Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 4 - Page 19, Submitted by Charlene Nichols Hixon, April 3, 2012

Many Hardships Faced Early Farmers
Ardent Efforts Were Repaid by Fertile Ground

When the first white settlers set up their homes in the unchartered prairie land which was then Muscatine county, the main occupation of most of these early pioneers was farming.

Confronted by many hardships ad with only the crudest kind of equipment to aid them in their work, they, nevertheless, found that their strenuous efforts were repaid by bountiful crops from the fertile soil.

While the present day farmer has the many advantages of mechanized equipment, diversified crops, research and improved methods of agriculture, together with governmental assistance, the pioneer “man with the plow” also had some factors in his favor.

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In the first place the land he touched still retained its original fertility. It was a soil which responded bountifully at the slightest touch of the plow or hoe. Countless centuries of plant growth had lived and died, each year adding its bit to the gradual accumulation of humus in the ground.

The early settlers had a wide choice of location, but they soon gravitated to the wide fertile prairie where possibilities for bountiful crops were the greatest.

The first corn was probably planted by making holes with an axe or hoe in the freshly turned sod, in which the kernels were placed. No after-cultivation was attempted or possible with the crude tools available.

Even so, though, a surprising return of corn was realized. Wheat, either the fall or spring variety, was sowed and covered as well as possible, because this was one of the most valuable of crops. Grain was essential for making of precious flour out of which came bread – one of the mainstays of the early family diet.

Large acreages, especially of wheat, were hard to handle, even when raised successfully. Harvesting and threshing were all at a very primitive level in those first years. The grain had to be cut with a cradle, bound by hand, threshed by hand with a flail and then winnowed, also by hand power.

The question of varieties of corn and grain was not then considered vital, as it is today. Many types of wheat, corn, oats and potatoes were in common use, mostly from seed brought from the east at the first arrival.

Farming methods and productivity improved when advanced types of agricultural implements made their appearance on the market – including plows, cultivators and harrows, the first mowing machines, the beginnings of the self-binder and the first crude threshing machines.

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Livestock raising was sort of a haphazard operation during the early days. There were no recognized breeds of any stock, and no attempt was made to breed pure lines until 15 to 20 years later. Cattle were a common breed, although a larger type was selected from which the oxen were chosen.

Pigs were allowed to range the woods in the first years, securing most of their food, especially during the fall when acorns and nuts were ready. They were confined for fattening only after reaching mature age. Sheep became plentiful at an early date as their wool was a necessary article for weaving of home-made cloth.

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Since its crude, drab beginning, agriculture in Muscatine county has come a long way. And as farming methods have gone forward, so have long strides been made toward improvement of general living conditions on the farm. Today, the farmer enjoys practically all of the modern conveniences of his city neighbor.

He must, however, face new and different problems, the answers for which have proved hard to find. Soil erosion, loss of fertility, crop rotation, over-production – these are only some of the problems which must be met.

But the farmer is carrying on, even as his pioneer predecessor, with the aid of government assistance, knowing that his is the great responsibility for supplying the food of the nation.

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One step toward the solution of some of the difficulties which beset farmers in the early part of this century was taken through organization when the first Muscatine county Crop Improvement association was formed.

It was on Oct. 17, 1912, that a meeting of farmer representatives from the various townships in the county was held in the commercial club rooms here. F. D. Steen presided as temporary chairman and the expression of those present favored a crop expert movement.

A committee of I. J. Nichols of West Liberty and J. E. Hoopes and H. C. Lawrence of Muscatine was chosen to select a larger committee of two farmers from each township for the purpose of perfecting plans for a permanent organization.

At the next meeting on Oct. 26, 1912, the following representatives were present:

    Bloomington – William Hendrix and Charles Stone.
    Fruitland – C. B. Vail.
    Cedar – W. S. Hunter and W. L. Shellabarger.
    Lake – Roy Baker and Bion Hitchcock.
    Pike – B. Black and T. B. Nichols.
    Wilton -- B. F. Carroll and J. R. McClean.
    Wapsie – F. D. Steen and S. H. Archibald.
    Goshen – C. L. Hargrave and Ed Brant.

The constitution and by-laws were read and adopted, and the following permanent officers elected:

President, F. D. Steen, West Liberty; vice president, J. R. McClean, Wilton; secretary, H. C. Lawrence, Muscatine; and treasurer, William Hendrix, of Bloomington township.

First to join the association were J. L. Giesler, F. D. Steen, William Hendrix, Ben Black, W. H. Hoffman, H. F. Barnard, John Wilson, A. S. Lawrence, Record Printing, C. B. Vail, W. L. Shellabarger, F. D. Throop, T. B. Nichols, R. R. Baker, J. E. Hoopes, A. E. Peterson, Sam Block and Will Jayne.

K. A. Kirkpatrick was hired as the first crops advisor at a salary of $2,000 for the first year, $2,250 for the second year and $2,500 for the third year, and he reported for duty on Jan. 15, 1913.

First mention of crop improvement work was the securing of clover seed and of sponsoring acre yield contests of corn, and of a poultry raising contest. Meetings were held in every country school in the county in regard to these contests. During this period there were serious outbreaks of hog cholera, and much of the agent’s time was devoted to making visits to inspect herds of hogs and assist farmers with vaccination.

On Sept. 15, 1914, Mr. Kirkpatrick resigned as county agent, to be succeeded by J. W. Merrill who is at present with the state extension service.

From 1912 to 1920, farmers were confronted with the problem of increasing production of their grain and livestock, and the work of the agent was to demonstrate new and improved varieties.

This early organization of the Muscatine County Crop Improvement association was the forerunner of the Muscatine county Farm Bureau which continues to function in this county today.

It carries out with the co-operation of the state extension service and the U. S. department of agriculture a program designed to aid the farmer in many ways. – information on improved methods of agriculture based on extensive research and numerous other practical means of assistance.

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