Part III


General Description

Surface Features

Lyon County, as before stated, is about thirty-seven miles in length, east and west, by seventeen miles in breadth; and we doubt if anywhere in the United States may be found a more fertile and beautiful region of county than is embraced within these limits.  The surface of the country may be said to be smoothly

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undulating.  There are no hills or stone to interfere with the most successful cultivation, and yet there is sufficient elevation and depression of surface to admit of perfect drainage.  Nowhere is there to be found flat land or stagnant water, the whole country being gently rolling, or a succession of broad plateaus sloping to the southward.

By looking at the accompanying map, it will be seen that the country is well watered.  These streams, unlike those in many portions of the West, are rapid, their waters clear and pure.  The smaller ones meander through all parts of the county, furnishing excellent stock water, and giving a proper proportion of pasture meadow and field.  The larger streams flow through broad valleys of rich bottom lands, and are bordered by fine groves of timber.  They abound in fish, furnish valuable water powers, and delightful scenery.  But the most striking topographical feature of Lyon County is our grand prairie.  Here there is a vastness, a beauty and sublimity that no pen can describe.  From April to October there is one vast sea of green, varied in hue with myriads of wild flowers.  Away as far as the eye can reach, stretches a boundless expanse of rolling prairie, till fading imperceptibly into the distant horizon.  The esthetic beholder is lost in wonder and admiration, and mourns that there is no hand to transform these green slopes and rich valleys into productive farms and happy homes. 


Soil and Productions

The first inquiry of the intelligent pioneer regarding any particular locality will be, "What are its climate and soil?" and we are aware that upon climatic conditions, as composition of soil, depends not only the producing capacity of a country, but the character and prosperity of its inhabitants.  But the former will be considered further on.

The soil is generally a drift deposit, covered with a black sandy loam and vegetable mold, from two to four feet deep, but, in the valleys, partakes more of an alluvial character, and is frequently ten feet thick, with a gravely subsoil.  Formed largely from the decay of the vegetation which has flourished on these prairies for unnumbered years, the soil is exceedingly rich and is easily cultivated.

We would not have it inferred that there is sufficient sand to, in the least, impair its fertility, but, in fact, there is just enough to give it warmth and mellowness.  We quote from the report of Dr. C.A. White, State Geologist, vol. 2, p. 204, where, in treating of our soil, he says:

"This  fortunate admixture of soil materials give a warmth and mellowness to the soil which is so favorable to the growth of crops, that they are usually matured, even in the northern part of this region, as early as they are upon the more clayey soils of the southern part of the State, although the latter are two hundred miles further southward.  Such a soil has also the additional advantage of becoming sufficiently dry to cultivate sooner after the frosts of early spring have ceased, or the rain showers of summer have ended, than those do which contain a greater proportion of clay."

Besides these excellencies in our soil in the important one of its remarkable capacity for enduring severe drought.  This is to be attributed not only to the looseness and depth of the soil, but to the nature of the sub-soil which underlies it.  This is a clayed loam from sixty to two hundred feet thick, and is very porous, allowing the moisture to work up through it from an indefinite depth.  Thus, during the great drought of 1870, which extended throughout the whole West, while in Kansas there was an almost total failure of crops and pasturage, and large numbers were leaving the State, in Lyon County what farms were then under cultivation produced abundantly, and the county was clothed in luxurious verdure.

Whatever inducements Lyon County may offer to the manufacturer, the merchant, or those engaged in the various pursuits of life, the essential fact remains that in our soil there lies a sure foundation for future wealth and greatness.  Here alone is there not only the source of abundant material wealth, but the capitalist, foreseeing what the future is to bring forth when the hundreds of thousands of our unplowed acres are brought under cultivation, will not hesitate to invest his treasure in the various enterprises necessary to our growth and prosperity.  And the husbandman has reason for his faith in a soil which never fails to reward him generously for the labor bestowed in its cultivation.  But we shall speak of some of the staple productions of our agriculture, beginning with


We doubt if anywhere since being transported from its native plains in Central Asia, has this great cereal found a more congenial soil and climate than in Northwestern Iowa and Lyon County.  The great essentials to successful wheat-growing, a rare atmosphere with a soil rich in lime materials, here exists in the most favorable conditions.  The variety principally grown is that known as spring wheat, which is sown as soon as frost disappears in spring, and is harvested in July.  Its growth is heavy, the straw strong and berry plump.  During the four years of its cultivation in Lyon County, it has never been affected by any disease whatever.  With regard to yield, good judges place the average of the whole crop in the county, the present season, at from twenty-five to forty bushels per acre.  These estimates will appear like exaggerations in many portions of the East, but we believe they will not vary much from the actual yield.  It is true that the present year is unusually favorable, but the crop has never fallen below twenty-two bushels, and it is safe, to calculate the average yield at twenty bushels per acre, or over.

The land is broken in May and June, and the next spring is ready for sowing without being plowed.  Sowing, reaping, raking and threshing are all done by machinery, there being no hills, stumps, rocks, or other impediments to its use.

It may be objected that the long transportation which it must bear will seriously reduce the profits of its growth, but we believe that its easier production, certain and greater yield than in the East, much more than overbalance the greater cost of its transportation.  Beside the increasing demand for breadstuffs in the mining countries to the West, we have a choice between the Chicago and Duluth wheat markets.  Adding to these advantages the fact that it always finds ready market and sells for cash, it is believed that the growing of wheat in Lyon County is one of the most favorable opportunities now presenting itself to the agriculturalist.  Some idea of the importance which it will assume in the future may be gathered from the fact that if one-fourth of the tillable land in Lyon County was sown to wheat, yielding fifteen bushels per acre, low estimates, a single crop would amount to 1,380,000 bushels.


There is an impression prevailing to a considerable extent that this cereal cannot be raised with success in Northwestern Iowa, owing to coldness of the climate.  This opinion has no foundation, as will be shown in our article on climate.  Actual experience and statistics show that the mean summer heat of this region of the Missouri slope is equal to that required for the successful growth of corn.  With a congenial climate and a warm soil, rich in nitrogen, it is one of our most certain and valuable productions.  Mr. L.F. Knight has cultivated corn on his farm at the forks of Rock River since 1869, and has never failed to secure a good crop, and it has never been cutoff by drought, frost or slight, yielding, in some years, as high as eighty bushels of shelled corn to the acre.

With good management, the yield is from fifty to eighty bushels per acre.  This crop, as well as all others, is raised with less than half the labor usually required on the worn-out soils, or among the stumps and stones, with which the Eastern farmer has to contend.  A man and a boy can tend forty acres, besides devoting a portion of their time to other crops, the hoe hardly ever being used.  This, with a yield of from forty to sixty bushels to the acre, would give all the way from 1,600 to 2,400 bushels of grain, which will give some idea of our facilities for stock and pork raising.  If one-fourth of the area of Lyon County was planted to corn, producing forty bushels to the acre, the yield of one crop would be 3,680,000 bushels.


Oats flourish remarkably, the yield having, in several instances, been as high as ninety bushels per acre, but from forty to sixty bushels is the common yield.  Barley, rye and buckwheat have, as yet, received but little attention, but, where cultivated have equaled the highest expectations, and will, no doubt, become favorite productions.


Our warm, rich soil is well adapted to the growth of sorghum and imphee, and our dry and sunny autumns are most favorable to its ripening and manufacture.  The citizens of Lyon County have already given considerable attention to the cultivation of these plants, with excellent success, and their growth will no doubt become a permanent branch of our agriculture.


This esculent, without which the table of the king or the peasant is incomplete, here flourishes in its highest perfection.  It is nothing uncommon, with careful cultivation, especially on our alluvial bottom lands, to raise as high as three hundred bushels per acre.  They are of superior size and flavor, and the crop is becoming one of great importance.


This region seems peculiarly adapted, especially the alluvial soil of the valleys of the streams, to the raising of melons, squashes, tomatoes, beans, peas, cabbage, turnips, beets, and all the bulbous and salad plants.  If the exact weight and measurement of cabbage, turnips, onions, etc., grown in Lyon County the present season, were given, not one in ten in many portions of the country would believe it to be true.  In short, it may be said that nowhere is the soil more easily cultivated, or more certain to yield an ample reward for the labor bestowed upon it, than in Northwest Iowa and Lyon County.


Climate and Health

Our great altitude--1400 feet above the sea level--and perfect drainage system, give a dry, pure and invigorating atmosphere, and forever settle all question regarding the healthfulness of our climate.  Every person who contemplates immigration to the West, should give this subject his first and most earnest consideration.

Here they will be spared the malarias diseases which have attended the settlement of many of the western States, and which are still the scourge of the finest regions in the Southwest. A case of fever and ague was never known in Lyon County, and the whole country is absolutely free from diseases of a miasmatic origin.  This rarity of atmosphere has also a highly beneficial effect upon those suffering from pulmonary complaints, and it is confidently believed that these diseases, incident to the more damp atmosphere of the New England States can never arise in this country.

Dr. J. W. Foster, in his great work, "Valley,"  says: "As we trace the isotherms of spring and summer, say from New York as a geographical point, they are found to pursue a pretty uniform direction westerly until they reach the western shore of Lake Michigan, when they abruptly curve to the northwest."  Without entering upon a discussion of the laws of climatology to account for this phenomenon, we will state that the truth of these observations is unanimously attested by the inhabitants of the great Valley of the Missouri.  While our latitude is that of Central New York, we have a far more salubrious climate.  The summers are warm, but are not hot and sultry, owing to the pleasant breezes which invariably spring up on the prairies in the forenoon, and continue through the day.

During the winter, rainfall is almost unknown, and, although the winters are cold, the air is so dry and bracing that their severity is not felt as in the humid regions of the East, or changeable climate of a more southern latitude.

But the crowning beauty our climate is autumn.  The delightful season known as "Indian summer" is here often prolonged into December, and is peculiarly charming.  A calm, soft, hazy atmosphere fills the sky, through which, day after day, the sun, shorn of his beams, rises and sets like a globe of fire.  By night the heavens are lighted by the burning prairies, the forests are tinged with the most gorgeous hues, and all Nature seems to wear the enchantments of fairy land.  Almost imperceptibly these golden days merge into winter; and so the seasons pass, year after year.



We have not claimed a better soil than that of adjoining counties, but in the number of character of its streams, and facilities for water power, Lyon County surpasses any portion of Northwestern Iowa.   The county is drained by the Rock and Big Sioux rivers and their tributaries.


And its numerous effluent's drain the central and eastern portions of the county.  This stream takes its name from a bold outcrop of the red quartzite rock, called the "Blue Mounds," near the town of Luverne, Minnesota, from which the Yanktons gave it the name of "River of the Red Rock."  It rises in Minnesota, about seventy-five miles north of the State line, and flows southward, passing nearly through the center of Lyon County, and unites with the Big Sioux about fifteen miles below its southern boundary.  Its length is about one hundred miles, and it drains over a million acres of farming lands.

It is a clear, rapid and powerful stream, with a rocky or gravel bed, and an average width of from eighty to one hundred feet, and a depth of from three to six feet.  It flows through a beautiful valley from one to three miles wide, the sides of which blend gracefully with the prairie beyond.  Between the line of highest overflow and the prairie there stretches a continued level plane, which will serve the excellent purpose of a bed for a railroad-which must follow the development of this rich valley.

Aside from the many other advantages of this river, are the facilities which it affords for milling and manufacturing purposes, in its magnificent water powers.  Those in Lyon County are among the finest in the Northwest, and are the source of great future wealth, and deserve the early attention of capitalists.

The scenery on this stream, especially in the summer, is most delightful.  The beholder, at each sweeping bend of the river, is startled by a prospect of groves, parks, waterfalls and green slopes.  The view in the distance is lost in the dim outline of the winding forest, or in other places is arrested by the cultivated field, the farm-house, or the thriving village.

The principal tributaries of the Rock are the Little Rock, Otter Creek, West Branch, Kanaranzi and Tom Creek.  These are swift and sparkling streams, fed by springs.  They rise in Minnesota, and in winding their way to a junction with the Rock, completely water all parts of the county.


Received its name from Lewis and Clark, who passed its mouth on the 21st of August, 1804, on their great exploring expedition to the Northwest.  These explorers reported it as a navigable stream, but this has not proved to be true, though steamboats have at times ascended the river some distance.  This stream is somewhat larger than the Rock, and partakes of the same general description.  It rises near Big Stone Lake, Dakota, and flows southward, dividing Lyon County from Dakota Territory, and emptying into the Missouri a short distance above Sioux City.

The valley of the Sioux is very extensive and fertile, being from three to six miles wide.  On the Iowa side this valley is guarded by a line of bluffs from one hundred to two hundred and fifty feet high, which render the scenery picturesque and beautiful.

The facilities for manufacturing on this stream are excellent.   Good judges estimate that a fine water power may be found as often as once every two miles throughout its entire length, from the northwest corner of the State to the mouth of Rock River.   With these advantages, the building of a railroad up this valley-already begun--and our fine field for sheep raising, the development of woolen manufacture promises much for the future of this country.

The streams in Lyon County all abound with many excellent varieties of fish, which are taken at all seasons of the year.  Their valleys are inhabited by elk, deer, beaver, otter and other game, and by flocks of wild geese, ducks, pelicans, swans and other wild fowl, furnishing a fine opportunity for sporting.


Stock Raising

The foregoing description of the water system of Lyon County cannot fail to show that this is preeminently an inviting field of stock raising.  The wild blue-joint grass of our valleys forms the finest meadows in the world.  It grows from three to six feet high, yielding from two to three tons of hay per acre equal in value to that of the tame grasses.  This is secured with machinery at small expense to the stock raiser.  The grasses of the prairies are nutritious, and the range of pasturage is unlimited.

We cannot represent that "stock flourishes the year around upon the natural grasses without shelter, hay or other feed," for this is not true.  Stock is turned into the uncut stalks of the corn fields in the fall, where they subsist until winter.  The feeding season generally lasts about sixteen weeks, and stock is brought out in good condition with shelter and hay only.

It is a mistaken idea that stock raising may be carried on successfully without feed anywhere in the West.  This is not attempted in but limited portions of the United States east of the Rocky mountains, and is attended with difficulty and frequently with great loss.  Statistics, or reflection aloe, will convince any person that the principal and most profitable stock raising is carried on in the northern States where winter feeding is necessary.

The raising of cattle, horses and sheep is here a safe and profitable business, and we advise immigrants, when convenient, to bring stock the more the better.




Webization by Kermit Kittleson - Aug. 2006