User Rating: 4 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Inactive

The Earliest Kansas Farmers 

Agriculture, the leading industry of our State, was for many years almost the only occupation of our people. The Indians were the first farmers in Kansas. The Comanches, in the western part of the State, were roving hunters, but the eastern Indians had permanent homes and tilled the soil. They were both hunters and farmers. A government agent in describing their mode of living says: "They raise annually small crops of corn, beans, and pumpkins. These they cultivate entirely with the hoe, in the simplest manner. Their crops are usually planted in April, and receive one dressing before they leave their villages for the summer hunt in May."


Agriculture Taught to the Indians 

When Kansas was made an Indian country the National Government agreed in the treaties to supply the Indians with cattle, hogs, and farming implements, and to employ persons to teach them agriculture. In accordance with this agreement several government farms were established, and both the government farmers and the missionaries taught agriculture to the Indians. By the time Kansas was organized as a Territory, in 1854, there were a number of farms in the different reservations and at the missions, and the produce was such as to show that the soil of Kansas is remarkably fertile.

Agriculture During Territorial Days 

Most of the early settlers of Kansas were farmers, but during Territorial days the political and governmental troubles made much progress in farming impossible. The terrible season of 1860 made a dreary closing for this period, and confirmed in the minds of many eastern people the old idea that Kansas was fit only for Indians, buffaloes, and prairie dogs.

Agriculture During the Civil War 

The year following the drouth brought a good crop, but it also brought the beginning of the Civil War which absorbed the energies of the settlers for four years more. It was not until the close of the war, in 1865, that agri culture can be said to have had a real beginning in Kansas. But, in spite of the poverty and hardships of the war years, two things of especial significance were done that showed the interest of the pioneers in agriculture. During this period the Agricultural College at Manhattan was established, and the State Agricultural Society was formed. The object of the Society was "to promote the improvement of agriculture and its kindred arts throughout the State of Kansas." Under its management a state fair was held at Leavenworth in 1863, and in that year the Legislature appropriated $1000 for the benefit of the Society. These events are worthy of note because they showed the enterprise of the people when their resources were small.

Early Farming-Implements 

The farming implements of the pioneers were few and simple. Much of the machinery of to-day had not then been invented. Because of the cost of transportation, and the lack of money among the settlers, even the machinery of that day was scarce in Kansas. The all-important implement was the plow. The pioneer's first crop was usually "sod corn." The field was prepared with a breaking plow, which threw up the sod in parallel strips from two to five inches in thickness. Then the farmer, with an ax or a spade and a bag of seed corn, walked back and forth across the field, prying apart or gashing the sod at regular intervals and dropping into each opening three or four grains of corn , Then he waited for the crop. Once the land was broken, it was, in after years, prepared for the seed with the stirring plow and the harrow, and planting was done with a hand planter. Later the corn planter drawn by a team came into use. This machine required a driver, and another person to work the lever that dropped the corn. Then came the planter with the check rower which, when attached to the planter, made only a driver necessary.

During the last few years the lister has come into very general use. The early settlers cultivated their corn with a single shovel cultivator drawn by one horse. With this cultivator it was necessary to make a trip along each side of every row of corn. The double-shovel cultivator soon came into use, but it, also, was drawn by one horse and cultivated but one side of the row at a time. This labor was greatly reduced by the invention of the cultivator drawn by a team and having shovels for both sides of the corn row. Now cultivators may be had that till two rows at a time. Formerly the farmer cut all of his corn by hand with a knife. Now he uses the riding corn binder.

Great as has been the improvement in corn machinery, even greater changes have come about in the machinery used for the wheat crop. The earliest harvesting implement used in Kansas was the cradle, a scythe with long fingers parallel with the blade to catch the grain as it was cut. The cradler laid the grain in rows. A second man

Heading Wheat.

followed with a rake and gathered the wheat into small piles, which he tied into bundles, using some of the straw for bands. The next machine was the reaper, which carried two men, o;ie to drive the team and one to push ofT the wheat whenever enough had been cut to make a bundle. The reaper required four or five binders to follow it. It was soon improved by being made self-dumping, and later, self-binding. Inventions and improvements have followed in rapid succession, and to-day the planting and harvesting of wheat can be done with remarkable speed and efficiency.

The many wonderful inventions in farm machinery have made possible in the farming of today a great saving of time and labor as compared with the farming of forty years ago. There are few lines in which greater progress has been made.

Agriculture Between 1860 and 1880 

For several years after the Civil War the population of Kansas increased more rapidly than did the crops, and the country was kept poor. The destruction of crops by the grasshoppers in 1874 retarded immigration and left the people discouraged. Several good crop years followed, however, and confidence in the agricultural future of Kansas soon

Gasoline Tractor.

returned. By 1880 nearly 9,000,000 acres of land were in cultivation, a third of which was planted to corn and a fourth to wheat. The next largest acreage was in oats. A number of other crops were reported, including rye, barley, buckwheat, sorghum, cotton, hemp, tobacco, broom com, millet, clover, and blue grass. At that time not a great deal was known of the soil or climate of the State, and we find in this list of crops several that have since been found unprofitable and are no longer raised in any considerable quantities.


Agriculture from 1880 to 1887 

The year 1880 found the people of Kansas full of hope and courage, and from that time until the drouth of 1887 agriculture developed rapidly. It was a period of new ideas and new methods. Millions of additional acres were brought into cultivation. The principal crops, corn, wheat, and oats, were each greatly increased. Fields of timothy, clover, orchard grass, and blue grass were planted in the central counties, and even farther west. Soil that a few years before had been considered unfit for farming was now producing crops. The State was being rapidly settled, many miles of railroad were in operation, and the excellent crops did much to encourage the "boom" of 1885 to 1887.

Agriculture from 1887 to 1893 

The period of good crops following the dry season of 1887 lasted for five years, and it was a time of great activity along many lines of agricultural advancement. By 1890 nearly 16,000,000 acres had been brought under cultivation. This area was almost double the areas under cultivation ten years earlier.

Western Kansas 

Before 1890 most of the farming was done in the eastern and central parts of the State, the western part being considered poorly adapted to agricultural purposes. During the next few years, however, it was shown that wheat can be successfully raised clear to the Colorado line. The sorghum crops also proved to be well adapted to this section. The soil of western Kansas was found to be wonderfully fertile, needing only moisture to make it produce abundantly. A more thorough understanding of soil and climate has brought better methods of tillage, and this, together with a careful selection of crops, is making the yield much larger and more certain.

Irrigation in Western Kansas 

The possibilities of irrigation for this section of the country have long been given much consideration. For several years water from the Arkansas River was successfully used. Colorado, however, in developing irrigation, used so much of the water from the upper Arkansas that there was not a sufficient amount left for our State. Investigation resulted in the discovery of an underground water supply. This water, which is called the underflow, moves eastward from the Rocky Mountains through strata of gravel and sand. It offers to a large part of western Kansas a practically inexhaustible supply of water for irrigation. Wells are bored into this underflow and the water is pumped for irrigating purposes. Only a small part of western Kansas is under irrigation as yet, but experiments for the purpose of finding the best methods of utilizing the underflow are being carried on by individuals, by experiment stations, and by the State. Irrigation by pumping is bringing about a remarkable agricultural advancement in western Kansas.


About 1890 several new crops came into prominence in Kansas, the most important of which was alfalfa. Alfalfa is now grown in every county of Kansas and has become one of our foremost crops. Because of its long, penetrating roots it can be grown successfully without irrigation even in most of the drier parts of Kansas. As its many points of excellence become better known its acreage is constantly increasing. Kansas produces more alfalfa than any other state in the Union. Sweet clover and Soudan grass have increased so much in acreage in very recent years that they are rapidly becoming important crops in this state.

The Sorghum Crops 

Another of the new crops was Kafir corn, which has also proved very valuable. This plant is a variety of sorghum. Other varieties had been raised in Kansas for many years, especially the sweet sorghum that could be used for making sugar and molasses. Broom corn is another sorghum crop that has been grown in Kansas for a long while and is raised in large quantities in the southwestern part of the State. In more recent years two more sorghums, milo and feterita, give promise of becoming valuable forage crops.

Sugar Beets 

During the early '80's considerable sugar had been made from sorghum cane, but in 1889 it was, for the first time, made from beets. For a number of years experiments were made with sugar beets in different parts of western Kansas. To encourage sugar-beet raising a bounty was offered by the State, and a good many tons

The Beet Sugar Factory at Garden City.

were raised and shipped to sugar factories in Colorado and Nebraska. In 1906 a large factory was completed at Garden City, and the raising of sugar beets has become an important industry in that part- of Kansas. Efforts are now being made to introduce this crop into other parts of the State.

The Twenty-five Years Following 1893 

Progress was checked in 1893 by the financial panic that extended throughout the country. Values dropped, and prices were low on everything the farmers had to sell. In addition to the panic, Kansas suffered a crop failure in most parts of the State. That was a discouraging period, but within a few years Kansas had recovered. From that time until the present there has been a steady rise in all values. Ow-

A Kansas Wheat Field.

ing largely to the fact that there is no longer any free land to be taken as homesteads, land prices have steadily risen. The price of land products has also greatly increased. In 1893 corn was worth but ten to fifteen cents a bushel and wheat from thirty to forty cents. A comparison of these with present prices serves to show how great has been the change.

Kansas Wheat 

Kansas is now one of the leading agricultural states of the Union. It produces a greater variety of crops than does almost any other state, but the principal ones are now, as they have been from the earliest days, corn and wheat. In recent years alfalfa has come to be a close third. Wheat is our most noted crop. Kansas is unsurpassed in the production of this grain. Wheat is grown in every county in the State, but by far the greatest quantity comes from the "wheat belt," which extends across the middle of the State, from north to south. Most of the Kansas wheat is of the winter varieties commonly called "Turkey wheats," first brought here from southern Russia by the Mennonites in 1873.

The Corn Crop 

Corn was raised here by the Indians, and from the time of the settlement of the Territory until very recent years it was the leading crop and the greatest source of Kansas wealth. Since 1913, however, wheat has been the most valuable crop of the State and corn has had to take second place. Corn is raised in all parts of the State, but much the largest portion is produced in the eastern half. It is on this crop that the great live-stock industries of Kansas most depend.

The Livestock Industry 

The live-stock industry is one of the important interests of the State. The grain and forage crops, the large areas of good pasture, the plentiful supply of water, and the nearness to market, all combine to make Kansas an excellent live-stock region. The raising and fattening of cattle and hogs constitute the chief

features of this industry, although there are a number of others, prominent among which is dairying. The early farmers had their herds and flocks, but paid little attention to quality or breeds. In time it was found that better grades were more profitable, and the early range cattle and the scrub stock of the pioneers have disappeared.

When the Union Pacific Railroad was built the cattlemen of Texas began driving their cattle into Kansas in order to ship them to market. For many years Abilene was the shipping center. When the Santa Fe Railway was

Present Day Stock Farm.

built, Wichita, being farther south, became the chief shipping point. As the country became more thickly settled the cattle trade was pushed farther west. Finally it reached Dodge City which remained the shipping center

for many years. The building of railroads into the Southwest made it unnecessary for the Texas cattlemen to drive their stock to a Kansas shipping point, and about 1885 the practice was abandoned. While the trade flourished, the cowboy, with his boots and spurs and broad-brimmed hat, was a familiar figure on the plains of western Kansas;but as the settlers turned the grazing land into farms the cowboy moved farther west.


Another Kansas industry is horticulture, the cultivation of fruits. The first orchard in Kansas was planted at Shawnee Mission in 1837. Very little tree planting was done, however, until after the Civil War, and even then the Kansas plains were for many years regarded as unfit for fruit growing. The early crops were small but of a very fine quality, and Kansas apples won the gold medal at the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876. This aroused much enthusiasm, and during the next few years many thousands of fruit trees were planted, but most of them proved worthless because the varieties were not adapted to conditions in this State. Long years of hard work and patient effort were required to secure the knowledge necessary to make a successful fruit state of Kansas. Today there are many fruits grown here, but it is the Kansas apple that is famous. Scarcely a farm in the eastern and central parts of the State is without its orchard, and there are a number of commercial orchards that are making horticulture an important industry in Kansas.

Farmers' Organizations 

The farmers of the State have at different times, especially in the earlier years, formed a number of organizations. An early organization was the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, or the "Grange," a national movement, introduced into Kansas in 1872. Its general purpose was the improvement of farm life. Many granges were organized during the '70's. The Farmers' Cooperative Association, begun in 1873, and the Farmers' Mutual Benefit Association in 1883, had for their general purposes the cooperation of the farmers in buying and selling and in securing lower freight rates.

About 1888 the Farmers' Alliance, already a national organization, formed many local organizations in Kansas. The Alliance demanded a number of measures for the betterment of the farmers, including lower freight and passenger rates, and better mortgage, debtor, and tax laws. The Farmers' Alliance was a widespread movement and, for a time, overshadowed all other farmers' organizations. In 1890 the People's party, or the Populist party,(1) as it came to be called, took over the political work of the Farmers' Alliance, and that organization gradually disappeared. The Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union of Kansas is a more recent organization.

The State Board of Agriculture 

In 1872 the Agricultural Society, organized during the Civil War, was changed into the State Board of Agriculture. For a number of years this Board gave especial attention to gathering and distributing information concerning the resources of the State for the purpose of stimulating immigration. Later it began the work of furnishing to the farmers information concerning methods of farming best adapted to Kansas conditions. These activities have been continued, and the Board of Agriculture has been of great practical value to the State.

Work of the Agricultural College 

The Agricultural College in its early years laid but little stress on agricultural and industrial work, but in 1873 its plan of work was changed and it soon began to fulfill its real mission. A few years later the usefulness of the College was greatly increased by the establishment of an experiment station where investigations are carried on in such matters as the testing of seeds, the introduction of new crops, the rotation of crops, dairy and animal husbandry, butter and cheese making, orchard and crop pests, stock foods, and diseases of live stock. Branch experiment stations have, in later years, been established at Hays, Garden City, Dodge City, Tribune, and Colby, where problems peculiar to the western part of the State are studied. The Agricultural College is doing a great work in gathering information and bringing it to the people by means of bulletins, lectures, correspondence courses, demonstration trains, demonstration agents, and farmers' institutes. Kansas was one of the first states to hold a Farmers' Institute in connection with its Agricultural College. This work was begun in 1869, and the purpose was then, as it is to-day, to promote the knowledge of scientific agriculture.

Manufactures Based on Agriculture 

The agricultural resources of Kansas have led to the development of a number of manufacturing industries. One of the oldest of these is milling. Among the first needs of the settlers of the new country was a means of grinding their corn and wheat into meal and flour for family use. 

This caused the building of small gristmills in every community. Most of them were built along streams and were run by water power, though a few of the early ones used wind power. In later years steam has come to be generally used. After the introduction of the hard wheats, the wheat crop came to be much more certain, the acreage increased, and the milling industry grew. Kansas flour is now sold in all the important markets of the world, and Kansas is one of the leading states in the milling industry.

Meat packing has held first place among the manufacturing industries of Kansas for a number of years. Kansas City, the second greatest packing center in the United States, is the chief market for Kansas live stock, but there are several packing houses in different parts of the State. Creameries, canning factories, and pickling works represent other industries that have been developed to make use of our agricultural products.

The Mineral Industries 

Although Kansas is not one of the great mining states, it has a number of valuable mineral resources, the chief of which are coal, lead, zinc, oil, gas, salt, building stone, and gypsum. These resources form the basis of an important part of the industrial life of the State. The coal and gas have made possible a number of manufacturing industries.


As early as the Territorial period it was known that there were coal fields in Kansas, and small amounts of coal were mined in Crawford and Cherokee counties. Immediately after the Civil War the settlers in the southeastern part of the State gave much attention to the digging of coal, some of which lay so near the surface that it could be uncovered with a plow. Within the next few years coal was found in Osage and Leavenworth counties and in the vicinity of Fort Scott. These places produced large amounts, but Crawford and Cherokee counties soon came to be the leading coal districts of the State. At the present time about nine-tenths of the Kansas output is mined in these two counties. The importance of the coal fields of Kansas lies not only in the value of the coal, but in the stimulation of the growth of manufactures. Many industries can be carried on only by means of large amounts of fuel to supply power. The development of a number of such industries in Kansas has been made possible chiefly by the cheap and abundant supply of coal.

Lead and Zinc 

Before Kansas was organized as a Territory lead mining was an important industry in southwest Missouri, but not until 1876 was it discovered that the lead and zinc field extends into the southeast corner of Kansas. Prospecting began at once and thousands of people were soon on the ground. Although zinc was found in abundance with the lead, but little attention was paid to it. Within a few years, however, it was found that the abundance of coal made the smelting of zinc profitable, and zinc soon assumed the leading place. For a number of years much more zinc than lead has been produced. A large amount of ore from the Missouri mines is shipped to the Kansas smelters, and the smelting of lead and zinc, but particularly of zinc, has come to be one of the most important of our mineral industries. The development of the gas field furnished a cheaper and more abundant fuel than coal, and much of the smelting was soon being done where gas could be used. In later years gas is less abundant and there is a tendency to return to the use of coal.

Oil and Gas 

Although prospecting had been done in earlier years, the real development of oil and gas in Kansas began about 1892, with the discovery of the big Kansas-Oklahoma field. The oil and gas area is included within an irregular sti^ip, forty to fifty miles wide, extending from Kansas City southwesterly into Oklahoma. It is frequently spoken of as the "oil and gas belt."

By 1900 nearly every town in the gas belt had more gas than it knew what to do with, and various manufacturing enterprises, such as brick plants, zinc smelters, glass factories, and Portland cement mills, were soon attracted to these towns. A little later gas was being supplied to cities outside of the gas belt. Pipe lines were laid to Wellington, Wichita, Hutchinson, Topeka, Lawrence, Kansas City, Leavenworth, Atchison, and many of the towns between. After ten years of this greatly increased use of gas the supply became less abundant, and now it is feared that the supply from this field may fail at no distant date. In the earlier years the oil was all carried iii tank cars, but a system of pipe lines for carrying it was soon laid. Many refineries were soon established. The crude oil is used chiefly for fuel and for machine oil. In the refineries it is made into benzine, gasoline, and kerosene. Vaseline and paraffin are among the by-products.

In 1914 oil and gas were discovered in Butler County. Within two years this field was yielding such large quantities of oil that the total production of the State was more than doubled. During the next year, 1917, more than three times as much oil was produced as in 1916, and Kansas had become the greatest oil-producing state in the Union. The output of the Butler County field is still increasing, and its remarkable yield will probably continue for several years.


Salt is found in Kansas as a brine in the salt marshes, and as beds of rock salt lying beneath the surface. The marshes were known to the early hunters and settlers, and through the early years of statehood a little salt was

manufactured from this brine. In the late '80's the rock salt beds were discovered and the salt-making industry was rapidly developed. The center of the salt industry is now, as it has been from the beginning, at Hutchinson. Salt is found in a large part of Kansas, but the most valuable area extends across the middle of the State from north to south. This great bed of salt is in most places from two hundred and fifty to four hundred feet thick. Some salt is made by crushing the rock salt, but the greater portion is made by the evaporation of brines. The brines are obtained by forcing a stream of water through rock salt.


Brickmaking in Kansas dates from the early years. Brick clays are found in many parts of the State, but the industry is carried on chiefly in the eastern part of the State, especially in the gas belt, because of the fuel supply.


Gypsum beds are found in the central part of Kansas, especially around Blue Rapids and in Saline, Dickinson, and Barber counties. Plaster of Paris, used chiefly for making plaster for covering wall surfaces, is made from gypsum.

Portland Cement 

Portland cement is a comparatively new product in the United States. The development of this industry in Kansas commenced about 1900. Portland cement is made from certain mixtures of rock substances. put through processes of grinding and heating. Its chief use is in making concrete, which is widely used for construction work. There are a number of Portland cement mills in the gas belt.


Gas is the most satisfactory fuel for glassmaking, and since the gas field in Kansas was opened a number of glass factories have been established in the State. Sand of a good quality for making glass has also been found in southeastern Kansas.

Agriculture the Basis of Material Progress 

At present there are numbers of factories in Kansas, engaged in many different lines of work. Our industries are constantly growing in number and importance, and it takes all of them to make a well-rounded state, but it is the agricultural industries that form the basis of our prosperity. On these we must depend, and the history of agriculture in Kansas is, largely, the history of our material progress.


The principal agricultural industries of the State are farming, stock raising and horticulture. The principal mineral industries are concerned with coal, lead, zinc, oil, gas, salt, building stone, and gypsum. The leading manufacturing industries are concerned largely with agricultural and mineral products, and are carried on most extensively in the coal and gas regions.

Drouths, which occur in all agricultural regions, have been most severe in Kansas in the following years: 1860, 1869, 1874, 1887, 1893, 1913. These years have marked into periods what has otherwise been a steady progress in agriculture.

The Agricultural Society, organized during the Civil War, was, in 1872, changed into the State Board of Agriculture. The Agricultural College, established during the Civil War, began active work along agricultural lines in 1873. There have been a number of organizations of farmers, most of them between 1870 and 1890.

Advancement in agriculture has been made in area under cultivation, selection of crops, improvements in machinery, better methods of tillage, and irrigation. The leading crops are now corn, wheat, and alfalfa.


Bulletins and Reports of the State Board of Agriculture.

Bulletins and Reports of the Agricultural College.

Andreas, History of Kansas, pp. 252-265.

Blackmar, Kansas, Selected Topics.

Old Newspaper Files.

Historical Collections, vol. ix, pp. 33, 94, 480; vol. XI, pp. 81-211;

vol. XII, p. 60.

Walters, History of the Agricultural College.

Tuttle, History of Kansas.

Prentis, History of Kansas, pp. 232-234, 292-295.

Publications of the University Geological Survey of Kansas.


1. What is the leading industry of Kansas? 

2. Discuss the Indians as farmers. 

3. What agricultural progress was made during the Territorial period? During the Civil War? 

4. When and why was the Agricultural Society formed? What has taken its place? Tell something of the work of the new organization. 

5. Describe the early farm implements and methods of farming. What have you learned of these things from old settlers? 

6. What were the agricultural conditions in Kansas in 1880? Between 1880 and 1887? 

7. What connection does the date 1887 have with the agricultural history of the State? What conditions followed this date? 

8. What are the soil and climate conditions of western Kansas? Give an account of irrigation in that section. 

9. Name new crops that came into prominence about 1890, and tell something of each. 

10. What conditions prevailed in Kansas in the early '90's? During the period that followed? 

11. Discuss Kansas wheat; Kansas corn. 

12. Discuss the live-stock industry in Kansas. 

13. Give an account of the cattle trade of earlier days.

14. What progress has horticulture made in Kansas?

15. What farmers' organizations have been formed? For what purpose?

16. Discuss the relation of the Agricultural College to the farmers.

17. Discuss the milling industry of our State. The meat-packing industry.

18. Name the mineral resources of Kansas. Discuss each.

19. What manufacturing industries have grown from the mineral resources?

20. What industries are carried on in your community? Are any others being considered?



1. The Populist party was formed as a result of the political unrest following the collapse of the boom. The Populist measures attracted widespread attention, and the party, in fusion with the Democrats, succeeded in electing Governor Lewelling in 1892 and Governor Leedy in 1896. By that time conditions in the State had become more settled; with returning prosperity the political agitation died down and the Populists were soon absorbed into the other parties. Since that time many of the measures advocated by the Populists have been enacted into law or are being considered by the people of today.


Source: A History of Kansas / Anna E. Arnold. pp.142-173