Field Newspaper having heard some of these rumours, and doubting anyone of our standing could be doing what rumours said we were doing, sent out a correspondent of theirs who knew the West of America, Mr. Townsend who wrote for their paper as "St. Kames". He arrived at Le Mars one day without disclosing his identity. He mixed with the boys at the Club, and he asked about Close Brothers, but could get nothing definite. He spent two weeks in trying to follow up any clew as to our not having acted fairly with the boys. I did not even know he was there making inquiries, when one day he walked into our office, asked to see me, told me who he was, told me the reason he had, come, and said he could find not a single thing to back up the wicked rumours that had been spread in England by those two or three wretched boys, and he wrote a long article to the Field describing the whole colony, and saying that if he formed a colony as he thought he might, he would follow on the precise lines of Close Brothers and Company.
S. Nugent Townshend, the gentleman referred to by Mr. Close had come from southeastern Kansas "rather prepossessed than otherwise against the Le Mars settlement, and prepared to pity the young fellows"; but he left it "envying them their good fortune and their surroundings". In correspondence despatched to England he described the system as he encountered it on the farm perhaps most noted for its pupils, or "pups" as they were called by the Americans:
Captain Moreton is a father to the Colony, a good religious man, with great influence over all the young fellows. He farms about one thousand acres near the town, and has twenty-two young fellows with him, on the same principle as the Close pupils, and these Moreton boys are taken specially good care of; but, of course, admission to the captain's establishment is not an easy matter to procure. His boys do all the work of the farm. Lord Hobart, when I was there, was mowing, assisted by two of Lord St. Vincent's sons, and the hon. captain was feeding a thrashing machine. It was hot, but everyone looked happy, even young Moreton, who was firing and driving the steam engine. And again the picnic aspect, despite the real hard and remunerative work, struck me irresistably.
I had a long chat with Capt. Moreton on new beginners in the United States, and he said half the breakdowns were in consequence of drink and bad food. No young English gentleman could work hard on a diet of beans and bacon, such as he gets in the house of the Western American farmer. So the captain keeps a generous table, and his boys are certainly a credit to his system; clear-eyed, bronzed, and muscular, in the highest health and spirits. How much more sensible and useful lives they live here than they would do if at home. (182)
Strange as it may seem to Americans to-day, vacancies for boarders and pupils on some of the best farms in the English colony were widely advertised in the old country. One pamphlet opens with Mr. Townshend's pleasant picture of the landscape around Le Mars:
English farm-houses dot hill-sides near and far; a few poplar-like cottonwood trees grow well as shade and shelter for these homesteads; and on the gentle hills to the north, surrounded by large steadings, heavy clustering clumps of cottonwood, and splendidly farmed fields, dominates the residence of the Hon. Capt. Moreton (brother to the Earl of Ducie) ....(183)
But even from this pleasant scene, where Lord Harris was expected in a few days to revive the highest standard of cricket, I must go and trot westward. Farm after farm - this English, that English, the next English - we pass, and at length draw bridle at the end of twenty miles, to find ourselves at the door of the wonderfully comfortable house of Mr. White Marsh. We had driven through hay to the horse's knees on this property for some time; fairly good looking sheep dotted the hill some half-a-mile off, and everything had the air of solidity and comfort so pleasing and unusual to see in a new State. Mr. White Marsh was then an absentee; so on the backward trail we put up at his neighbour's, Messrs. Eller, who, with Mr. De Moleyns, had asked us to dinner. English servants, English cooking, and thorough English neatness and cleanliness characterised this property also. The Messrs. Eller had adopted the Close system of leasing for one year, on share of produce, such of their land as they were not easily able to work themselves at first; and this plan is certainly a very commendable one. But now this letter has run its full descriptive course, a course the length of which can only be justified by the fact that it will interest at least twelve hundred parents (184) of six hundred of some of the finest and noblest boys in or out of England. Very few indeed - not more than 1 per cent. - "by the wayside fell and perished" in Le Mars colony. I will not exactly say that the Messrs. Close have selected the place where most money is to be made at corn-growing and cattle-fattening, and their move further north is, in my opinion, a move in the wrong direction, for the winters are cruelly severe here as it is; but I will say that money can be made, and pleasantly made, and 20 per cent. can fairly be expected to be realised on the original investment after three or four years here. The climate is healthy for man and beast. (185)
The interesting pamphlet from which the above quotation is taken fails to name the English gentle men who desired pupils, but quotes at length from their letters giving the necessary particulars for the enlightenment of parents and sons in England. One stock farmer wrote:
My house is a wooden one, as almost all houses are here, whether large or small. I have two sitting rooms, seven bedrooms, and a bath room with hot and cold water; every room is heated by a flue from the furnace in the cellar. (186)
Another "experienced practical farmer" in April, 1881, wanted two more pupils to fill the places of two who had left to start farms of their own: on his 1500 acres, with 1500 sheep, 300 head of cattle, and 100 hogs, he would be glad to receive two young fellows who were "prepared to work: under 20 years of age preferred: and to take an interest in the affair, or I would rather be without them." (187) The son of an English country vicar also listed vacancies for two pupils on his farm, adding:
Pupils would have 5000 acres to see managed, which we cut up into 15 farms. Land is worth about 30s to 40s per acre, and should a young fellow give his mind to the work after he has seen the American ways for a year or so, he could either buy or rent a farm and go into stock raising, or hogs, either will pay about 50 per cent. Chicago is our great stock market, so we are always sure of a good market. I have a very experienced American foreman, who would give instructions in the various ways and means of farming in the Far West. The life is rough, and no one ought to come who cannot stand roughing it at times. Shooting -wild geese, duck, rabbit, prairie hens, prairie wolf, deer, and many small birds. Outfit - good strong clothes, saddle and gun; boots bought out here are more suited to the country . . . . I may say we have out here, Hon. Capt. Moreton, brother to the Earl of Ducie, Hon. A. Sugden, Col. Fenton, A. Lubbock, son of Sir J. Lubbock; and many others, about 300 English Gentlemen in all. (188)
Some Englishmen who wanted pupils procured for them in England furnished photographs of their farms. The owner of a large stock and agricultural farm situated "one mile from a rising town in the English Colony" offered excellent board, lodging, and tuition for gentlemen wishing to study American methods, and wrote to his agent in England as follows:
I have a farm partly leased, partly in my own hands, under my manager, of 743 acres .... It is a large hog and cattle farm, managed under the best and newest methods, and with all the best machinery, shedding, stabling and yards, as used in that country. There is an excellent house, well sheltered, and in the prettiest situation in the district. I have put on an addition solely for the use of pupils wishing to learn farming before commencing for themselves. My manager Mr. has sole control of the farming operations, and his wife looks after the house. He will give all opportunity to pupils wishing to learn farming to do so, and give them every advice he can, but he cannot be in any way responsible to parents or guardians for young men who do not care to work .... The class of men I would like to see on my place is such as would work for their own sake, and who would do credit to anything they learnt on the farm, by getting on well afterwards....
We have a great many English gentlemen settled in the Le Mars district, and going out there you would find no lack of society, and at the same time find yourself in one of the best districts of the States for investing in land for farming, or as many young fellows have done, for opening up a business in the town. A flax mill and a paper mill are both wanted there at present, and there are no end of openings for starting in various ways. My place has the advantage of being so near the town that one can find out all that can be learnt of the district, and yet get the advantage of living in the country. You can study farming and yet look into other industries too. . . . I have about 300 acres arable, and 100 acres enclosed pasture in my own hands at present, and of course, as in all that country, unlimited free grazing.
You will see by the situation of my property that it is very well situated as a central position for studying the country and gaining information. I know many trustworthy gentlemen out there too, who would give any young men I introduce to them, perfectly disinterested information and advice on any subject they might wish information on .... You will see by the elevated plan of the yards [photographs of the farm were furnished] that they are well above the river, though not far from it, the House is well sheltered from the north by a fine young wood and a very high thick willow hedge behind it. (189)
T. G. Mellersh of Cheltenham, England, in 1881 prepared for distribution a twelve page pamphlet advertising "vacancies for boarders and pupils", adding a note that "several gentlemen and young fellows from the Public Schools intend going out early next spring to the English Colony in Iowa, and Southern Minnesota"; but he published no tuition terms, not even in the letter he received from a man who lived in England:
My brothers .... have now a large farm of their own, where they raise cattle, sheep and hogs. At first only two went out, but they reported so well upon it, that the third joined them last year (1880), and I learn from them by letters received this week, that (having got over the longest and severest winter ever known in the West) they look forward to a successful and profitable year .... For any pupil going to them £-- are to be paid .... When he reaches Iowa he can stay a month on my brother's farm, to see whether he likes the life, etc; if at the end of that time he decides upon remaining a further sum of £-- is to be paid. This will entitle him to a year's residence with my brothers, with whom he will live precisely as one of themselves, and will be taught everything necessary to become a stock raiser himself . . . . At the end of his year's residence, should he wish to buy a farm for himself, my brothers will themselves give him all the benefit of their experience as regards choice of site, price of land, authenticity of the deeds (a most important point), &c., and will also when he has settled down help him in every way with advice, etc., to be come successful. (190)
The farm pupil idea, novel and picturesque as it seems to-day, necessarily aroused considerable curiosity among the American population in every part of northwestern Iowa. When a party of twenty-five young Englishmen arrived in 1882, six of them as pupils for Captain Moreton, a Le Mars editor observed that the city and county were becoming the headquarters of "the very pick and flower of immigration from Great Britain, a fact that exasperates our rivals not a little." At the same time, the system also evoked criticism. People in England believed that a tuition charge on American pioneer farms, though only half as high as in England, was ridiculous, dishonest, and unjustified because the pupil did enough work to earn his board and lodging. In stating and answering this sort of argument, one writer declared:
I have frequently heard people allude to gentlemen of unexceptionable position, living in comfort in America or the Colonies, who take pupils into their families at moderate premiums, as if they were a species of swindler. This arises, I fancy, from a common misconception that all farmers in America are upon the same social plane and live in the same style; that they are all burning with anxiety for the company and responsibility of young Englishmen whom they never saw, and who as a class have not unfortunately in these countries a very good name, who have never done a day's work in their lives, have not the remotest 'notion of how to set about a single farming operation, and may quite possibly turn out both idle and dissipated.
Such novices, "gently-nurtured, inexperienced, soft-handed", when set to doing chores such as fetching cows, cleaning stables, cutting wood, and other menial things unbecoming an English gentleman, could hardly be expected to be always "on the jump". Reared as the sons of squires and parsons, and just out of school, how could they handle plows, axes, and machinery satisfactorily? Pupils in general, according to one reliable observer, were a nuisance, a liability, a burden to their employers. Of course they did some work, but even on that score an employer would shake his head with a grim smile. On his side he would point. to "damage and risk of damage to horses and machinery, a very real and ever present difficulty among pupils, and the risk of getting a black sheep who cannot at such a distance be shipped off at a moment's notice as in England, and for whose baneful presence no money can adequately compensate. " (191)
Nor was unfavorable criticism confined to English people: Americans also looked askance at the farm pupil system. (192) How long it lingered among English farmers in Iowa is not easy to state; but by the month of August, 1882, the Close brothers at least had completely abandoned it as both troublesome and unprofitable. Some indication of the character of the system and one of its unfortunate after effects may be gathered from a news item on the subject published at Le Mars in 1885:
A suit of some interest to our English friends has just been terminated in the court of Queen's Bench, London. Action for libel was brought about a year ago against the Edinburgh Scotsman by Henry Shearman for republishing a letter from the Chicago Herald in reference to plaintiff's so-called "farming school" in southern Minnesota. Mr. Shearman claimed $50,000 damages from the Scotsman but after over a year spent in collecting testimony the case was finally dismissed. Mr. Shearman's philanthropic scheme was to send out to this country young men, sons of English gentlemen, and secure for them openings as farmers in southern Minnesota and other parts of the state. A fee of 60 to 75 guineas was exacted from the "pupils," as they were called, to insure them the same positions as the heads of families on selected farms. Shearman issued circulars of a very attractive character showing the desirability of the positions he proposed to secure for his "pupils," and had his agents over here, who received his "pupils" and conducted them to their farms. The pupils, upon arriving, found that they were treated as mere farm laborers, doing the meanest and most menial work, and getting less than the farm laborers' wages. The case was called before Baron Pollock of the court of queens' bench, and a special jury, in the latter part of February, and, upon motion of defendant's counsel, dismissed with costs, the plaintiff not being prepared for trial. (193)
Stories and yarns of the doing of the "pups" still circulate freely in and about Le Mars: unhitching heavy draft horses out in the field to indulge in a running race with side bets, shooting at their master's prize steers, and pet hogs, riding pell-mell into town, doing every kind of ordinary farm work in the crudest, most ludicrous way, wild and boisterous wherever they went - all that and much more supplied widespread amusement among their rough-and-ready Yankee neighbors for many years to come.
It was enough to make some people smile when Captain Moreton advertised in English papers that he would teach thirty young men the science of farming for the sum of $600 each per year; they stood amazed when scores of young men of the well-to-do middle classes and even the younger sons of British noblemen flocked over to take advantage of such and similar offers until Le Mars had in its vicinity "several hundreds of these boys who could not tell a plow from a pumpkin ". Americans roared with laughter or the more puritanical ones looked on with long faces when the fun began: the boys would do little dribs of work, and make up for it by mounting their ponies in true wild west style, dash into town in cavalcades, and "paint the place a rip, staring red."
But the farm pupil system was not without its permanent effects on the community: it brought money into circulation and tradesmen reaped a golden harvest. Many of the lads were spendthrifts, and all had remittances from home: Le Mars accordingly experienced a boom of no mean proportions. Fine business blocks sprang up as if by magic; immigration poured in; the town became the center of commerce for a vast area for miles around; and Le Mars obtained a striking individuality of its own.
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177 The Lemars Sentinel, August 4, 1881.
178 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 28.
179 The London Times, quoted in The Lemars Sentinel, December 15, 1881.
180 For a good general accOunt of farm pupils, see Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. LXII, pp. 193, 194.
181 The Lemars Sentinel, February 24, 1881; Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIV, p. 67.
182 Mellersh's The English Colony in Iowa, pp. 3, 4.
It is said that the name "pups" given to the farm pupils originated in the fact that Captain Moreton had from the beginning gone into the raising of thoroughbred dogs on his farm.
183 The Earl of Ducie died in England in 1921 at the advanced age of ninety-four.
184 The number was probably exaggerated.
185 Mellersh's The English Colony in Iowa, pp. 3, 4.
186 Mellersh's The English Colony in Iowa, p. 5.
187 Mellersh's The English Colony in Iowa, p. 5
188 Mellersh's The English Colony in Iowa, pp. 6, 7.
189 Mellersh's The English Colony in Iowa, pp. 7, 8.
190 Mellersh's The English Colony in Iowa, p. 6.
191 For these criticisms of the farm pupil system see Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. LXII, p. 196.
192 Carroll Herald, quoted in The Lemars Sentinel, August 3, 1882.
193 The LeMars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, March 17, 1885. See also Will H. Kernan's account for the American Press Association in the issue of January 11, 1887.
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