Farming by our Parents in an early day.

Read by Henry J. Mies at the Reunion, February 6, 1916.

I thought it might be well to have on record some of the trials and difficulties experienced by our parents as early pioneers on these prairies subduing the virgin sod. As I recall the story from them, also some from my own observations, there were no returns for their labor for many years, no grain was sold and even the increase in the value of land was but little. The sacrifice they made with one year following another without recompense must have been discouraging and the courage to continue such an occupation is indeed worthy of recording. Their trials have been our gain and the slow but continued advancement has brought us to the realization that we are following perhaps the noblest occupation of man.

Going back to those days from 1867-69 were but dreams. Father had no conception what farming was, but had a desire to own some Illinois land and being married about this time also added to this. He had helped harvest in the wheat fields of LaSalle County, had seen the same unloaded as flour in the ports of Australia, so knew that they must have realized well on their wheat. In drawing my conclusions now it was Mother that was largely instrumental in seeing that the earnings of the U.P.R.R. [Union Pacific Railroad] were invested in lands and the thought was always dominant with her that their future home should be on a farm, there to rear the family. Their accumulation and earnings from the U.P.R.R. from '66-69 amounted to about 4000.00, some of this was invested in land in Livingston County and the first investment was the 160 acres @$12 per acre now known as the Mies Homestead.

In '68 Father and his brother-in-laws came here to build and improve the same. The house, barn, crib and a few other were erected and ready to occupy the same which they did in October, moving from Mendota LaSalle County, making the trip with team and wagon. Some breaking had been done the same summer that a crop could be raised the following year, so in '70 farm operations were commenced to the enterprise a ranch was rented, cattle were taken in and a herder employed. The year '70 did not bring any returns. It had cost enormously to build, labor was all hired, lumber was hauled from Odell [IL] and the early settlers finding Father always ready with money drove many a good bargain at Fathers inexperience, these were some of the trials.

The years of '70-72 were about the same, no grain was sold and even some of the added breaking was hired done and at the close of '72 a public sale was had and the farm rented for a third and with the first crop free on new breaking. Discouraged at farming Father was again willing to take up railroading, but the following years were not very favorable for this and the period from 72-76 found him without steady work. He had spent some of this time in Chicago but most of the time lived in Mendota and meanwhile the earnings of the U.P. were running low and in a way were forced to return to the farm again in 76. The returns from the farm meanwhile had also been nothing, but with the encouraging thought that the boys were now coming on and would soon be a help strengthened their decision. I can only add that it must have been hard trial for Mother for she was largely instrumental in Father leaving his occupation of carpentry and railroading to engage in farming but I will also add that it was the rearing of the family on a farm that forced them to the last decision. They had experienced some city life and saw the danger.

The years from '69 -72 had their trials, the years from '72 -76 had theirs but the years from '76-88 were the years in which they were really tested for here it was at times that there was no crops raised, no money on hand, the earnings of the U.P.R.R. long vanished. They had made some sad mistakes. They had built on a large scale, the old home was known as "the mansion on the prairie", you remember it was built for two families, Father and the tenant expected to occupy the same, Father saw that this would be a failure and it was not even tried out. It was at this period that the real crisis came and brought them to the final decision that the only thing they could do was to remain or lose all they had invested.

It seems rather strange to me now that in going over the records that with the past discouraging results that they should add more land to their holdings, with the experience from '69-72 and from '72-76 to add an 80 acre in their return and another in '70, with interest on money as high as 15-18%. I might add that between the period from '72-76 Father had bought and sold a 40 acre of Mothers old home in LaSalle County and it was perhaps with this money that this reinvestment was made. I might also add that the land he had in Kansas had also been sold, but at an earlier period, in the fall of '69.

The year '75 was a banner year, but the year that they came back '76 was wet one, the year '77 they raised but little. '78 was some better and some grain was raised but prices were low, about 28 cents for corn. Odell was our nearest grain market so with far away markets farming was an expensive proposition. Father could not adapt himself to livestock, good profits were made along this line, here he had a large family on his hands and not much help to him, we can easily see that he had before him a discouraging situation, some of older ones remember those trying years and recall incidents that to these our children would seem impossible, but to them fell the hard lot and as I see it now they had to endure more than fell the average settler.

Father had made a serious mistake in putting up this $1000.00 home and paying an enormous price for labor hired but here as I have said before the neighbors had taken advantage of him. He had built and bought other things out of the ordinary, had the first buggy and when it was sold at the sale in '72 was quite a curiosity, all of these things brought about a jealousy that could not be over come, they did not realize the stress he was under and the burden he was carrying in those years from '76-86. Here he had land with interest and taxes due every year, realizing little on the sale of crops, none on livestock, for when he again established himself in '76 was glad to buy what ever there was offered to him by his neighbors and inexperienced bought what was not desirable and even then at too high a price.

For a period of 10 years discouraging conditions prevailed, land would not sell, a real estate man did not exist they had gone to other fields, this was once an Eldorado in the 60's, the imaginary railroads and navigable streams still remained on their blue prints and to the early settlers remained an illusion, now wanting to sell and could not, discouraged at results, always wanting to go railroading, yet believing Mother was right that the farm was the best place to raise the family, one can see the trials of Mother, see those of Fathers who had other ability making this sacrifice making it hard for both and as I have said before no loyal friends and neighbors to help them, these were some or the trials and much more could be added.

The years of '80's were better and as I remember the corn crop of '84 was about 4000 bu, prices in the summer about 28-30 cents. He now had closer markets, two railroads were built through this section, yet land was still a drag on the market, he was offered $35.00 [per acre] but there was no cash on hand to make the deal.

It was in the 80's that tile draining was being done and wonderful results followed. He had done some in 84-85 and saw the possibilities, the boys were now of some help to him and fuller contentment followed, both were now becoming more mature in years and were beginning to realize that farming was to be their life's work. I might add that from now on to the close of 1900 brought to them the richest rewards, seeing the children reared and brought to maturity with out stain or blot, adding a chapter to human life that stands out almost unparalleled in our County. They had triumphed in the end, they perhaps built better than they knew, their labor will not go by unrewarded, their early experiences in subduing this virgin sod, their experience on the wind swept prairies, the extreme wet and dry years which no crops were raised all symbolizes to us that it took courage and patience.

The shadows and light that fell on their pathway through life's journey brings out that beautiful coloring that we see today as the curtains are drawn, lives rich with such experiences and to persevere to the end, seems to me to be more than chance, they must have been chosen and then favored under the guidance of divine law that shapes human destinies, for in the test they were not found wanting.


Thursday, January 24, 2002

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