Romance of Omaha, Chapter VI
Opportunity for adventure and hope of acquiring sudden wealth drew the first pioneers to this western land.
As men have done since the beginning of time, they turned their faces toward where the Indian and bison roamed wild.
They were quickly followed by no less venturesome settlers led by the thought of better homes to be carved out of the new land.
They left behind them what their elders had achieved and set out to do for themselves and for their children.
The first group had little thought of making a permanent residence in the west.
The second group came here to live.
Most of them were farmers.
Farmers Bring Prosperity
They came to Nebraska with the intention of engaging in agricultural pursuits, but if they came before 1857 most of them lost their desire for farming and joined with others in the alluring game of dealing in town lots and other speculation. Agriculture languished.
Some little attempt at farming was made near the Missouri river in 1885 but in 1856 the craze for speculation was so strong that everyone was selling or buying city lots.
J. Sterling Morton, Nebraska pioneer and founder of Arbor day, is authority for the statement that when the panic of 1857 broke over the country there were not less than 1,000,000 town lots staked out along the Missouri river from the Kansas border almost to what is now the South Dakota line. The same year there was hardly a farm in the state.
Panic Proves to Be Blessing
The panic of 1857 was a blessing in disguise to the new territory, according to Mr. Morton and other level-headed pioneers.
It put an end to speculation and wildcat banking. It turned the thoughts of the settlers to the land and its possibilities.
During the winter of 1857 corn was shipped into Nebraska from Missouri and other states for food for man and beast and cost $2 a bushel. Yet so earnestly did the people turn to agriculture in the following year that in the spring of 1859 when the steamers began to run, corn was shipped out of Nebraska and the farmers received 40 cents a bushel for it.
Even though town lot speculation had ceased, the growth of agriculture was slow.
Indian scares kept all but the most daring close to the towns and to the river. In 1860 it was estimated that there were not more than 50,000 acres under cultivation in the state.
First Territorial Fair
The ambitious pioneers held a territorial fair in Nebraska City in 1859 but it was not much of a success and the fairs were abandoned until 1868 when the real forerunner of Nebraska's present magnificent state fair was held at Nebraska City.
Crop statistics for Nebraska in the year 1860, the earliest available, were as follows:
Twenty years later, however, the corn crop had grown to 65,000,000 bushels, the wheat yield to 14,000,000 bushels and the oats crop to 6,500,000.
Livestock on Nebraska farms in 1870 was valued at $525,000. Ten years later it was $2,500,000.
Compared to the value of livestock and of farm products today, those figures probably appear very small but they were very proudly referred to in the newspapers and by Nebraska orators of that time as indicating the marvellous development of the state.
The agricultural development of Nebraska really began immediately after the close of the civil war.
The war over, the federal government could give more attention to curbing the activities of the Indians and, as a result, settlers began to pour into the state from the east. Many were men who, after having served through the war, found it necessary to seek new homes and new interests. They turned westward.
The rich and rolling prairies that had lain untouched for centuries, attracted the newcomers. Ease in acquiring the land drew them.
They came to plow and sow and reap and a new era dawned for Nebraska.
During the late 60s and through the early 70s land was pre-empted, homesteaded or acquired under timber claim act at the rate of 5,000,000 acres a year.
Nebraska was on its way to become one of the great agricultural states in the country.
Steady Development Results
Steadily the state grew in importance. Drouths and grasshoppers did their part to momentarily check the development, but in spite of all drawbacks the pioneer farmers marched on.
They won so glorious a victory that today Nebraska contains 127,000 farms valued, including buildings, livestock and machinery, at $3,125,000,000, an average of $24,600 a farm or almost double the value of the average farm of the United States.
These values, according to the latest federal census report, are divided as follows:
Of these 127,000 splendid farms, 53 per cent are owned by the farmers who cultivate them, a record for farm ownership not surpasssed in any state in the union.
Farm Wages Are Large
The farmers of the state pay out each year in cash more than $25,000,000 to farm workers.
They have more than 20,000 tractors and, according to the last available statistics there are more than 35,000 radios on Nebraska farms.
The total value of the farm products of the state averages more than $500,000,000 every year.
The average corn crop is approximately 200,000,000 bushels a year.
There are 600,000 cows on Nebraska farms and the value of the dairy products alone is more than $30,000,000 annually.
More than $15,000,000 worth of eggs and $15,000,000 worth of poultry are produced yearly.
Corn, wheat, oats, hay, sugar beets and potatoes are the six principal crops.
Nowhere throughout the west will a higher type of farm home be found than in Nebraska. The farm home without any modern conveniences is fast passing. Thousands of farmers' homes in this state are as comfortable and as well equipped with modern improvements as any city home.
Other States Are In Line
What is true of Nebraska is true of all the states that lie within Omaha's natural trade territory. The value of farms in those states and parts of states totals more than $10,000,000,000. They produce more than $2,000,000,000 worth of farm products every year.
The livestock on the farms is valued at $1,500,000,000.
Omaha is the natural headquarters for this entire territory.
Much of the business done by these farmers is transacted in Omaha or with Omaha business firms. The Omaha packers pay out $167,000,000 a year for livestock.
Other products of the farm used for manufacturing purposes in Omaha are valued at $50,000,000. Omaha manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers distribute through this vast and prosperous trade territory almost $1,000,000,000 worth of goods, every year.
It is but a comparatively short time since 1754, yet in that period the farmers of Nebraska and the west have carved out a wealth and happiness, the like of which had never before been dreamed of in this world.
And as the wealth of this great territory increases so will the wealth and greatness of Omaha grow.
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