- Table of Contents - Next Chapter



Chapter II

After taking up their residence at Denison the two Close brothers at once divided their purchase into quarter section tracts and let contracts for the construction of buildings and the breaking of the prairie sod. A frame house of the simplest and cheapest design was erected upon each of the twenty farms : its dimensions were sixteen by twenty-two feet with an eight-foot ceiling in the two rooms downstairs and four and a half foot side walls and slanting ceilings in two rooms up­stairs, painted and double-boarded outside and plastered within, "perfectly wind and water tight and warm", all at a cost of about $250, including labor. (54)The barn was a rough affair, and the cost of such an improvement besides a well came to about $100. "Breaking" a certain portion of each farm for cultivation was done by contractors at the rate of $2.00 per acre.

Northwestern Iowa in a state of nature commended itself to these Englishmen who wanted quick returns because they were not compelled to spend the best part of their lives "cutting down trees, uprooting stumps, and clearing away heavy logs" at a cost of from fifteen to twenty dollars per acre as in a timber country : on the contrary, the work on the prairie was very simple, necessitating only the ploughing of the sod to a depth of a few inches. Thus, it was said, a good team of three horses or mules and a sixteen or eighteen inch plough could break up two acres of prairie sod a day, there being no rocks, stones, roots, or other impediments to contend with. (55) The months of May, June, and part of July - the breaking season - were spent turning as much of the three thousand acres as possible in order that the sod might rot thoroughly before the sowing of the next year's crops, the newly broken land yielding no returns in 1878. The Closes then sublet some of their farms to tenants and worked some directly on their own account.

As landlords in Iowa the young Englishmen be­gan to operate on a principle which was gradually perfected. during the next half dozen years. For the enlightenment of landowners in England, the following description of their system of letting farms was published in the mother country :

We came to the conclusion that, however good theoretically might be Dalrymple's (56) system of farming a very large area, it would not pay in the end as well as letting the farms to the renters for an equal share of the crop - i. e., we provide the tenant with land ready for cultivation, a small but good house with rough stabling or sheds, and also the seed for the crops, while the tenant provides everything else - labour, machinery, horses, etc., and puts our share of the crops into the granary, we having divided the crop, equally, bushel per bushel, as it comes from the thrashing-machine. Our agreements with the tenants are very strict, and we reserve the right to put other labour on at their exclusive charge if we are satisfied they are not doing their work in a proper way. By this system we can farm a very large area with a minimum of trouble, and are thus able at the same time to turn our attention to stock raising and sheep farming. We also noticed that the farmers, as a class, were extraordinarily careless in the way they looked after their own horses and machinery, and we naturally thought if they took so little care of their own property that they would take still less care of ours, and calculated that it would be more profitable to put into an increased quantity of lands the large amount of capital which on Dalrymple's system would be needed for horses, machinery, and perishable property. Even if we did not some years secure as large an average of returns as Dalrymple, we should be amply compensated by the greater amount of lands we held, and we felt confident that they would materially rise in value, as has been the case, and we also calculated that a bad year such as 1878, when wheat was struck with blight, would be a far less serious matter to us. We had no difficulty whatever in finding renters on our terms, and as new breaking is particularly adapted to wheat, we had by far the greater part of our land sown with that cereal. (57)

The Close system did not consist merely of hold­ing virgin land on the chance of a rise in value on the contrary, they built houses, ploughed the sod, and improved their property so as to make it productive of income, wherein they conceived lay the distinction between legitimate business and speculation in land. (58) Tenants met the rent for wheat lands in kind on the half-share principle ; and they paid an average of $2.00 per acre for Indian corn lands, owing to the difficulty of collecting it in kind. Tenants of the Close farms were thus directly interested in the yield; and when the harvest of 1879 was gathered in, the Close brothers published the following statement of the expenses and receipts of an average farm - namely, "Soldier Farm" on the northwest quarter of section fourteen in Soldier Township, Crawford County:







Cost of 160 acres of land at 14s. [$3.50] per acre





Breaking 90 acres at 8s. [$2.00] per acre





House, stable, and well 









[$ 82.50]

Taxes for farm and buildings .




[$ 18.00]







     The yield on this farm from 90 acres only was 1,373 bushels of wheat, or an average of 15 1/4 bushels per acre. Our share thus amounts to 686 1/2 bushels, the farmer having received a like amount. By the last advices .... we could sell the wheat at the granary door for 3s. 9d. [93 cents] per bushel ; thus:

     686 1/2 bushels wheat at 3s. 9d. [93 cents] per bushel .... £128 14s. 4 1/2d. [$638.45] A net profit to us of 54 per cent on the capital invested ....
     Of course circumstances make this year an exceptionally good one, but taking last year's prices of 2s. 5d. [60 cents] per bushel, the lowest it has ever been in our neighbourhood, the net profit would still be over 35 per cent, with only 90 acres in cultivation. (59)

The year 1879 turned out to be a very good one for the young investors owing to the failure of crops in Europe, high prices prevailed in America. In the illustrative figures quoted above no account was taken of deterioration, but that was more than counterbalanced by the increase in the value of the farm. At the same time more of the prairie sod on each farm was broken in 1879 for cultivation in 1880.

Home - Table of Contents - Next Chapter

54 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 12, contains a picture and floor plan of one of these pioneer houses.

55 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 6.

56 William Dalrymple, who with a brother afterwards operated this farm, writes from Minneapolis that his father in 1875 purchased for himself and partners about 40,000 acres in Cass and Trail counties, North Dakota. Of this Red River Valley land they farmed as much as 30,000 acres.

57 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 16.

58 Macmillan's Magazine (London), Vol. XLIV, p. 68. 

59 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, pp. 16, 17.

Home - Table of Contents - Next Chapter

Copyright 2003. These electronic pages are posted for the benefit of individuals only who are researching their family histories. These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit or presentation by any other organization or persons. Persons or organizations desiring to use this material, must obtain the written consent of Gayle Harper