PETER HORCHEM. The Kansas wheat crop has always been an important item in the wealth of the world. Millions of acres of Kansas soil have poured the golden grain annually into the granaries of the world, and while Kansas does not rank first among the wheat states it holds a creditable position because Kansas wheat has stood first in quality if not in quantity.
The growing of wheat in the western counties has been pursued with varying fortunes. The growers had to contend with the adverse conditions of both soil and climate, and many failed altogether to derive any considerable profit from this crop. In spite of all such conditions of climate perhaps the most successful wheat grower Ness County has ever had is Mr. Peter Horchem. His experience covers not a few but nearly thirty years, and a few items concerning his part in the production of this crop are interesting and instructive.
The seat and headquarters of the Horchem farm, which now comprises almost a domain, is located along the public highway about a mile and a half from Ransom. That was where Peter Horchem bought his first land nearly thirty years ago and made his start as a wheat raiser. In the first few years he and his neighbors raised a very meager crop, but his persistence has conquered weather conditions and his success is largely due to the fact that he has been a constant student and experimenter in the growing of this grain. His early experiences convinced him that when it comes time to sow it ought to be sown wet or dry. Doubtless the failures of others can be traced to the fact that they have frequently waited for rain before planting. Another result of his experience has been his practice in breaking the soil every other year, and he prepares his soil well whether he breaks or merely disks. What he has accomplished can certainly not be ascribed to any superior kind of tools, since he uses the same that other farmers do, although whenever a tool refuses to do its work according to his standard it is at once discarded and a new one bought.
The first quarter section Mr. Horchem ever owned in Kansas he bought while on a prospecting tour. He paid $6 an acre for it. While he paid a higher price later, the drought of several years caused the price of land to drop as low as $500 a quarter section.
The Horchem estate has been spoken of as a domain. It is all of that. It comprises twenty-eight quarter sections of land, and the increases in his holdings have resulted from the profits made out of the land itself. Mr. Horchem now has in cultivation approximately 3,000 acres. Twelve hundred acres of this he manages himself. There are five distinct sets of improvements on his holdings and a force of more than twenty men are required to till the land and an even larger number when harvest time comes. The best wheat year he has ever experienced was in 1903, when 1,100 acres brought at threshing 30,000 bushels. Only two years have failed to give him at least his seed, and there has never been a year when he has failed altogether to secure some grain. One year his fields of 1,100 acres yielded only 1,100 bushels.
Mr. Horchem's home farm shows the handiwork of one trained and experienced in the work of improvements. These improvements stand out conspicuously in advance of the average farm improvements of Ness County, and they serve to adorn the public highway which passes through his numerous quarter sections.
It was on the 6th day of March, 1887, that Peter Horchem, with his brother Charles, who is still living in Ness County, and their mother, arrived in Ness County. They had come directly from the village of Topeka, Mason County, Illinois, in which locality Peter Horchem was born February 21, 1863. He was twenty-four years of age when he came to Kansas, and up to that time he had spent his years largely on an Illinois farm. His school advantages were obtained in the country and has sufficed for a successful business life. He and his brother bought land in Ness County, and both have been prosperously identified with this section ever since.
Mr. Horchem's father was also named Peter and was born in Baden, Germany, where he learned the tailor's trade. He came to America as a single man, and worked at his trade until the Civil war. He enlisted in Company G of an Illinois regiment under Captain Pollard of Mason County, and saw his first active service in southeast Missouri, and about two years before the close of hostilities was discharged because of disability. He was an invalid after the war, and lived on a farm near Manitou, Illinois, until his death during the '60s. He was a democrat in politics and he and his wife were members of the Catholic Church. He was married in Detroit, Michigan, to Miss Margaret Klein, who was also of German birth. She died near Ransom, Kansas, a few years ago at the age of eighty-five. The children of Peter and Margaret Horchem wore: George, who died in Illinois, two of his children being now residents of Ness County; Philip, of Mason County, Illinois; Charles, of Ness County; Robert, of Ransom, Kansas, and Peter.
Peter Horchem has always been interested in the growth and development of his home community as well as in his private business affairs. He has been a member of the Ransom School Board for five years, and took an active part in the building of the new high school. He cast his first vote for the democratic presidential candidate and has adhered to that party ever since. Some years ago he was elected county commissioner of Ness County but resigned after a service of only a few months. He and his wife are active members of the Methodist Church, and he is a trustee of the church at Ransom and has aided in the erection of three different churches in that town.
In Ness County January 25, 1894, Mr. Peter Horchem married Miss Emma Amstutz, who was born in Missouri in 1871, a daughter of Ulrich Amstutz, who came to the United States from Switzerland. Mr. and Mrs. Horchem have the following children: Clarence, who has finished the course of the Ransom High School and is now farming on the home place; Louis who was also educated in the high school is in Camp Funston in training in the artillery of the Tenth Division; and Hebert, Peter, Jr., Nell, Melba, Fern, Otis, Ralph and Willard, all of whom are young people in the family circle and most of them still attending school.
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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