J. WESLEY LOUGH is a true pioneer of Western Kansas. He is not a mere "chronological" pioneer. His claim for distinction rests not so much upon the fact that he was in one of the western counties before the real era of settlement, but rather on account of his achievements in discovering and using his individual courage and resources to exploit new methods of making the rich soil of Western Kansas produce fruits and yields such as never have been known there before. His name has come to be a synonym for achievement in the domain of agriculture and irrigation. As much as any other individual he stands for success in the field of farming without rain.
The rapid settlement of the western counties of Kansas began in the year 1886. Mr. Lough arrived in October, 1885, locating 5 1/2 miles south and as far west as Scott City. His homestead was the northwest quarter of section 18, township 19, range 33. He was at the time a young married man, had one child, and had come out of Barber County, West Virginia, Mr. Lough was born in Barber County, West Virginia, December 10, 1861. His grandfather, John Lough, was of German stock, was a Virginia farmer, and by his first marriage had a son and daughter, the latter being Mrs. Sophia Bailey, of Clarksburg, West Virginia. His son was William E. Lough, father of Wesley Lough. William E. served as a Union soldier during the Civil War, and died of a wound at the close of the struggle. He married Indiana Talbott. Their children were: Mary, who married Edward Hudkins and lived in Barber County, West Virginia; J. Wesley; Florence, who became the wife of Wait T. Bartlett, of Barber County; and William F., now a resident of Pueblo, Colorado. The mother of these children married for her second husband Mr. Marks, and she died in Barber County, West Virginia, in 1914.
Mr. Lough grew up in the home of his stepfather, whose two sons went to school while Wesley put in most of his time at hard work on the farm. His early educational advantages were very limited, though he was an eager student, and with proper opportunities would easily have acquired a liberal education. He began life as a farmer and had some experience in stock raising before he left Barber County.
In coming to Kansas Mr. Lough traveled by railway to Garden City, bringing out a small stock of household goods. From Garden City he was carried to his homestead location in a freight wagon. There he joined Mr. Parker Pepper, for whom Mr. Lough had worked in West Virginia. The latter brought just enough money to buy him a team. He bought a wagon by giving a mortgage partly on the wagon and on the team, and with this equipment he started his career in Western Kansas.
Apparently in the early years he did more freighting and wage working than farming. He plowed many acres for other settlers, and grazed his team on the native grass. He helped haul some of the lumber which entered into the construction of some of the early buildings of Scott City. The first night he slept in that village his bed was in the second story of the old frame building just across the street from the First National Bank. It was the only place in the town to sleep. Only three buildings comprised the town besides some tents. The only water on the town site came from a dug well, and was dipped up in a bucket drawn up hand over hand. By hard work Mr. Lough was able to meet his obligations as they became due, and kept up the improvement of his claim. He paid $34.10 for the material that entered into his first habitation. Around the rough frame he put up sod walls, and the roof of the single room was covered with dirt, tar paper and sod. That served as a home for a couple of years and was the scene of his early domestic life in Kansas. In the meantime he broke up about 100 acres of his homestead, and the first year he raised forty acres of sod corn, making a fair crop. The second year the hot winds came, and the only planting that matured was cane.
As the result of two continuous years of hot winds Mr. Lough suffered discouragement as to farming prospects, and he then went out to Colorado. One year's efforts as a farmer at Eades brought him no success, and he then went on to Alamosa in the San Luis Valley. There he had his first experience farming with irrigation. He also acquired a few cows and entered into the cattle business on a modest scale. While irrigation was generally practiced that section of the country was also a scene of experiment for "dry farming." During his years in Colorado Mr. Lough became thoroughly imbued with the value of irrigation as a means of insuring farm crops. He spent about nine years in that state and had a considerable property to show for his efforts.
However, all the time he was in Colorado he was unable to forget the fine level soil of Scott County, Kansas, and the opportunities for success that seemed to lie potent in the soil. Many times he dreamed of the place he had abandoned, and he finally returned, determined to go into the stock business. He knew by his earlier experience that cane and other rough feed could be grown, and that stock at least could be made a source of profit.
On returning to Kansas Mr. Lough paid up the taxes on his old claim, and also had some money with which to buy other lands. Most of the surplus from his success as a stock raiser he invested in land, paying from time to time about $500 a quarter section. His main business was stock raising until he discovered that the lake of water beneath the land might be utilized for irrigation. During some winters he kept as many as 1,100 head of cattle and made some shipments of stock from Scott City. He had prospered beyond the ordinary as a Western Kansas stockman, but never felt content with his achievements and believed that neither he nor the other settlers had solved the really vital problem of farming in this section of the state.
His initial effort to develop the subterranean water resources was made in 1909. In the course of his experimental work he established beyond all reasonable doubt the presence of an abundance of good, pure soft water close enough to the surface so that it was available for irrigation purposes. The first well was drilled as a result of financial cooperation among about twenty-five men of the Scott City community. These men had agreed to stand part of the expense after listening to Mr. Lough's arguments on the streets of that city one Saturday afternoon. The location selected for the test was Mr. Elmer E. Coffin's land two miles south of town. The drilling was done by Billy Wilson. Mr. Lough was present on the ground until the well was finished. The well came in with an abundance of water, and thus established the main contention made by Mr. Lough.
Mr. Lough himself drilled the second well. This well was on his own farm, the southeast quarter of section 21. The fifteen-inch bore reached the water strata at a depth of thirty-five feet, from which point it was not difficult to pump it to the surface. The next quest was for a satisfactory pump. Mr. Lough visited Houston, Chicago, New York and finally, at Elizabeth, New Jersey, bought a steam engine which when tried proved too small. Still another engine of the same type was bought, and still a third, but all proved too light for the work to be done. These engines are now lying in the shade on Mr. Lough Is farm. These experiments cost a great deal of money and were all paid for by Mr. Lough individually. In his earlier efforts he used a twenty-two horsepower engine, but then decided to install an engine of thirty-six horsepower. He went to Ohio and bought two such engines and installed them at the well. While these engines were capable of doing the work required, the expense of operating them was too great. About that time the oil engine was being widely exploited. Mr. Lough decided to try one of these new engines and hooked it up on one side of his pump with a steam engine on the other side, using them alternately. The oil engine solved the problem of cheap and successful pumping. Kerosene is the fuel, and an acre of ground can be irrigated at a cost of 30 cents.
As is always the case, a great many people looked upon Mr. Lough's experiment with a skeptical eye, and members of his own household were almost as skeptical as outsiders. His children in particular sought to discourage the head of the Lough family from resuming hard work after he had reached a time in life and a degree of prosperity where he might have taken things somewhat easily. But results count. The junior members of the family finally concluded after witnessing their meager crops during fair years in contrast with their father's flourishing fields that irrigation meant a good deal more than they had formerly believed, and they determined to use the methods themselves. Mr. Lough had deeded his children each a section of land. One day one of his daughters came to him sympathizing for the plight he was in, wading about the mud and water on his irrigated fields, but he reassured her by saying that he was accomplishing something worth while and that he would rather have a single quarter of land irrigated than a whole section of the best land operated as a dry farming proposition. The daughter was convinced, and all the children decided to irrigate. They then erected a plant on the home farm twelve miles southwest of Scott City, costing $50,000, operated with electricity made on the farm, and pumping enough water every twenty-four hours to irrigate 320 acres. This plant is one of the very best type that could be bought and installed, and was started to work in the spring of 1917.
To make the most of irrigation in this region reliance has to be put upon the growing of alfalfa. Mr. Lough is the alfalfa king of Scott County. Of his domain of 6,000 acres, 5,000 acres will in the course of time be irrigated as one vast alfalfa field. Four cuttings are made of the alfalfa every year. The yield is from sixty-seven tons per acre every season, and the cost of caring for and harvesting the crop is about $15 per acre. Along with alfalfa have come hogs, and the Lough farm has demonstrated the practicabilities of the hog industry in a Western Kansas. An acre of alfalfa will feed ten sows and their pigs until the pigs are old enough to wean. As proof of this assertion that alfalfa is the best hog producer Mr. Lough shipped a car load to Kansas City in the fall of 1916 of ten months old shoats. These shoats topped the market, and another load was shipped in the following winter of an average weight of 350 pounds. All these hogs were developed on alfalfa.
Mr. Lough's experience shows that brood sows fed a pint of corn per day and allowed to run on alfalfa will go through the winter in splendid shape. A pig, permitted to run on alfalfa all the time and with the additional feed of a quart of grain per day, puts on a weight of 250 pounds by the time he is ten months old.
Alfalfa for cattle has also produced wonderful results. Ten pounds of alfalfa in addition to the range of buffalo grass will put a steer through the winter in splendid condition.
Another interesting fact is that the growing of alfalfa in this section is accomplished without inoculation of the soil. Mr. Lough sowed alfalfa seed on sod fresh broken, and forty-five days later cut the first crop, which stood twenty-two inches high. The second year he got from six to seven tons per acre. With irrigation Milo maize yields from 80 to 100 bushels per acre, and in 1916 his irrigated corn produced about 60 bushels per acre.
Naturally enough Mr. Lough's interest and experiment in irrigation projects have brought him prominently before the people of this section of Kansas and before those interested in irrigation elsewhere. Governor Capper appointed him irrigation commissioner because of his individual experience, and he was sent by the state to the National Irrigation Congress, spending two days at Stockton, two days at Fresno, two days at Sacramento and one day at San Francisco. In that convention all the various irrigation projects were represented by delegates, but the Kansas display was the best shown from any section. Mr. Lough was also sent to Washington, D. C., to present a claim before Congress for an appropriation in behalf of irrigation projects.
While Mr. Lough is considered one of the fortunate men of Kansas, Kansas as a state can consider herself even more fortunate that it can claim him as a citizen. What he has achieved is not for himself alone but opens a new era for the western part of the state.
On May 3, 1884, a little over a year before he came to Kansas, Mr. Lough married Miss Flora B. Smith, daughter of David H. and Melcena (Gall) Smith. Their children are: Aughty, Audry, Stella, William D., Mace and Freda.
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.
Tom & Carolyn Ward
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