Wednesday, June 8, 2022


 Though dates vary, the Bonanza Farm Boom was short-lived, from 1870-90, when rainfall was more than plentiful, crops did better than anyone had dared to dream of and the grain market was excellent.  From 1878-1890 Dakota's population swelled from 16,000 to 191,000!

This long stretch of plows and horses are part of Big Ag, or the Bonanza Farm boom. This bonanza farm belonged to Amenia and the Sharon Land Company. 

From one point of view, the Bonanza Farm Boom was an important part of a decades-long population drive in Dakota Territory. Looked at closely, the Bonanza Farm developed suddenly, because railroads were granted huge land concessions, and they promoted immigration without stopping until 1930. 

The Homestead Act of 1862, of course, plus more local homesteading acts, giveaways and almost-free, cheap land enticed immigrants by the thousand. Railroads even traded shares of their companies for the land they owned, and sometimes the largest blocks of farmland went to financiers in the East -- who, in turn, began Bonanza Farms.

The Bagg Farm

But the largest Bonanza Farm, owned by the Dalrymple Family, was 11,000 acres.

Although different sources say that Bonanza Farms were 25,000 to 75,000 acres.  All vouch for the fact that for many years, wheat was the only crop.

The reasoning for this is, to me, pretty complicated, involving world economics of the time. The short version boils down to milling. 

The wheat grown prior to Dakota's Bonanza Farms was unsuitable for the milling technology of the times. Dakota Territory set about matching a milling process to the wondrous nature of Dakota's Hard Wheat, and they were successful. 

Even during the height of Bonanza Farm prosperity, life for people who farmed the normal number of acres in Dakota -- 200-300 -- was hard work:  subsistence farming.  Houses in Dakota were not much more varied than in other Plains areas: tar paper shacks, sod houses,  dugouts and cabins if a person's land was close to a creek. 

  Sod House and Owner

Native Americans

Despite Big Ag and Bonanza Farms, Indians continued to live simpler lives, as drawn by a Lakota Ledger artist in "Meets His Squaw."

During the Reservation Era, from 1850-1887, Indian life was simpler still because  the buffalo had become extinct, making men’s roles change considerably. The tribe no longer relied on them to provide most of the food (buffalo or other large mammals like deer for meat) and their roles as protectors were gone.  (Local hunting for small game was also illegal for Natives.)  Warfare had almost stopped between tribes and rations were contingent on good behavior, so the once-revered warrior societies changed.

Women no longer tanned hides or sewed clothes and shelters for the same reasons. 

Brule Lakota Chief Spotted Tail and his wife

Squaw Dance, Rosebud Agency

The few sources from those times state that women were resourceful, switching to sales and production of crafts.  And artists, too, were resourceful.  They'd once used buffalo hides, but because discarded account books were plentiful, artists used them for paper. Also, the local trading shops had good art supplies. 

Indian families removed from the Great Plains as prisoners to Ft. Marion 

In some cases, as with Dr. Susan La Flesch’s  far-seeing father, Chief Iron Eye, the farming situation went better. After teaching himself, he taught his tribe of Omaha Indians how to plow and farm,  giving away his crops to those who'd tried and failed. 

Chief Iron Eye (Joseph La Flesche)

His daughters, incidentally, and other relations became famous for similar reasons. Dr. Susan La Flesche is standing in this photo

Other tribes had always grown staples like squash and beans; others, who’d relied entirely on hunting, experienced illness from government rations.  It’s best to read for oneself about this situation!

The facts are interesting, though difficult. Indians who lived in or near a town and blended into the community were termed as taxed, and they were counted in the census.  Those who lived on reservations or ‘roamed freely’ were not counted in the census and were termed un-taxed. All records, but for a very few, were part of a huge fire in the 1920's. The federal government has created estimates.

Cattle Ranching

Cattle were herded into the territory during the '70's.  During the first half of the 1880's, cattle brought about yet another Big Ag  boom. (I wrote about this situation in my Mail Order Bride series on Amazon. Growing up on a ranch, it seemed natural to write about these huge changes.)

Ranches were established, mostly in the western part of the Territory, the people ranching as if they were still located in Texas. Theodore Roosevelt and Marquis de Mores (from France)both had prosperous ranches.  Roosevelt ran cattle for awhile in the badlands; de Mores had refrigerated cars on trains for his meat and a packing plant on site.

Cowboy camp, Badlands

The winter of 1887 broke even the most prosperous. Cattle ranching survived, but ranchers changed their tactics, running smaller herds and alternating grazing with feeding, based on the season.

The bottom fell out of the Dakota Booms when the abundance of wheat coincided with low prices for grains, serious drought, and grasshoppers flying in clouds that descended on all farms. 

References include 

The Reservation Era (1850 - 1887) - A Brief History of Civil ...

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised at the huge size of some farms! Since homesteaders were allowed a small acreage, I wonder how some of the farmers obtained so much land.


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