- Table of Contents - Next Chapter



Chapter IV

Le Mars became the headquarters of the Close brothers because it was a natural gateway to the unoccupied lands of the neighboring counties: that virgin region became the scene of their operations because it promised the most excellent returns on their investment of time and money. Chicago, the greatest live stock and produce market in the world, whose prices regulated all other markets, was accessible by reason of a fair network of railroads: the Illinois Central in Plymouth, Woodbury, and Cherokee counties; the Sioux City and St. Paul which traversed Plymouth, Sioux, O'Brien, and Osceola counties; and the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul which crossed Sioux and O'Brien counties. These lines made marketing possible: without them there could have been no promise of better things to come.

Le Mars was founded some time after the first inhabitants made settlements in Plymouth County. What is now the Illinois Central Railroad had been extended to this region from Iowa Falls on its way to Sioux City in 1869. With the railroad came town-planners from the East; and when the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad was projected through the same region, Le Mars was laid out at the junction of the two routes and in 1873 was made the county seat in place of Melbourne. Thus, accessible markets to the south, north, and east became the lodestone to attract farmers to cheap lands richly endowed by nature in all the counties of northwestern Iowa. Immigration to these unoccupied lands at once began to boom, although the grasshopper plague continued unabated several seasons and dampened the ardor of hundreds who might otherwise have joined the rush. To prove how the arrival of railroads brought people to this region one needs only to note the increase of population during the first "railroad decade" as compared with previous years. (66)

But even so, in view of these fine advantages coupled with the natural riches of soil and a healthful climate, it is surprising that northwestern Iowa still offered such a vast quantity of cheap land and claimed so comparatively few settlers. The explanation is not far to seek. When in the year 1867 the United States government opened these lands "for sale and preemption, they were eagerly bought up by, speculators, who had heard of the fame of this region" (67) These speculators at once put such prices on their lands that the poorest class of settlers passed on to the cheaper regions farther West; and for seven or eight years the value of land remained almost stationary.

It was because a few of the speculators, who usually resided in eastern cities, were hard pressed for ready cash that the Close brothers were able to get some very good bargains. Furthermore, another circumstance played into their hands : the country had acquired a bad name from the ravaging visitations of grasshoppers in recent years. The latter fact did not, however, discourage the Closes who had made a thorough study of the situation and felt sure that the grasshopper pest had pretty nearly run its course in this region as it had done in. other places : "North-Western Iowa being no longer the frontiers of the settled portion of the country, these incursions' are becoming much less frequent, and when the grasshoppers do come, it is only in scattered flights, damaging a wheat field here and there." (68)

Convinced of the financial soundness of their undertaking, the Closes were not long in enlisting the interest and capital of other English university and public school men. British farmers and small capitalists seem to have been in considerable distress at that time, as was also the "cadet" who had no future in the old country. The idea of land-owning in America and the ability of America to feed the world, which had begun to work a momentous social and economic change in England, now offered a solution of the English country gentleman's difficult problem - "how to recover his rents, and provide for his younger sons." (69) A great deal of correspondence appeared in the press on the question "What to do with our Boys ?"

William B. Close saw the opportunity and lost no time in acquainting his friends in England with the possibilities of the new country. In November, 1879, he wrote letters which appeared in Land and Water, the newspapers of Manchester, and The Times of London, (70) setting forth the reasons why he settled in northwestern Iowa, general information about the State of Iowa, the experience of the Closes with farming in its different branches, their method of letting farms, and a statement of the expenses and returns on a typical 160 acre farm. So interesting and valuable are Mr. Close's letters about grain growing, cattle and hog raising, and sheep farming that if space did not forbid they would be worth republishing in this connection. Suffice it to say, the writer was so well known in England as a Cambridge oarsman that his reports attracted much attention.

In December, 1879, according to the largest London daily, (71) the Closes owned forty 160 acre wheat farms which they had let out to tenants, supplying the land ready for cultivation, a house with rough sheds for stabling, and necessary seed; while each tenant on his part provided labor, machinery, and everything else. The crops were to be divided equally between tenant and owners. Mr. Close assured Englishmen that his first year's returns on wheat presented a strong contrast to those he got from the farms he owned in England; and he summed up the relative merits of different sections of the western country in these words "Those who wish to go and raise wheat should go to Minnesota and Manitoba; those who prefer stock-raising, to the warmer countries south and where maize is grown, viz., Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas".

Home - Table of Contents - Next Chapter

66 Figures on the settlement of northwestern Iowa counties taken from the United States Census, 1880, pp. 59, 60:






































In 1880 Sioux City had grown from 1030 (in 1867) to 7366; Le Mars, from 152 (in 1870) to 1895; and Cherokee from 438 (in 1870) to 1523. - Iowa Historical and Comparative Census, 1836-1880, pp. 453, 560, 606.

67 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 14.

68 Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, p. 14. See also Report of the Land Commissioner of the Iowa Railroad Land Company, 1874, p. 4.

69 Macmillan's Magazine, Vol. XLIV, pp. 65, 66. Mr. Close also refers to the economic condition of England in 1879 in his letter of November 30, 1921.

70 Many of these letters were afterwards collected and republished in Close's Farming in North-Western Iowa, pp. 15-24.

71 This article in The London Times appeared in The Iowa Liberal (Le Mars), December 3, 1879.

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