FLAVIUS J. HAGER. The Hager farm and home near Belpre is one of the most attractive pictures in the rural landscape of Western Kansas. Its modern house and its group of barns stand imbedded in a grove of orchard and shade trees, and the entire farm presents a complete contrast to the popular idea that Western Kansas is a treeless waste. It is all the result of human labor and ingenuity, and the man responsible for this improvement is Mr. Hager himself. In fact, when the successful examples of farming in Western Kansas are studied, the conclusion is inevitably reached that the man is far more important than the soil or climate in achieving results.
Mr. Hager is a pioneer in Western Kansas, coming to the state when about eighteen years of age. He was born in Putnam County, Illinois, in the valley of the Illinois River, Christmas day, December 25, 1853. His grandfather, Peter Hager, Sr., was a Pennsylvania farmer in Fayette County, where he spent his life and where his remains now rest. Peter Hager, Sr, married for his first wife Elvira Inks. Their children were Thomas, John, Peter, Elizabeth and Polly. For his second wife Peter Hager married Katie Rheumsberg. Their children were Simon, Ami and Perry. Of them all Peter was the only one who ever came to Kansas. The son Simon went out to Nebraska.
Peter Hager, Jr., father of Flavius J., was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and was of German stock. He married Hulda Van Sickle, daughter of Lewis Van Sickle. Peter Hager, Jr., was one of the early settlers in Putnam County, Illinois, and spent his career there as a farmer, though he died near Ellinwood, Kansas. His wife passed away in Illinois. Their children were: Stephen J., who died at Utica, Illinois; Albert, a farmer at Belpre, Kansas, now deceased; Zachariah, of Shell City, Missouri; James B., of Stafford, Kansas; and Flavius J., of Edwards County.
Flavius J. Hager was reared chiefly in LaSalle County, Illinois, near the City of Ottawa. His education came from the country schools, and he knew considerable about farming as practiced in Northern Illinois when he came to Kansas. Aside from this experience he arrived in the state without capital and with only the promise contained in a pair of sturdy arms and an ambitious spirit.
It was in 1871 that he and his brother Zachariah arrived in Barton County and joined the pioneers in that section. Barton County was not organized until 1872 and the county seat at Great Bend was established as a town only in 1870. Ellinwood was founded in 1871, the same year that Mr. Hager located. Mr. Hager established a home near Ellinwood in 1873 and bought land from the Santa Fe Railroad through its company agent, Fred Steckel. He and his brother Zachariah lived on adjoining farms, and as a single man his first home was a frame structure 14 by 20 feet. The brothers brought with them a few horses, a couple of cows and some agricultural implements. They went to work at farming with the idea that their experience gained in Illinois would profit them here, but for several years the crops raised gave them barely enough to live on. Another fact that they had to contend with was the absence of currency which then prevailed throughout the western counties. When they did a day's work they took their pay in provisions. One resource should not be forgotten, and that was the abundance of game. The table was bountifully spread with the meat of deer, antelope, geese and ducks and prairie chickens, and the brothers killed so many of the web-footed tribe that they merely picked the feathers, throwing the bodies into piles to decay. Antelope and deer skins commanded no price whatever and when the brothers killed this game they saved nothing but the choice portions of the meat. Livestock of all kinds received little attention and had little value. Mr. Hager says that the people of that community seemed to be content with a bare living and were merely biding their time and awaiting developments in the future which would bring real prosperity. There were many who spoke contemptuously of Horace Greeley's famous advice, though for many years past that has been deemed the highest wisdom and foresight and one of the best slogans of thrift ever promulgated.
Mr. Hager lived in Barton County twenty years and nearly all that time around Ellinwood. While there he made only a living and was little better off at the end of twenty years than when he had come to Kansas. About that time occurred a change of climate, as a result of which, together with improving economic conditions, the farmers were able to get profits from their labors. Under the new conditions it was possible to buy land at $10 an acre or less and have little difficulty in paying for the land in one or two crops. It was about this time, in 1893, that Mr. Hager changed his home from Barton to Edwards County. The Garths owned a large acreage near Belpre, and were then disposing of their lands to settlers at $10 an acre on payments. Their expectation was that after one or two of the customary crop failures the land would be returned to them and they would have the payments as high rental for the use of the land in the meantime. But the climatic conditions referred to wrought disappointment to the owners. Very little land ever returned to them as they expected.
Mr. Hager bought a timber claim of the Garth acreage, the northwest quarter of section 32, township 24, range 16. This tract had been filed on by Ed Brown, well known as one of the agents of John D. and Frank Rockefeller's interests in this section. Brown spent several years in an effort to grow timber an the land after selling it to the man who was then sheriff of Cook County, Illinois. All his work at growing trees failed and Mr. Hager paid $200 for the claim. He then filed on it as a homestead, and got his patent during the Roosevelt administration and Mr. Roosevelt signed his patent.
When the land came into his possession its one feature was a small walnut tree about two feet high. A very few acres had been broken up. In the way of improvements Mr. Hager paid $100 for a house of five rooms at Macksville and moved the house out to the claim. The lumber in the building itself cost fully $300. He also built a frame barn and also a "Kansas barn," as it was called. The house furnished shelter for his family for several years and it was subsequently remodeled and is a part of the present modern ten room home. About that time an agent of John D. Rockefeller approached Mr. Hager and offered to sell him the section just north of the Hager homestead for $1,600. There was a long time limit in which to make the payments, and in fact nothing was required for some years except to keep up the interest. But just then conditions were still hard and Mr. Hager declined the offer as he had had ample experience with hard times. As he views it now it was one of the biggest mistakes of his life to overlook the bargain offered by Rockefeller.
It will be appropriate to refer with some particularity to the items which constitute Mr. Hager's success as a farmer in this county. In his experience crops have rarely been a total failure as they were in his earlier years in Barton County. The wheat he sowed has always returned at least the seed, and his experience with corn has been equally good. In 1915 he grew fifty bushels of corn to the acre. His best record as a wheat grower was 42 1/2 bushels to the acre. The largest aggregate yield was about 6,000 bushels. One year he sold some wheat at 37 cents a bushel and another time he sold corn for 15 cents a bushel. More recently he was paid $1.83 for wheat and $2 a bushel for corn.
Nothing adds so much to the attractiveness and well being of a farm as trees. Mr. Hager began planting trees for shade as soon as he bought his timber claim. The growth indicates that the looality is well adapted to timber, in spite of the unsuccessful previous efforts of Mr. Brown at tree growing. In the horticultural line Mr. Hager has succeeded in developing a peach orchard and apple orchard equal to those found in the more promising localities of Missouri and Eastern Kansas. He has for a number of years sold peaches, apples and plums in large quantities. Grapes also do well and shrubbery of different kinds, have lent additional charm to his home surroundings. Mr. Hager is satisfied that he has had more than value received from all the work required in his experiments at forestry.
In about a quarter of a century Mr. Hager has accumulated a prosperity which would satisfy any man of moderate ambitions. He owns a half section at his home place, also a farm near Coldwater, Kansas, and eighty acres of irrigated land near Laramie, Wyoming. He has stock in the Farmers Elevator at Belpre and has done considerable building of houses in that village. At the same time he has made liberal provisions for his children, and has helped them to build homes and acquire places of their own. Almost since coming to Kansas and as long as his children were of school age, he held offices on school boards. He is a democratic voter but has seldom indulged in political activities. His church is the Methodist.
Half a dozen years after coming to Barton County, in 1877, Mr. Hager married Miss Laura Anna Reaugh. Her father, James M. Reaugh, came to Kansas from Hancock County, Illinois, at a date still earlier than Mr. Hager's arrival and homesteaded near Ellinwood in Barton County. Mr. Reaugh was a Union soldier, and served under Generals Grant and Thomas, and his son John was in Sherman's army on the Atlanta campaign. Mrs. Hager's mother was Melissa Orton, whose mother was a distant relative of General Grant. Mrs. Hager was born near Clayton, Illinois, December 25, 1862, and thus she and her husband both celebrate their birthday anniversaries on Christmas day. She was the youngest of her parents' children and the others were John, Clark, David, Addie and Ella. Mr. and Mrs. Hager have five children: Clarence Earl, Miss Edna, Melissa Adaline, Edgar, and Carrie. Clarence Earl lives at Wilmore, Kansas, and by his marriage to Annie Etling has a daughter, Laura; Melissa A. died after her marriage to Lee Miller. Edgar lives near Absorkie, Montana, married Ada King and has children, Forest, Morris Newton, Edgar Rex, Earl F. and Clark Ervin. Carrie is the wife of Evert Cudney of Comanche County, Kansas, and has two children, Verl and Roy.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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