Among those who have never seen Kansas, the first thought of the country is that it is a vast area of level land suited only to farming purposes. This thought is largely correct; for while within recent years vast mineral resources have been discovered and are now being rapidly developed in the eastern part of the State, the source of greatest wealth lies in the soil, to be developed by tillage. A tremendous, majority of the people of Kansas are engaged in agricultural pursuits.
While the mineral resources of Cherokee County are richer and more nearly inexhaustible than those of any other county in the State of Kansas, it also holds high rank as an agricultural district, in the money value of its farm and live-stock products. The following table will show the farm and live-stock products of Cherokee County, for the year 1903:
Wheat .......................$ 181.945.20 Corn ........................ 531,669.60 Oats ........................ 121,018.50 Rye ......................... 509.60 Irish Potatoes .............. 36,129.60 Sweet Potatoes .............. 18,330.25 Flax ........................ 6,849.60 Tobacco ..................... 460.00 Broom Corn .................. 1,680.00 Millet ...................... 8,869.00 Sorghum ..................... 6,745.00 Milo Maize .................. 99.00 Kafir Corn .................. 17,487.00 Tame Grasses ................ 23,281.00 Timothy Hay ................. 37,246.00 Prairie Hay ................. 151,964.00 ------------ Total Field Products .... 1,144,273.35 Live-Stock Products ......... 507,094.57 ------------ Aggregate Products ......$1,651,377.92
The table includes all horticultural products, the products of the dairy, of poultry, of the apiary and of the orchard.
The year 1903 was not an average year for Cherokee County, in the matter of farm and live-stock products. The wheat crop and the corn crop were very much below the average, and the same may be said of all other products of the soil. The corn crop was not much more than enough to supply the local market, and the wheat sent out was of small quantity, compared with other years.
The agricultural conditions of the county, at the time of the writing of this chapter, August 16, 1904, are not promising of the very best yield. In the months of May and June, and extending into the month of July, there was an almost continuous rainy season, which did immense damage to all growing crops. The wheat yield would have been the best for the last twelve years, but for the excessive rains. Less than one-half of it was saved in any kind of marketable condition, and hundred s of acres were not cut at all. Oats were an almost entire failure, and corn was fearfully damaged. In the western part of the county, along the Neosho River, many thousands of acres of the very best lands were overflowed and the crops literally swept away. In some places the river was four miles wide, and the flood continued for nearly two weeks. The hope of the people was almost taken away, for a time; but there has been a great reaction. The crop conditions have been greatly improved since the rains ceased; and the yields will be far above what was indicated only a few weeks ago.
Although Cherokee County may not be classed with the very best agricultural districts in the State of Kansas, there is as large a proportion of well-to-do and wealthy farmers as can be found in any other county. The soil, while not so deep as the soil of the Kaw Valley, in the northern part of the State, is wonderfully productive; and there is never a year of entire failure. There are perhaps a larger number of retired farmers in Cherokee County than in any other county in the State,--men who have endured the hardships of frontier life, saved up the earnings of their labor and are now enjoying it in a quiet, peaceful life, either in the rural districts or in the towns and cities, where they have comfortable homes.
One of the big factors in the make-up of the prosperity which has come to those who have given their time to agricultural pursuits is the good, home market for the products of the fields and gardens of Cherokee County. It is safe to say that not more than one-half of the people of Cherokee County can be numbered among the agricultural classes. The rest of the population is engaged in other pursuits. The good markets are due to the fact that so many of the people are profitably engaged in mining and in the various followings which are incident thereto. Hundreds of thousands of dollars change hands in the county every month, and a very large part of the expenditure is for such things as are classed among the products of the soil. As related in another chapter the mines of Cherokee County produce an immense value, in minerals and metals, but the operator does not get all. The gross products are very great, but when the expenses have been paid, which are distributed among many classes the clear profit is not so large, after all. The benefits are widely distributed, and this to the building up of more than a select few. The farmer of Cherokee County, as well as the live-stock dealer, has had his portion, and he is yet receiving the benefits of the varied industries of the county.
As showing that agriculture has not fallen off in the profits derived from it, it is only necessary to state that the prices of farm lands have advanced fully 100 per centum in the last 10 years. Lands that were sold 10 years ago at from $10 to $20 an acre cannot be bought now for less than from $20 to $40 an acre and the tendency is still upward, with the condition that owners are not seeking to sell. Buyers are much more numerous than those who want to dispose of their lands. This condition prevails all over the county.
Another condition is that there are almost no farms for rent. The farmers of Cherokee County, as a rule, own their homes, and they want to remain on them, except in cases where the owners have retired from active work, having laid by a competency in the years gone by. A little incident came under my notice since beginning this chapter. It seems that through some kind of mistake a 40-acre tract of land belonging to a well-to-do farmer was advertised for sale. He was asked why it was for sale; and he replied that the advertisement was a mistake, and to this he added the significant sentence: "I never sell any land in Cherokee County, for when I appear in a transaction of the kind, it is always as a buyer."
In certain parts of Cherokee County the growing and feeding of stock for the market has been a very profitable business. In other parts the growing of wheat has been found profitable. Some wheat growers have, from a small beginning, spread out their ownership of land until they have hundreds of broad, fertile acres, and they annually get a good return from them. Of course, there are years when the yield is comparatively small; when to a less courageous people it might appear discouraging; but they have, in the general average, found a profit sufficiently large to encourage them in continuing in the work. The seasons are becoming constantly more favorable; droughts are less frequent, and the rains are more uniformly distributed through the year, so that, while there are seasons when the yield is not up to what would be wanted, there is a constantly improved condition of the agricultural classes.
Another matter deserves to be mentioned here: The era for the improvement of the public highways of the country is at hand, and the good-roads spirit is abroad in the land. The soil of Southeastern Kansas is especially adapted to the easy building of good roads. Except in a few parts of Cherokee County, there is enough of sand in the soil to save it from the condition of extreme muddiness, even in the wettest weather. The city of Galena, always forward in matters of this kind, has improved a number of roads leading into that place, by the use of the "tailings" of the mines or mills, the finely crushed stone from which lead and zinc ores are sifted, after the whole has been run through the crushers. If properly applied, upon well drained roads, it forms a solid, cement-like surface which will endure for a score of years. Many miles of this kind of road may be seen in the vicinity of Galena, as also in the vicinity of Baxter Springs. Besides affording easy transit for the people, in going to and fro, these roads give the country an appearance of tidiness much above what was formerly seen, and they stand as an index of thrift and economy which give an attraction to rural life. In 1903 the people of Columbus organized a movement for the improvement of the roads leading into it, and some work has been done. Crusher gravel or "tailings" had to be shipped from Galena, and then hauled out on the roads, at a good deal of cost; but the roads so improved have shown that the work will pay. It is expected that within the next 1O years nearly all the principal roads of the county will be so improved; that the farmers and all other interested classes will favor the matter. It is not improbable that the roads of the county will be improved as above described, at public expense, so that the tax payers will bear the burden proportionately. But no effort of this kind has yet been suggested.
It may not be improper here to speak of the industry of berry growing, which has been found very profitable in Cherokee County. In 1903 the acreage in blackberries was 158, and the acreage of strawberries was 192, and these did not include the smaller growers. Blackberries have not been so valuable as strawberries, There have been years when the profit on strawberries has been very large. Thousands of crates have been shipped out every year, and the industry has so grown in favor that many persons who formerly looked upon it with doubt have recently gone into it as a regular business. Cherokee County is the third county in the State, in this particular undertaking.
By protecting the trees from frost, fig trees may be grown in the county. Since beginning this chapter I have seen a few, full size, ripe figs from a tree grown by a Mr. Chase, who lives in the south part of Columbus. Experiments will be continued with the fruit, in the hope that the tree may yet be so acclimated as finally to do w ell, even in a latitude so far north.
Almonds can be grown in Cherokee County. A few persons have experimented with them, and they have found that the nut does fairly well here; but I am not informed as to whether the industry can be be[sic] made profitable.
Rural life in Cherokee County has been vastly improved in the few years next preceding the present in the conditions which have made it more desirable. It now even has a charm attaching to it. The monotony and irksome routine usually so characteristic of rural life have been much changed through the operations of the rural free delivery of mail and the rural telephone systems which have been established throughout the county. They have done much toward bringing the rural districts into easy communication with the towns and cities of the country and, as a consequence, to broaden the intelligence of the people and to make life more worth living.
Elsewhere in this history the intelligence of the people of Kansas is spoken of; and it is there said that, in proportion to the inhabitants, the people take and read more newspapers than the people of any other State. No one who travels among them, and becomes acquainted with them in their daily life in their homes, can fail of being impressed with their ready intelligence upon the current events and the ease with which they converse upon subjects of general interest.
The farmer of Cherokee County, even in the remotest parts of it, keeps himself in touch with the outside world; the rural free delivery system has brought it to his door. His daily paper, which reaches him the next day after it comes from the press, informs him of the market covering every commodity with which he may be concerned; it spreads before him the news gleanings of the whole world and inspires him with the consciousness that he is a factor in the great aggregation of human effort. There are bits of philosophy and short outlines of the achievements of science, and here and there a touch of romance and a short, interesting fiction which enter as spice to enliven the whole. To the farmer and his family the daily paper enters into the necessaries of life, and its coming is looked for with eagerness with which a hungry person marks the approach of the hour of his regular meal.
Cherokee County, with its slightly undulating surface, its generally good roads and its thickly settled population, could not be other than a suitable field for the rural free delivery experiment; and from the time of its inception here, about four years ago, the number of routes has been increased until nearly every nook of the county has been reached. With the road improvements now contemplated, and for which there is an effort soon to be put forth, it will not be long until every family in the rural districts, however out of the way it may now live, will have a daily delivery of mail at the very door of its home, a convenience which many families in the towns and cities do not enjoy.
In the year 1903, after the long-distance telephone had been extended to Columbus, thus connecting it with the larger cities of the State of Kansas, as well as with those of other states, and after the local telephone companies had connected the towns and cities of the county, the farmers began to establish rural telephones, through which, at a nominal expense, they may have easy intercourse with one another. Ross and Salamanca townships were the first in the work, and now, within less than a year after the beginning of the project, the north half of the county is a network of rural telephone wires; and it will not be long until the entire county, from farm house to farm house, will be supplied with the cheap, easy means of intercommunication. The rural telephone system is under the mutual ownership of those who join in its establishment and in its extension.
It is needless to say that the people fully appreciate and highly enjoy the convenience, the comfort and the advantage which they have from the free delivery of their mail matter and the operation of their rural telephone systems; for now that they have these, and what they have wanted has been realized from them, the monotony and prosaic hardship of rural life have been so removed as to take away the drudge of toil and bring the cheer and gladness which spring from contented employment.
The establishment of the rural free delivery of mail and the putting in of the rural telephone systems mark an era in the progress of the people of Cherokee County. In the generations to come on, the drudgery and cheerless toil of farm life, from which the people are now beginning to be relieved, will be mere matters of tradition related in story by those who can recall them. Other things are yet to follow, no doubt, and through them the people will advance in the achievements of civilization, setting now and again the marks of their progress as they pass along the way.
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