Michigan.-- Ferry Steamer.--Detroit,--State Agricultural Show.--Railway Hints for Home, to Prevent Dust, and communicate with Driver Shelter for Engine Driver.--Illinois.--Extent of the Rich Valley of the Upper Mississippi.-- Chicago.--its wonderful Progress.--Railway Investments.--Development too rapid.--Encouraged by high Prices of Agricultural Produce.--Money Panic succeeded by Failure of Crops, and unhealthy Season.--Immigration suspended--Capacity of Country for rapid Improvement.--View of the State of Illinois on a Line of Seven Hundred Miles. - Settlers from Vermont.--Galena.- Dunleith.
At Windsor we crossed the American boundary line to Detroit, in the State of Michigan, by the St. Clair River, a deep crystal stream, nearly a mile broad, flowing with a gentle current of three miles an hour. This is the Bosphorus of North America, by which the navigation of the St. Lawrence and the Lower Lakes finds access to the three great inland seas of this continent. The ferry-steamer by which we crossed was largo enough to accommodate 600 or 800 passengers with all their baggage, and, in the saloon on the upper-deck, tables were spread for supper, of which probably 100 partook. This forms a convenient resting and refreshment room for through passengers, who purpose continuing their westward journey by the trains ready to start from the other side.
Detroit is a very handsome town, finely situated on the river. It was laid out by a mathematical genius, who has succeeded in producing a very elegant, spacious, and conveniently arranged town. The old French farmers, whose original settlements stretched in long narrow strips back from the river, have all become extremely wealthy by the sale of
36their little estates, which are now converted into the most valuable town lots.
The Michigan State Agricultural Fair was about to be held. The show ground was enclosed and subdivided much in the same manner as at the agricultural shows in England. Very tastefully decorated booths were erected for the exhibition of flowers, and also of the fish which are caught or bred within the limits of this State, and which were exhibited in miniature ponds as at the great show at Paris, in 1856. The whole show ground was traversed by a wide carriage drive, which was to be used as a race-course for the trial of trotting horses, and for matches by lady equestrians, probably the most attractive feature of all Western State fairs. There were a few good short-horns in the yard, but the stock was chiefly of an inferior mixed breed. The best sheep are of the merino breed, and the wool produced in this State is reckoned good.
As I passed very rapidly through the State of Michigan, the line traversing a partially cleared country, the soil rather sandy, but picturesque, undulating and well watered by clear streams, I mention only a few points of practical interest. The first is in reference to railway comfort. Though the weather was extremely dry, and we travelled with open windows over 280 miles of dusty country at good speed, no passenger was annoyed with dust. A simple contrivance is adopted on this line which, in dusty weather, should be introduced into England. A thick canvass cover is stretched on a frame along the bottom of the whole train, covering the wheels and all the open space between the carriage and the rail, so that the dust as it rises is carried off and out at the end of the train in a constant stream. There is no practical difficulty in it, and the additional comfort to passengers is so great, that I can confidently commend the plan to railway directors in this country. Neither do the Americans seem to have any difficulty in carrying,
37by a line along the inside of the roof, a continuous communication from every carriage to the engine driver. This is in general use both in Canada and the States, and when any change took place in the arrangement of the carriages, the connection of the signal rope was effected without any difficulty or loss of time. There is another little matter which must have often struck railway travellers in England; the unnecessary exposure to weather of the engine driver and stoker. In the coldest, wettest, and stormiest nights these two men, Upon whose care and consciousness the safety of the whole train depends, are whisked through the air at enormous speed, without any shelter or cover except an upright piece of iron with glass in it to protect their faces when looking out ahead. In America, these useful officials have a roof over them, glazed on the front and sides and open behind, within which they can carry on most of their duties, without unnecessary exposure, and from which they can keep a good look out, without being frost-bitten.
It was night when the train reached the first limit of the Great Prairie country, for a glimpse of which through the darkness, I strove anxiously but in vain, during the last hour of the journey to Chicago.
I had now reached the new capital of "that Western World," as Washington described it, which Penn prophesied would yet make a glorious country. The valley of the Mississippi above Cairo, comprising on its eastern Lank Illinois and Wisconsin, and on the west, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota, embraces probably the greatest tract of fertile land on the surface of the globe. In total extent it exceeds England and France together, with the kingdom of the two Sicilies thrown into the bargain,--it is more than equal to Prussia and the whole Austrian empire,--even Spain and Turkey combined, would require the territory of the Ionian Islands to place them
38on a par with it. And this vast territory is not only intersected by numerous lines of railroad, which give it direct access to Montreal, New York, and Philadelphia, but on the north, by means of the lakes and the St. Lawrence, and on the south by the Mississippi River, it possesses a continuous water communication with the Atlantic.
Nothing can illustrate more forcibly the vast natural abundance and resources of this splendid country than the history of the grain-trade of Chicago. An Indian village in 1820, this place has become a great city with upwards of 120,000 people, with wharves and granaries for miles along the river canal which opens into Lake Michigan, and with streets, public buildings, churches, and private dwellings that may vie with those of London itself. The stores on the principal streets are equal in size and architectural elegance to the new row of line buildings which leads from Cannon Street into St. Paul's Church Yard. There are numerous stands for hackney-coaches, and various lines of omnibuses ply along the streets. And Chicago is actually the centre of more miles of railway, completed and in operation, than London. Yet it is only twenty years since the first shipment of some forty bags of wheat was made from it. In 1837 its exports amounted to about 100 bushels of grain, in 1817 they had reached 2,243,000 bushels, and in 1857 upwards of 18,000,000 bushels. Chicago and all its wealth are in fact a properly created by the profits arising in the mere transference from hand to hand of the surplus produce of but a small part of this wonderful country. Looking to Illinois alone, of which Chicago is the commercial capital and outlet, this surplus, great though it is, is capable of being increased tenfold, as only one-tenth of the fertile lands of this State are believed to be yet brought under cultivation.
But while no man who has seen the country can entertain
39a doubt of its vast capability of further development, it does not surprise me that capitalists in London are disappointed with their railway investments here. In England we make railways to facilitate an existing traffic. Elaborate statistics are furnished to show the extent of the present business of the country proposed to be accommodated. But in the Western States of America railways are made for hundreds of miles through the wilderness, not to accommodate but to create traffic. You may often travel for miles through the open prairie without seeing a living creature, till the shrill whistle of the engine startles a solitary Band-hill crane or a covey of prairie fowl. An Englishman cannot at first imagine the possibility of a traffic to be found in such a country, adequate to the support of a railway. But the experienced American knows better the rapid rate at which population and produce increase in a rich open country, to which access is made. He points to the fact that six years ago there were only forty miles of railway in Illinois, the earnings of which fell short of 8000l. while last year the total earnings of the lines centring in Chicago exceeded 3,700,000l.
While, however, this is the fact, there cannot be a doubt that the development of railway accommodation has been too rapid, and has for the present outrun the immediate requirements of Illinois. This was encouraged by a state of circumstances which sanguine speculators did not perceive to be exceptional. A series of short crops in Europe, coupled with the cessation of supplies from the Black Sea during the Russian war, caused such a demand for the produce of Western America, as at once doubled the price of wheat, and thus rendered the cultivation of prairie lands enormously profitable. For even in the first year that such land is broken up, it can be successfully cropped with wheat, and to any extent for which labour can be procured. The temptation to settle on land, the
40very first crop of which in many instances realised more than double the cost of the land itself, was so great, that men with their families flocked from their poor farms in the Eastern States, and Lower Canada, in tens of thousands, to this land of promise. In two years the export of wheat rose from two to nine million bushels. The trade in timber, with which the new farms are housed and fenced, increased in like proportion. So sudden and extensive a demand on the carrying resources of the railways led many of them to provide working stock adequate for the traffic of a fully peopled and occupied country, their directors hastily concluding that this sudden prosperity would be continuous and progressive. And new lines were started in all directions by local land speculators, and by others who were not slow to profit by the flow of foreign capital which these golden prospects naturally directed to the West. The early anticipations of increasing traffic upon the hope of which several of the great lines had raised their capital, were already more than realised; and distant shareholders saw no reason to doubt the sanguine anticipations of directors, who themselves might well have been deceived by such rapid prosperity.
In this inflated state the money panic of last year fell upon them. The price of wheat dropped a hall, the farmers refused to sell, the rate of lake freights fell one half, and the receipts and traffic of the railways began to show a similar decline. The reduced prices continued during winter and spring, and were followed by a cause of even greater discouragement,--a season of extraordinary humidity, succeeded by sudden and excessive heat, the effect of which has in many places nearly destroyed the wheat crop, and in others reduced it to less than half of an average produce. So general was this unfavourable season in the north-west, that its effects are everywhere visible. After such a summer the autumn has naturally proved unhealthy, and bad crops and bodily ailments coming together, the spirits
41of the settlers have been sadly depressed. Bad news travel fast. Migration from the Eastern States is suspended, and foreign immigration has almost ceased.
It does not seem to me possible that there can be any real improvement in the traffic of the western railways before next harvest. The chief produce of the country which at present creates traffic, is the gram trade. There is but one crop in the year, and if that proves a partial failure, there is no help but to wait the result of another harvest. But nature is so bountiful in this country, and so small is the proportion of land yet under cultivation, that when the tide turns we may look for a rapid change. If with not more than a tenth of the good land of Illinois under a rude system of cultivation, the agricultural produce exceeded for a time the carrying capacity of the railways, what may it not become as the country becomes peopled and cultivated? With less than a million and a half of people, Illinois afforded in 1857 an amount of traffic which left a profit to the railways. A very few years, at her average rate of progression, will double that population, and at the same time double her agricultural produce. And if directors and shareholders will in the meantime act with prudence and patience their capital will soon again become remunerative.
Before examining particular localities in the State, I was anxious to obtain as it were a bird's-eye view of the country; such a general impression of its surface as would enable me to select points fur special inspection. I therefore first traversed the entire state on the line of the Illinois Central Railway, from north-east to south, and from south to north-west, a total distance of about 700 miles. The State of Illinois extends from 37° to 42° 30' north latitude, being thus nearly the same length as England, but further south, and on the same parallel with
42Spain and Italy. This first journey occupied three days, the last day of September, and the first and second of October.
Immediately after leaving Chicago we enter on the prairie, which, near Lake Michigan, and for the first twenty miles, is low and wet, better suited for pasture and dairying than the cultivation of corn. The country then begins to rise, and in the next twenty miles the surface becomes dry and undulating; the soil a black mould, varying in depth from twelve to thirty inches, and resting on clay, or a mixture of clay and gravel. From this point to the Kankakee River, the first largo stream we cross, the prairie is a series of long and gentle undulations, less abrupt than the chalk downs of England, but otherwise resembling them in general form and sweep. The character of the soil is very uniform, and the face of the wide open country is sparsely dotted with It farm-houses. Where the prairie is unbroken, it is covered with long coarse waving grass, from three to four feet high; and in the hollows the grass is so high as to hide completely any cattle that may be grazing there. Before reaching Kankakee we pass through a settlement of 800 French Canadians, which has been growing for the last fifteen years. Each settler has about forty acres, and their farms are laid out along parallel roads at right angles to the railway. They exhibit signs of careful cultivation, and the village and church of the colony are prettily situated near the woods on the river side.
The town of Kankakee is finely situated on the river, fifty-six miles south of Chicago. Though there was not a house here five years ago, the population already numbers 3,500, with very good streets and shops, the centre of a rich agricultural district affording a sufficient traffic for a special daily train in and out from Chicago. The land behind it is a fertile, black, sandy loam, lying on limestone, excellent for oats and potatoes, and productive of rich grass.
43Crossing the river, which is a broad clear stream, as wide as the Thames at Richmond, running between limestone cliffs clothed with timber, the road traverses a continuous prairie, more or less dotted with houses and farms for the next seventy miles. This is all a good range of country, and though the railroad frequently runs in a perfectly straight line for many miles, the surface while rather flat is very seldom a dead level, as may be at once observed by the varied depth of the cuttings and embankments all along the line. At every eight or ten miles we pass a station round each of which a town is rapidly springing up, very often with a steam flour-mill in its centre capable of manufacturing 150 barrels of flour a day.
At Urbana, 128 miles south of Chicago, there is a flourishing town and station, the population numbering near 4000. I saw a peach plantation in this neighbourhood which was said to be in some seasons extraordinarily productive and remunerative. High prices are paid by the graziers here for the best breeds of cattle to improve their stock, one man whom I met at the station having last year paid 500l. for a short-horn bull from England. The soil is very black and rich looking. Generally, even on the flattest prairie, groves of timber are visible somewhere on the horizon, but they become more frequent after we pass southward of Urbana, and until Mattoon is reached, a few miles from which, and at about 180 miles south of Chicago, the general level of the country falls about eighty feet. This forms the termination of the line of black loamy prairie, the grey wheat-soils of southern Illinois now commencing. The open prairie becomes narrower, and the woods, which are everywhere found along the beds of the rivers and streams, seem to be within little more than a mile apart from each other. The soil is more silicious than the black soil of the upper prairies, and better adapted for winter wheat, of which it seldom fails to produce good crops of fine quality. It is also considered good
44for grazing cattle; but is not so prolific of Indian corn or oats, nor so suitable for potatoes or sugar-beet, all of which grow very successfully on the black prairie. The face of the country, however, is more picturesque, and the woods more diversified, the white oak growing to a great height. There is also abundance of coal and building stone in this portion of the State and the winter climate is occasionally so mild that in favourable seasons cattle can live the whole year on the prairies, with the aid of little or no fodder. From this point to Centralia, where the junction is made with the main line of the railroad, and onwards to the south as far as Desoto, which is 301 miles south of Chicago, the same whitish grey prairie soil continues. The country near Duquoin, a station on the line, is all underlaid with coal, in seams from five to nine feet thick, at a depth of seventy to eighty feet. It is easily wrought, but at present there is not much sale for it, as the country is very thinly settled, and there is no scarcity of wood. In the whole country, for nearly the last 150 miles, there was scarcely a settler four years ago, but so rapidly has settlement followed the opening of the railway, that it is estimated that half a million of acres of land have already been brought under cultivation along this part of the road.
From Desoto to the southern boundary of the State the country is all hills and hollows, rocky and wooded, with good farms interspersed. The climate is very mild in winter and hot in summer, and admits of the growth of all kinds of fruits and tobacco. It produces white wheat of the finest quality, and peaches and other fruits are sent in large quantities for the supply of the market at Chicago. This is one of the earliest soils in the Union for the ripening of wheat, the new crop from which may be sent to the northern and eastern markets before their own harvests are ready.
I now retraced my course by the same line to the junction at Centralia, but went northwards from that point by another line, nearly through the centre of the State, meeting with the same characteristics of soil as were noticed on the journey southwards. Near Tacusah there is another considerable settlement of French Canadians from Lower Canada. On again reaching the black prairie, after having been for some time accustomed to the whitish grey soil of the southern prairie, it seemed to me that the land looked richer and the grass greener. But we were now traversing the richest part of Illinois, and for 100 miles north of Tacusah the whole country is very fine, much of it settled and enclosed, and dotted with houses, as far as the eye can see. The cultivation is on a larger and more regular scale, the Indian corn and wheat both showing evidence of more careful management. Hay and corn ricks are more numerous; woodland is to be seen in all directions, and the country is altogether more undulating, rich, and picturesque, than any part of the prairie which I had yet seen. At Bloomington, which is a very rising town, with 7000 people, 10,000 bushels of grain are sent off dally by railroad to Chicago in a good season. The country here is chiefly settled by farmers from the middle States, Ohio and Kentucky. About thirty miles farther north, near the station of Minonk, a large colony of about 200 families from Vermont have settled. They sent before them a committee of their most skilful farmers to examine the Western States and choose the most suitable and advantageous position they could find. These men made a very careful inspection of Illinois, and other States farther west, during a four months' tour, and came to the conclusion that no other locality which they had seen presented so great a combination of advantages as this. They bought altogether about 20,000 acres, upon which they have been settled for the last three years.
At La Salle we cross the Illinois river, and have now reached the centre of the coal region of the northern part of the State, a busy populous district, in which the population has increased five fold during the last fifteen years. The value of land has increased in a much greater ratio, land near the station, which then sold at 10s. an acre, being now worth 10l.
At Mendota, about ten miles farther north, the country, which is all open prairie, is well "settled," and the people look unusually lively, healthy, and well fed. White clover may be seen glowing very luxuriantly along the railway banks where the natural prairie grass has given way. The same kind of country continues for the next twenty-five miles to Dixon, which is a very handsome town of about 5000 people, finely placed on both sides of the Rock River, a broad navigable stream, flowing at the bottom of shelving wooded banks. For some miles north of Dixon the road runs up the river bank, skirting the woodland, and then emerges on a tract of open undulating prairie, where large farms with corn fields stretch out apparently for miles on either side. This continues for the next thirty or forty miles. In this northern part of the State the air is much cooler than in the south, and the winters are more severe. Cattle require six weeks longer of winter provender. Indian corn is not so productive by one-fourth as it is in the rich midland portion of the State, and winter wheat is so precarious that the spring-sown variety is chiefly cultivated. But this district is admirably suited for oats and potatoes, and for summer grazing. We have now reached Freeport, a nourishing town of 7000 people, on the Pecatonica river, northwards of which, for the next forty or fifty miles to near Galena, the prairie soil is thinner and more rolling, but covered with white clover wherever the natural grass has given way. This terminates the prairie land.
Galena is the great seat of the lead mines in America, and
47yields annually about thirty Million pounds weight. It is a large and thriving town, situated on the banks of Fever river,
General View of the State of Illinois.--Comparison of Soil and Extent with England.-Dunleith to Mendota.-Vast Wheat Fields,-Experience of a Scotch Carpenter.-Farming by Shares.-Cost of Farm-houses.-The River Illinois.-Coal Lands of La Salle.-Corn Starch Factory.-Bloomington.-Settlers from New York State.-Account of his Operations by Pioneer of Settlement.-Unusual Failure of Wheat Crop.-Discouragement caused by this.-Temptations of Credit System.-Instance of Purchase and Cost of making a Farm.-History of an early Settler.-The Banking System of the Country.-Profits of Banking.-"Shin Plaster" Banks.
I CANNOT hope in the preceding description to have conveyed to my reader more than I myself received in this hurried ride, namely, a general impression of the main features of the country, and an idea of an almost endless extent of fertile soil. Some time was required, and a careful study of the map, before even the outline features of this extensive country became lucidly fixed in my mind. I had first gone more than 300 miles due south of Chicago, and had then turned back, and, by a more westerly line, had run about 150 miles north, through the centre of Illinois to its north-western boundary at Dunleith on the Mississippi. To give a homely and at the same time pretty accurate idea of its extent, and bearing in mind that England and Illinois are nearly equal in size, let the reader imagine himself starting at Newcastle and proceeding by York, Newark, Peterborough, and Bedford to London, and then on to Brighton, --there let him turn back, retrace his course to London, and then take a north-westerly route by way of Rugby, Stafford, Manchester, Lancaster, Carlisle, and so on to Glasgow;--let him imagine the whole of this extensive country, with the exception
49of that portion between London and Brighton, to be an undulating plain, underlaid in various places with extensive deposits of coal and iron;--between London and Brighton let the country appear to him to be covered with timber, with a climate and soil peculiarly favourable to the cultivation of fruit and grapes, and to the production of the very finest quality of white wheat;--let the entire area from London northwards to Newcastle on the one side, and Glasgow on the other, represent "the prairies" of Illinois,--open steppe-like lands, covered with coarse natural grasses, with scattered copses of timber on the ridges and along the watercourses, and abounding in every element of fertility. He will thus be better able to realise the appearance of this vast open undulating plain, than which there is no other in the temperate zone so uninterruptedly extensive and fertile.
I spent most of the month of October in making a more minute and detailed examination of farming on the prairie, and will now ask the reader to accompany me in my ride, before troubling him with the figures and conclusions at which I finally arrived. The railway shall transport us from point to point on the route, and a very light waggon or carriage invariably drawn by a "span" (as they are called here) or pair of light active horses, of great spirit and endurance, shall convey us hither and thither over the country in our inspection of the prairie farms.
Starting from the north-western point at Dunleith, the first halt we make is at Mendota, about seventy or eighty miles from the northern boundary of the state. It is the point of junction with a railway running westward from Chicago to the Mississippi, opposite Burlington in Iowa. The road traverses a rich district of prairie, extremely favourable to cultivation. I travelled nearly 100 miles through this part of the country, and found the soil generally rich and deep, and the white clover and sown grasses very healthy and luxuriant. Some corn fields are
50of uncommon magnitude: one vast sweep of 2,200 acres was all in new-sown wheat, a sparkling sheet of verdure in the morning sun. The towns, most of which are not four years old, are growing rapidly. I met a carpenter from Lanarkshire, who had been settled in the country for twelve years. Though he had made money he could not keep it, but he blamed himself for this, as every steady man, he said, who had come to this part of the country from Scotland had thriven. Wages were at present lower than he had ever known them, a journeyman carpenter receiving only 4s. a day, with his board. He had seen many instances of men getting themselves into difficulties by buying more land than they had means to manage and pay for. But there is a plan of going "shares," in which a prudent Scotch farm labourer meets with great success. He has a farm given him to cultivate, fenced and broken up, and heeded;-- he performs the rest of the labour and carries on the farm, and pays his rent by delivering at the nearest station the half of the crop. This is an arrangement by which a steady man is sure to succeed, and the owner of the laud is also well paid.
The carpenter was at that time constructing a small farmhouse of timber by contract. The foundation was of mason work, with large underground cellar, the inside dimensions of the building being eighteen feet by twenty-four, divided into two rooms and a kitchen, with side posts twelve feet high, boarded, lathed, and plastered, and roofed with shingle, complete for 40l. Last year the same house would have cost 60l.; but both lumber and wages have fallen since the money panic about a third.
Following the route southwards for some twenty miles, we come to the Illinois River at La Salle. This river discharges itself into the Mississippi after a course of 500 miles, during which it drains nearly all the centre of Illinois, increasing its volume by the waters of many tributaries. It has been navigated
51by steamboats for many years, and furnishes a cheap water communication for the interchange of products anywhere along the line of the Mississippi, from St. Paul's to New Orleans. My object in stopping here was to inspect the coal-lands, of which La Salle is the great centre. Taking waggon at Ottawa, we crossed the river and drove some ten miles across the prairie, through a good country--all occupied--till we reached the bed of another stream, called the Big Vermilion, where the coal makes its appearance on the surface. Here, from the strata on the river side, we entered a shaft which penetrates a seam of coal nine feet thick, so situated that it drains itself. Near this, some thin seams of cannel coal have been found. All this part of the country is underlaid with coal, which may be mined with the greatest case. The surface is fine, rolling, fertile prairie; and there is abundance of limestone everywhere. The La Salle coal-field, as at present worked, produces about 1000 tons of coals a week, and is capable of any required extension.
Returning to Ottawa, I visited a manufactory for making starch from Indian corn. It is situated advantageously in a good country for purchasing the corn, and with every advantage of abundant water-power, and canal and railway communication. Three kinds of products are manufactured, one of fine starch, one of ordinary starch, and one for making puddings. Two pounds weight of corn yield one of starch. The corn costs a farthing, and the starch sells at the factory for 3d. a pound, so that this business should leave a good profit. There is a similar work at Oswego, in the State of New York, which has proved very profitable to its owners. The article made there has found its way to England, is now extensively used under the name of "Corn Food," and is by many considered more palatable and nutritious than either arrow-root or sago. This use of Indian
52corn is another of the many excellent purposes subserved by that most productive of all grain.
Crossing the Illinois River at La Salle by a viaduct 2000 feet in length, and 80 feet above the bed of the stream, we had a fine view of the limestone bluffs which here rise to a height of 200 feet. After a run southwards of some sixty miles, I stopped at Bloomington, which is within the district of what is usually reckoned the richest territory in the State. At this flourishing and pretty town I had the good fortune to obtain the guidance of a gentleman of much intelligence and local experience, who unites in his own person the various functions of banker, lawyer, judge, and colonel. We spent the day in riding over the country, and in looking at the farms and talking with the settlers. They were men chiefly from the State of New York, and were all complaining of the last wheat harvest as a nearly total failure. One of the pioneers of the settlement thus told me his story. He came here four years ago, and was so much pleased with the land and situation, that he advised his neighbours in the State of New York to follow his example. He purchased 2,500 acres of as fine prairie as can be desired. The first two years everything was successful. He grew more than thirty bushels of wheat an acre on the newly broken land, and sold it for 5s. a bushel. He was thus tempted to lay out the money as fast as he made it, in enclosing and breaking more. The autumn before last he sowed 800 acres with wheat; 600 of it was killed by frost, the snow that winter being so light as not to cover it. He ploughed this up and sowed again with spring wheat, which succeeded admirably. Last autumn he laid down 600 acres with wheat, but was somewhat late and out of season in getting it sown. The spring proved unprecedentedly wet, the wheat was late in maturing, extreme hot weather set in, and Ins wheat, which till then looked well, was in one week rendered nearly worthless.
53The long-continued rains in spring had given them no season for oats, and Indian corn had for the same cause been planted out of season, with the land in an unfavourable state, and the breadth very limited. This crop, which should be in the ground early in May, could not this year be planted till towards the end of June. Fortunately they had not had early frosts, so that there would be a fair yield. There had been no such unfavourable season for seventeen years in Illinois, and he knew that the farmers who had recently settled in the country, and who had had only last year's experience, were much disheartened. But personally he felt no apprehension, as he had the utmost confidence in the natural fertility of the soil, which he did not believe could be exhausted. He had seen similar land in this State from which twenty-four crops of Indian corn had been taken in succession, without manure, and the last was a splendid crop.
The next settler was a young man, a graduate of Yale College, who had purchased a section of land (640 acres) three years ago at nearly 3l. an acre. He had built a house, enclosed his land, and broken up the half of it; but the wheat crop of last year, to which he trusted for future funds, had proved an entire failure, He spoke despondingly of his future prospects, as he had, like many others, been tempted by the facilities afforded by the credit system of purchase in these Western States, to buy a much greater extent of land than his available means were adequate for. He said that they all counted on their wheat crop to "bring them out;" but, that having failed them, the whole country was straitened. He wished to sell out at 4l. 10s. an acre, that he might have the means of paying off his debts, and repurchasing a smaller farm in the same locality, where his obligations and risks would be less.
All the other settlers I met in this quarter had the same talc of a wretched wheat crop. One had had 120 acres of wheat,
54which he examined with several experienced farmers a few weeks before harvest, and they agreed in estimating the probable yield at eighteen to twenty bushels an acre. When it was ripe he began to harvest it, but after cutting seventy acres he discovered that there was nothing but shrivelled husk in the car, so entirely worthless that he not only desisted front cutting the rest, but set lire to all that was already cut, as well as that which remained.
While the more faint-hearted were discouraged by the untoward season, there were many instances of an opposite kind. A very frequent cause of failure I found to arise from the incapacity of the settler to avail himself fully of his position. The credit system tempts him to buy a large extent of land, every unused acre of which becomes at once a dead weight upon him. If a man buys 600 acres and has not the means of cultivating more than 60, the 540 acres are a dead loss to him. He has to pay either the price, or the interest of the price, of this large unproductive and, to him, useless extent of land. The produce of the 60 acres is called upon to bear, not only its own burden, but that of the nine-tenths which are idle. The lean kine thus eat up the one fat one. In prosperous seasons so great a pull even as this can be withstood. But the first strain breaks it down.
An example of an opposite kind will show a more correct system. A person last spring bought 640 acres of land in this neighbourhood. He enclosed the whole of it, had it all ploughed by contract, and sowed it with wheat. Not an acre of his purchase was left idle. It was all sown in good order and in good time, and the chances were that the whole of it would succeed. As every part of the work was done by contract, and would be so completed, I am enabled to show the exact cost of the whole operation, and the probable return.
|A ring fence round the whole, of substantial boards and posts, cost,||Å240|
|Contract price paid for breaking the whole, and putting in the seed,||260|
|Paid for seed wheat,||160|
|Contract for harvesting, thrashing, and delivering,||500|
|Price of the land, cash, viz., $10, or Å2 an acre,||1,280|
|Probable crop 20 bushels an acre -- 12,800 bushels, worth 75 cents, or 3s.,||Å1,920|
|Value of the land after being enclosed and broken, viz., $12Ë, or Å2 10s. an acre,||1,600||3,520|
|Profit the first year, if the crop succeeds,||Å1,080|
These figures were given to me by a man of knowledge and experience; but the contract prices at present are lower than usual, and the cost of fencing and breaking is thus below the average cost of these operations. Neither is there any charge for buildings, though that would not affect the balance, as the property would be by that amount the more valuable. And it must be remembered that the wheat crop sometimes fails, while the above satisfactory result makes no allowance for failures.
I here learned the history of one of the early and most successful settlers in Illinois, He and his brother, then young men of twenty and twenty-one, came to this State thirty-four years ago, having left Ohio after an unsuccessful adventure in cattle trading. They were in debt when they began business in Illinois. They arrived in what was then a wilderness, and pitched their tent on the spot where one of them now resides.
56They brought with them a pair of oxen, a mare, some few household utensils, a waggon, and two axes. They stopped near a "grove," and built themselves a shanty or log but. In addition to the general stock, one of the brothers had a fur hat which, after his arrival, he "traded" for a breeding sow. They worked away, gathered live stock, there being no limit to the liberty of grazing, drove them great distances to market, and accumulated money. As the money gathered they bought up all the land they could get at the government sales, at 5s. an acre, continued their stock farming, and now send 100 fat cattle weekly to New York market, during the fall season after the cattle are fat. One of the brothers is believed to have now, in this prudent way, acquired land worth a quarter of a million sterling.
The soil in all this district is a rich black sandy loam, lying in fine gentle sweeps, admirably adapted fur carrying on with case and economy all the operations of husbandry, and, to use the phrase of the country, is very "handsome" prairie.
On my return to Bloomington I had an opportunity of learning something of the banking system of the country. The law permits any man, or company, who can purchase 10,000l. worth of State stock to issue bank notes. He deposits this stock with the treasurer of the State as security for the liquidation of the notes, and is then authorised to issue his own notes to the extent of 9000l., which are countersigned by the auditor of the State. These notes he lends out to his customers at the current rates of interest. The notes are payable in gold on demand, and if payment is refused, the holder protests the notes and carries them to the State auditor, who is in that case empowered to sell so much of the deposited stock as may be requisite to liquidate the protested notes. Thus if the State stock is convertible at or near par, the note-holder is always safe: and the banker makes an excellent business of it, as he receives
57his 6 per cent. dividend on the deposited State stock, besides the interest and commissions which he can realise in lending to his customers the notes which represent the same money. In a country like this where every farmer is the owner of his land, and where conveyances of real estate and mortgages are managed in the simplest and cheapest manner, there can be no business either safer or more profitable than that of a banker. The loans are made chiefly on the security of real estate, and the rate of profit in these new countries, where land is cheap and productive, admits of 10 per cent. as the common rate of interest on such security.
That such a system of paper currency must occasionally lead to embarrassment is self-evident. For with a general run on the banks there must be a suspension, as the State securities would in that case become as inconvertible as the bank notes.
But though the fair and legitimate profits of the bankers are thus very considerable, plans are occasionally adopted for increasing these profits, which are reckoned here, though a little "smart," still perfectly fair. If a banker is in good credit he finds that his notes will circulate readily although not payable in the State in which he carries on his business. He may have bought the stock of some other State, Alabama or Florida for instance, lodged his stock there, and obtained the counter-signature of the State auditor to the authorised amount of notes which he dates with within that State, and where alone they are demandable in gold. He does not issue them there, but brings them to his usual place of business, many hundreds of miles distant, and then lends them out among his customers. When the notes come back upon him he requires a commission, not that he disputes his liability or the soundness of the notes, but because he deems himself entitled thus to add to his profits, on the plea that if gold was wanted the holder of the note
58would have to incur a certain amount of charge in sending it to the distant place of issue!
But there is a still more questionable kind of banking adopted by some smart men in this western world, though I did not meet with any instances of it in Illinois. It is denominated the "Shin Plaster" or "Wild Cat" banking system. This is the description given to me by a man, who spoke from experience, of the way to get up such a bank. You go into a State where the stock is below par, say at 70 or 80. You buy 50,000 dollars of that stock, lodge it with the State auditor, and obtain his counter-signature to your bank notes. This paper money you take into the wilderness, knock up a shanty, write "Bank" over it, and date your paper money there. The more inaccessible the place is the better, as your paper is demandable in coin only at the place of issue. Having performed these necessary rites, you bring your notes to some centre of business: they receive currency at once from the State auditor's signature, and as you are a sharp business man you lend them readily on mortgage of real estate at 1Ë to 2 per cent. per month. There is little fear of your notes coming back on you for payment, as the place of issue is undiscoverable. Every man into whose hands they come is interested in keeping them afloat. By degrees they are worn out, and thus with ordinary luck you secure your own deposit with the State, and its representative, which, in the hands of the public, has gradually disappeared! However improbable it may seem, I was assured that such practices are to this moment followed; but of course they are utterly discountenanced by all bankers of standing and respectability.
Springfield.--Appearance of Country.--Cattle Show.--Stock Farming.--Experience of a successful Farmer.--His Mode of laying his Farm to Grass.--Novel Implements.--Merino Sheep Farming.--Account of it by the Owner of a largeFlock.--System of managing Prairie Land recommended.--Sowing Grass Seeds on Snow.--Valuable Meadow.--Price of Merino Sheep.--Superiority of Prairie to Timbered Country.--The Governor of Illinois.--The Public Officers of State.--Manners of the People.--Decatur.--Lost on the Prairie.--The American Settler.--Mutual Help.--Fences.--Pana and its Neighborhood.--Settlement of French Canadians.
FROM Bloomington I proceeded southwards to Springfield, the capital, and not far from the centre of the state of Illinois. This is a fine town, with good streets and shops, and the neighborhood is diversified by timber. It is like all other places in this part of the country, surrounded by the wide prairie. The view from the top of the State house very much resembles that of the plain of Lombardy as seen from the Duomo of Milan, except that there is nowhere a boundary of mountains. But there is the same far stretching plain, with trees in lines and streams, which have cut out for themselves hollow passages winding about on the panoramic landscape spread before the eye. The inhabitants of the town, like those in the country, are not this season exempt from ague.
I visited the country cattle fair show which was then being held in a field close by the town. The best short-horn stock were exhibited by Mr. Brown, a celebrated cattle breeder of this State, whose acquaintance I had the good fortune to make in the show yard. He exhibited a short-horn cow, bred
60by himself, six years old, which had had five calves, a large fat handsome animal, which would have been a prize taker at any English show. He showed also a three-year-old short-horn bull from Lord Ducie's stock, imported last year. The large stock farmers of the West, who are really monied men, are taking great pains to improve the quality of their cattle by the importation of the best English blood. It is an excellent policy, and they are already abundantly reaping the reward of their enterprise. For though at this autumnal season, the prairie grass looks coarse and innutritious, a stranger has only to examine the cattle which are fed upon it to convince himself of its feeding qualities. And, as this grass is everywhere to be had here for nothing, the grazier consults his own interest by incurring some expense in improving the present breeds of cattle, and thus obtaining earlier maturity, better quality, and quicker returns from his extensive grazings. Of the cattle common to the country there were several specimens exhibited, of enormous size. One red and white ox with wide upturned horns, four and half years old, measured 2,700 lb. Weight. He handled well, though very strong in the bone and limbs. Another of 2000 lb. gross weight was reckoned on the spot worth only 14l. at the current price of beef, viz. about 2d. a pound dead weight.
Mr. Brown has been many years in the country engaged in farming. He farms largely, and believes that more money may be made, and has been made, in this State by stock farming than corn growing. Nor is this remarkable, inasmuch as grazing land on the prairies hitherto could be had for nothing, costing neither rent nor taxes, while corn land must be bought, enclosed, and cultivated, and labour has hitherto been expensive. However, till very recently there was no outlet for corn. Railways are rapidly altering the former state of things, and Indian corn is no longer unsaleable at 6d. a bushel. He has
61found short-horn stock the most profitable, which is no doubt chiefly owing to the high prices he is enabled to realise in the sale of well bred stock for improving the breeds of the country. But he has not found them so successful on the natural prairie grass, of which on his own lands he has no longer any. Though the prairie grass may be extirpated in time by close feeding, he has found it the best practice to break it up, and, after a course of tillage, to sow the land out with blue grass and clover. The blue grass is a rich thick succulent grass of a bluish colour, which grows with great success on the limestone soils of Kentucky, and is found to succeed admirably on the prairies when laid down as pasture. It improves every year, and yields feed for six months, besides half feed during the winter, whereas the natural prairie grass is in its best state for the first four months after spring. Mr. Brown has all his lands now laid down in "tame" grass, as the sown grasses are commonly termed here. He keeps no stock except his thorough-bred short-horns, and lets his surplus grass for grazing at one dollar a month for each animal, during the summer and autumn. He feeds his own stock during winter on the pastures, giving them corn and hay in time of snow. As he can buy Indian corn in his part of the State at an average of 8d. a bushel, he has no doubt that this is the kind of farming which best suits Illinois. He had tried sheep, and found them to do well, but having no taste for them he keeps exclusively to cattle.
There were various novel agricultural implements exhibited in the show yard. Ploughs mounted on an axle, with high wheels, the only advantage of which seemed to be that a seat was thus provided for the driver. There were seed planters of ingenious construction, a circular self-cleaning harrow, which always goes round about while being dragged forward,--little hand machines for washing clothes upon, which are said to
62economise labour 100 per cent,--and a chain-bucket pump, an extremely simple, cheap and efficient article.
I drove a few miles out of town to visit the farm of Mr. M'Connell, who was recommended to me by the Governor of the State as a man of great intelligence, integrity, and experience. I walked and drove over his farm, examined his stock, and received from him very clear and distinct information. He is a practical man who has been all his life engaged in farming, and has fought his way up to a very comfortable independence. He left "the old country" in 1811, farmed in a small way for thirty years in the state of New York, where he first settled, and moved thence to Illinois seventeen years ago. He had always preferred sheep-farming, and brought his small flock of merinos with him. They have been remarkably healthy, increase one-third every year, and his flock now numbers 25,000. His fleeces average four to five pounds each, and the wool sells for 1s. 8d. to 2s. a pound. He bought his farm at 1l. an acre, and could now sell it at 10l., as it is in a good position near the capital of the State. But he is so firmly persuaded of the rapidly growing wealth of this fine State, that he has no doubt of his farm being worth 20l. an acre a few years hence. He considers the land for 100 miles round Springfield to be the best in the world.
Mr. M'Connell sends his flock to the open prairies in April, places about twelve hundred under the charge of one shepherd, who tends them and supplies them with salt. They need no other food for six months. He brings them to his enclosed ground in the winter, and gives them hay when they need it, and a little corn. His flock has never suffered from any epidemic, but on the contrary have been extremely free from disease. His original flock grew one-fourth in weight and size after being brought from New York State to this better soil. He prefers the merino to the South Down for this climate and soil,
63and has found from trial that the merinos yield as much mutton and far better wool. He imports pure merino rams from Germany and Spain to improve his flock.
Mr. M'Connell finds that by feeding prairie grass close with sheep, it, in a few years, gives way to blue grass and white clover--which come naturally of themselves and without being sown. But the plan he recommends for laying his land down into good meadow and pasture, is to break up the soil some time between the middle of May and middle of July; (a few days earlier or later may be tolerated, but not more, as if prairie land is broken out of season the labor is worse than lost.) Sow wheat in end of August, or 1st of September: the following season, after wheat, take a crop of Indian corn, which must be kept clean; after the crop is removed, level the ground well, and in February sow one peek of Timothy to the acre,--if on rays, and gradually melt a passage for themselves to the soil below, and the moment the snow disappears, they, being already imbedded in the damp soil, spring up at once, and take the start of all other vegetation. Late in March add two pounds clover seed per acre, and a good hay crop will be certain.--I can testify to the success of this management, as I walked over a meadow of many acres on this gentlemen's land, on which there was ricked a crop of at least two tons an acre of very excellent mixed clover, on which a flock of lambs were grazing, just such clover aftermath as we should find in this country on good land after the first crop of hay. I thought it had been the first crop, but learnt to my surprise that the meadow had been sown out twelve years ago, that it had little manure all that time, had borne a crop of hay every year, and been fed close afterwards with sheep, during winter and spring, till the prairie grass grew. I have never seen land in Britain
64that would bear a close clover aftermath at a period so distant from the time of being seeded, and cannot withhold my belief in the fertile qualities of a soil capable of doing so. Mr. M'Connell has no doubt that the prairie land would benefit by the occasional application of manure, but he never met with any other soil so constantly productive without it. He has known the first wheat crop pay the price of the land, with the cost of fencing it, and all labour, and leave a small balance over.
With regard to sheep-farming, his opinion is that corn and hay should be provided by a few years' cultivation, before going largely into a flock. The prairie grass will furnish summer keep at little or no cost, but provision must be made for the winter. Good merinos can be bought for 8s. to 12s. 6d. a-head in flocks. There is probably no kind of farming on the prairies from which the returns would be so regular and certain.
Mr. M'Connell had tried a timber country before coming here, and was very energetic in expressing his opinion of the superior advantages to a settler on the prairie.
When in the capital I did myself the honour of visiting the Governor, who lives in a handsome house provided for him by the State, who also grant him the modest revenue of 500l. a year. He was a distinguished soldier in the Mexican war, and had long been one of the Senators of Congress. He has the highest hopes of the future of Illinois, and he, like other men of character and position to whom I have put the question, expressed the belief that fever and ague in this State are on the decline, though from special causes there had been an exceptional prevalence of both.
I visited also the State House, where the two branches of the State Legislature hold their sittings, and in which are the bureaux of the various state officers. The Secretary of State very politely showed me over the building; the State Auditor
65supplied me with documents showing the valuation and taxation of the State; and the Treasurer, who locks up the money and disburses it exactly like the clerk in a bank, for which he is paid a salary of 400l. a year, explained to me the rate of taxation in the State, the desire they all had to pay off their debt, the present increased rate to which they submitted for that object, the probability of a future decrease in the expense, and the general frugality of the management. There is a total absence of form and ceremony about these gentlemen, who are high officers of state. The Secretary of State acts also as librarian. He and his clerk conduct the public correspondence and business. While I was there a man, about thirty, with his hat on and his hands in his pockets, came lounging in, and, after listening to our conversation for a while, asked if this was the Secretary, because he wanted to get some information about an old county road of which no record could be found in his county, but which he "reckoned" would be posted up at the capital in the books of the State. The Secretary immediately went off to "fix" him about the road. In the same way the Auditor was at everybody's call, and the Treasurer also. The officers of State are not above doing their own work here.
If there is not much official ceremony, there is total absence of it in the manners of the bulk of the people. The nasty habit of chewing tobacco, and spitting, not only gives them a dirty look, but makes them disagreeable companions. They eat so fast, and are so silent, and run off so soon when they have finished their meals, that really eating in this country is more like the feeding of a parcel of brutes than men. The food is both various and plentiful, but it is generally badly cooked and served.
Violent thunderstorms are not infrequent. Every house on the prairie is fitted with a lightning conductor, but I did not hear that accidents from lightning were very common.
66Again taking the railway, I proceeded to Decatur, a station about thirty miles east of Springfield, and drove for a whole day through the prairie country in that neighborhood. After driving a few miles through the enclosed farms which surround the town, we reached the open unbroken prairie, and turning short off the track on which we had hitherto been driving, we stood across the great plain which stretched out before us. The horses struck without hesitation into the long coarse grass, through which they pushed on with very little inconvenience, although it was in many places higher than their heads. It was not thick, and parted easily before them; then sweeping under the bottom of our waggon it rose in a continuous wave behind us as we passed along. The surface of the ground was firm and smooth. We had fixed our eye on a grove of timber on the horizon as our guide, and drove on for about an hour in a straight line, as we believed, towards it. But stopping now and then to look at the soil and the vegetation, we found that the grove had disappeared. Without knowing it we must have got into a hollow, so we pressed on. But after two hours' steady driving we could see nothing but the long grass and the endless prairie, which seemed to rise slightly all around us. I advised the driver to fix his eye upon a cloud right ahead of us, the day being calm, and to drive straight for it. Proceeding thus, in about half an hour we again caught sight of the grove, still very distant, and the smart young American driver "owned up" that he had lost his way. We had got into a flat prairie about five miles square; one of the horses stepped a little quicker that the other, and we had been diligently driving in a circle for the last two hours. We soon struck upon a track which led us towards the rising ground and among some new settlements.
One man here had entered to an eighty acre lot last spring, had built his house, broken about ten acres and sowed it with
67wheat and his little crop of "sod" corn gathered and stacked out of harm's way, close to the dwelling. The first care of an American settler on the prairie is to provide for the first winter. If he starts in May he ploughs a few acres up, and very commonly plants the Indian corn on it by making a slit with his axe on the tough upturned sod, into which he drops the seed. Rude though this preparation appears, it is generally followed by a crop, sometimes a very good one. Having thus started his "sod" corn, he constructs his house, and spends the rest of the summer in "breaking" the prairie in preparation for a wheat crop, and in cutting and making some prairie hay for the winter provender of his live stock. He also plants a few culinary vegetables and potatoes. In the end of August he sows his wheat, and when that is completed, he harvests his "sod" corn. This keeps him out of the market the very first winter, as it is often made to suffice for the food both of the family and the live stock. "Hog and Hominy" is not frequently the only food that the settler has to set before his guest during the first year of his possession. And though homely it is wholesome. When the crop of Indian corn is secured, there is time to begin making fences. The neighbours have a mutual interest in this and assist each other. The fences are made of posts and sawn pine timber; the posts of cedar, pared in the forest, so that the settler buys them ready for his purpose, at either the nearest railway station or grove of timber, whichever happens to be most convenient. The holes for the posts are not dug out as with us, but are bored with an auger made for the purpose, and the work of fencing thus goes on with much neatness and regularity, and the fences, being all made in the same manner and with timer of the same dimensions, are very uniform and substantial. At this settlement we found the owner with four of his neighbours all busy
68in the work of fencing, one boring, one driving in the posts, and the others sorting and nailing on the rails.
The "snake" fence, which is common in all the timbered parts of America, is seldom met with on the prairie, and there only in the neighborhood of a timber grove. It is a very substantial and excellent fence, but consumes too much timber in any country where that article is somewhat scarce.
In this day's ride, all the older settlers with whom we met, complained of the wheat crop as a failure this season, but the Indian corn was pretty good. One man who had settled here two tears ago on good land, for which he then paid 30s. an acre, offered to sell it to us, with his "improvements" as they are called, viz. his house and a little bit of enclosure which he had made, at 62s. 6d. an acre. He was a considerable distance from a railway station.
My next stop was at Pana, about thirty miles farther south, where a junction is made with a line of railway which leads to the Mississippi, opposite St. Louis. From this point I traversed the country some fifty or sixty miles, and found the prairie in many districts almost unbroken. Here and there patches of unenclosed corn are seen, and sometimes incipient towns. The face of the country is generally beautiful undulated, with groves of timber in sight: the soil of blackish colour on a grey subsoil. It seemed a very desirable locality, and commands the market of St. Louis as well as that of Chicago. A French gentlemen, a sugar planter in Louisiana, three years ago bought a large tract in this quarter, of about 25,000 acres, at 46s. an acre, which he is settling with a colony of French Canadians. He brought 400 people the first year, and nearly as many more the next. He sells to them in small lots at 66s. an acre, and it is said that the settlement is likely to succeed. The difference in price is not all profit, as he incurs sundry outlays in starting the settlers.
Pana to Centralia.-The Grey Prairie.-Best Wheat Soil.-Fruit.-Tobacco.-Vines.-Silk.-Rich Mineral District South of Centralia.-Lines of Communication with Ocean by New Orleans and Chicago.-Probable Market for Wheat in Cuba.-Description of Grey Prairie.-Value of Oxen.-German Settlement.-Large Purchase of Land by Kentucky Grazier.-His Plan and Prospects.-Farina.-Trading Spirit of the People.-Urbana.-Complaints of Wheat Failure.-Peach Growing.-Large Grazing Farm.-Management of Stock.-Uniformity of Soil.-Coldness of Weather.-Steam Plough.-Machines for economizing Manual Labour in greater Demand.-Bement.-Kentucky Settler.-His Plan of managing Eight Thousand Acres.-Onarga.-Its neighbourhood.-Dairy Farming.-Artesian Wells.-Kankakee to Momence.-Price of Land.-Broom Corn.-Country from Momence to Monee.-Management and Produce.-Monee to Chicago.
FROM Pana I took the railway to Centralia, a station about sixty miles further south, and, in nearly a straight line, sixty miles east from St. Louis on the Mississippi. It is the point of junction of the main line of the Illinois Central railway with its branch to Chicago, and is about 100 miles north of the southern terminus of that line at Cairo. The surrounding country is the grey prairie soil of southern Illinois, which produces the finest quality of white wheat in the State, but is not so prolific of Indian corn or oats as the black prairie already described. It is, however, a superior fruit country, and possesses a climate suitable for the culture of tobacco, vines, and even of silk, though the last branch of industry has made no progress. Of tobacco there is produced annually nearly a million pounds weight, and the crop of fruit is valued at 200,000l.
But the whole country for the next thirty or forty miles is also underlaid with valuable minerals, which at no distant day
70will be highly prized. Limestone, marble, freestone, flag, slate, iron, and coal are all found here. The seams of coal vary from two to nine feet in thickness. The Du Quoin coal is of a glossy jet black, ignites rapidly, docs not clinker, and yields a small amount of ash. In chemical composition it closely resembles the best steam coal of Ohio and Pennsylvania. It has many properties which place it in the front rank of western coals,-- freedom from sulphur,--cleanliness when employed as a domestic fuel,--firmness to bear distant transportation,--and readiness in coking, yielding a large percentage of fixed carbon.
The distance of this part of the State from the great corn market of Chicago, nearly 300 miles, has hitherto retarded its settlement. But it is favourably placed for the cities of the Mississippi, and is nearer to the ocean than Chicago. When the line of railroad is completed throughout to New Orleans, which it is expected to be within a year from this time, southern Illinois will be brought within from 500 to 600 miles of seagoing ships at New Orleans, which is little more than half the distance by railway from Chicago to the Atlantic. And if the market of Cuba, where little or no wheat is grown, should be thrown open to America, a circumstance every year becoming more probable, the flour of southern Illinois will form the main supply of the Havannah market. These are considerations worthy of being kept in view in forming an estimate of the comparative value of different parts of the State.
From Centralia I drove through the country, first southwards for about ten miles, and afterwards to the north between twenty and thirty miles. The aspect of the country from the road is very different from the impression one is apt to receive in passing rapidly over it by railway. Instead of being very uniform and flat, as a stranger is apt to think it, there is much undulation; so much indeed that I am inclined to think that when the country shall be fully occupied, the various farms fenced,
71and numerous plantations made, it will lose the distinctive character of prairie, and assume the ordinary aspect of a rich well-clothed rural district. Nor is the prairie much more bare of wood even at present than many of the best arable districts of Scotland. Along the hollows scooped out by the rivers and streams there is always woodland. The woodpecker, prairie fowl, and quail are seen in abundance. The hickory tree yields nuts, the maple sugar, and hogs are turned into the woods to eat the mast. On the open ground the road, which is a mere track over the prairie, is constantly undergoing change, for the new settler puts up his fence on his boundary line, right across the track. The traveller must then strike a fresh track for himself. Orchards, chiefly of peaches, are everywhere being planted near the homesteads. One farmer, who had been nine years in the country, told me that he and his family cropped eighty acres, that the average yield of wheat was twenty to twenty-live bushels an acre, and of Indian corn forty. He would probably fatten forty hogs, worth 40s. each. He had a flock of inferior merino sheep in rather low condition. But the cattle on the prairie were large and in good condition, with a good skin. Three-year-old oxen, large and in what we should reckon fair condition for stall-feeding, are valued here at not more than 4l.
I must now ask the reader to turn back with me in a northeasterly direction, by the branch line of the railway, towards Chicago. On this course we shall have a distance of 250 miles still to traverse. For nearly eighty miles north of Centralia the prairie continues of the same grey soil which I have just described, more silicious than the black soil, and therefore better adapted for winter wheat, hardly so prolific of Indian corn, nor so suitable for oats and potatoes. It is more picturesque,
72more wooded, but also, near the river bottoms, more liable to fever and ague.
Near Effingham there is a thriving German settlement. I met a Kentucky proprietor who, two years ago, bought 5000 acres in this quarter for 10s. 6d. an acre. He has begun to improve it by breaking up the prairie for wheat, with which he sows the land down with blue grass. His desire is to bring the land early into good grazing ground, and the Kentucky blue grass seems to be an object of adoration to Kentucky men: and yet either it, or the soil of Kentucky, or the climate, must be inferior to our best limestone lands in England, for he admitted that two acres of his best blue grassland were needed to fatten a three-year-old short-horn ox. He hopes to make this land profitable by using the open prairie with all his cattle for three or four months, while at its best, and then having the cultivated grass on his enclosed ground to feed his cattle, when the wild grass becomes too coarse and rough in the autumn. As a Kentucky grazier he had found great advantage by the introduction of improved breeds of cattle from England, his experience being that a three-year-old short-horn ox, on the same land, attained as good size and better quality than the unimproved breed of the country at five years old.
Farina is a new station surrounded by this fine grey prairie. Though not many houses are in sight there are a good many settlers in the district of which this is about to become the centre. The stationmaster, an active and intelligent young man, had within the week opened a store, in which he had large supplies of all the requisites of a farmer's household. His sales already reached 8l. a day. He was prepared to deal in every imaginable way, and for every imaginable thing. He bartered broad cloth for wheat, candles for hazel nuts, ribbons for apples; in fact nothing was brought to him that he refused to take at a price, and to pay for in kind. There seems to be a
73market for everything in the West, the spirit of "trading" is so thoroughly ingrained in the people. At every station is to be seen a large wooden store with the words "cash for wheat" conspicuously printed up. The daily quotations at Chicago are known by telegraph at every station, and the price, less cost of transport, risk and profit, are arranged without difficulty. The wheat this year on the southern prairie is worth twice as much per bushel as that of the northern black land.
From Farina I took the railway to Urbana, nearly 100 miles farther north, the intervening country being parallel with and much the same kind of land as that already described at Pana and Decatur. The town of Urbana is situated in the midst of a fine rolling black prairie, with a solid mass of some 6000 acres of timber as a background. I spent two days in driving through the prairie in the neighbourhood, taking a circle of about twenty miles. The wheat farmers all complained of the nearly total loss they had this year sustained in their wheat crop, and some largo landholders, not farmers by profession, were so much alarmed by the loss of the crop that they had discontinued sowing wheat. One man spoke of peach growing as a matter of profitable farming, and said that he had produced on his own land here at the rate of 5000 bushels an acre. This was done, however, on a very limited scale. There was a steam thrashing mill at work here, the owner of which assured me that ho could thrash with it 1000 bushels of good wheat in a day, and that he had thrashed 150 bushels in an hour. But in that case the wheat had been cut with little straw, and the yield was very prolific.
Pushing on through the long prairie grass for some five or six miles farther, we came to the land of a large cattle farmer, a celebrated Illinois grazier. He is the owner of several thousand acres of laud, and has been so successful as a feeder as on one occasion to have delivered 100 cattle at Chicago in one lot,
74the average weight of which was 2300 lbs. I rode over his farm, and through one enclosure of 2500 acres, which was partly in natural prairie, partly in sown grass, and partly in wheat stubble, and part where the wheat had never been cut, as it was considered worthless. We rode backwards and forwards over this extensive Held for some time, under the guidance of the manager, looking in vain for a herd of 250 cattle, which we at length came suddenly upon, all lying among the long grass, and quite hidden by it until we were close upon them. They were all fine animals, rose up slowly, stretching and licking themselves, 100 of them being four-year-old oxen of great weight and fat enough for the butcher. But it was thought they would pay for farther feeding, and the intention of their owner was to feed the whole lot out on Indian corn during the winter. The cattle are fed on the ground where the corn has been cut, and they receive it in the straw, thus treading and apparently wasting it among their feet. It is not lost, however, as the rule in feeding is to put two hogs in to fatten with each ox, and the allowance required in fattening the ox, and the two hogs, is no less than 100 bushels of Indian corn. As the whole management is rude and rough one man is found capable of attending to 100 cattle and 200 pigs; but all he has to do is to open the shocks so that the cattle may get readily at the corn, and to supply them regularly with salt. The corn can be had in the field at this place, which is some distance from the railway, at about ten pence a bushel on the average, and at that price this kind of farming is found remunerative.
I continued my drive onwards through the prairie, the most of which was still unbroken and unoccupied. There seemed no difference in the quality of the soil, which possesses a remarkable uniformity, the only apparent distinction being in the greater flatness of some sections, and consequently the greater
75liability to injury from wet seasons, where the land has not a sufficient undulation to keep it free from surface water.
This day (middle of October) was bitterly cold, colder than I ever felt the wind at home, and we were glad to get off the bare prairie, and into the shelter of the woodlands.
We passed a steam plough which was moving itself along a prairie road to a farm where it was about to be tried. It was a rude-like implement, with six common ploughs fixed to a framework, which could be let down or raised at the back of the machine. Nobody could tell us whether it had succeeded or not, though certainly no land in the world is better suited to steam culture. But its general introduction here may be retarded by the low value of the food of working cattle. Working oxen can be kept on the prairie for absolutely nothing, and in winter may be fed on prairie hay, which costs very little labour indeed. And corn for horses is also very cheap. There is thus not the same necessity for saving ox or horse labour as in England. Machines which economise human labour are in far greater demand.
I saw also a rude kind of mole plough. It was simply a clog of wood fixed to a strong rope, which is drawn by a powerful team of oxen through the hollow parts of a farm, two feet below the surface, and which thus leaves a passage for draining off the water. We stayed all night at Bement, a village and station on the Great Western Railway. Many of the people had been suffering from ague, and this, with the bad wheat crop and fall in prices, produced a considerable depression of spirits. A few miles west we came upon the farm of a Kentucky gentleman, who, with his brother, had bought 8000 acres of land, fine gently rolling prairie, which he was bringing under cultivation. They had 800 acres sown with wheat, but the crop of the previous harvest had been a failure, having yielded little more
76than six bushels an acre. The Indian corn was a tolerable crop. He is now sowing out his land as fast as he can, his present plan being to have it all in blue grass, timothy, and clover, except about 3000 acres, which is to be kept under Indian corn for fattening his cattle. He then hopes to be able to sell 1000 fat cattle annually, and, if he can succeed in this, his purchase will prove extremely remunerative. The blue grass I find everywhere spoken of as best adapted for the prairie. It is sometimes sown on the fresh prairie after the grass has been burnt on, the ground being first well harrowed. But though this occasionally succeeds, the process of breaking up the prairie and sowing it out after one or two corn crops is preferred. Turnips are grown here as an experiment with fair success. Sown after wheat harvest, the roots are now 2 to 3 lbs. weight. Large tracts of land are for sale here at prices from 40s. to 50s. an acre.
Returning from Bement to Urbana I drove through a fine rich rolling prairie country, the larger proportion of which is still open and unoccupied. A nurseryman has established near the railway line a very thriving and extensive nursery of various fruit and forest trees, the thriving condition of which sufficiently proves the capability of the prairie soil for the growth of fruit trees and ornamental timber.
Taking the railway at Urbana I again proceeded about forty miles farther north to the station of Onarga, a rising town on a fine prairie, which seems all dotted over with neat two-story houses. I visited a good many recent settlers in this neighbourhood, most of them men with no previous experience of a country life, and without any knowledge whatever of the practical details of farming. These persons were all disheartened by the failure of the wheat crop. But others again, who had been brought up to farming and understood their business, were hopeful and making every exertion to ensure success.
77The first man we called on was a dairy farmer from the Eastern States, an intelligent practical man who thoroughly understood his business. He has had the same ill luck in his crop as other people, hut knows that risk of seasons is one of those risks which farmers in all countries must more or less reckon upon. He has a dairy stock of thirty-eight cows, and makes the milk into cheese. He can sell his cheese on the spot at 42s. a cwt., which is not far short of the average price realised by dairy farmers in Scotland, where the rent is higher than the price of land in Illinois. He finds the natural prairie grass very productive of milk till the month of September. His cows yield him 2lbs. of cheese each, daily, during the period of good grass; and they can he foddered very cheaply during the winter on prairie hay. He expects to improve his stock and returns materially, as he goes on, by providing succulent food for the autumn and spring.
The prairie in this district frequently rises to rounded hills, which though more picturesque than the long gentle sweep of what is termed a "handsome" prairie, is not so fertile. The soil is much more sandy. There are several artesian wells here. I saw one, the water of which was rushing up full, through a four-inch pipe from a boring 127 feet deep. It was iron tasted, but very wholesome, and is constantly pouring out at this rate
The last station at which I stopped to examine the country was thirty miles farther north, at Kankakee, which is fifty-six miles south of Chicago. From this thriving town I drove for about twelve miles up the north bank of the river to a town called Momence, and thence struck right through the prairie for upwards of twenty miles to Monee, a station within thirty-four miles of Chicago. The first part of the ride as far as Momence was through a very fine dry rolling prairie, which comes down to the bank of the Kankakee river, a broad clear stream,
78running over a limestone bed, the banks of which are wooded and picturesque. Improved land sells here at 5l. to 8l. an acre. The Indian corn was good and well managed, and I observed several fields of broom corn, a tall plant, exactly resembling Indian corn and cultivated in the same way, but bearing its seed, which is like millet, at the top. It is largely cultivated for the manufacture of brooms, for which the seed-bearing fibres, which are tough, elastic, and flexible, are used. An acre of this plant is much more valuable than Indian corn. Manufactories are established in the State for making it up, and a crop which is in all respects suitable for the purpose yields sometimes as much as 20l. an acre.
From Momence to Monee we passed through the same description of dry black rolling prairie. The country is higher here, and the winters more severe. A settler told me that they had generally to fodder their stock for seven months, for though the snow did not lie long, the frost bound the soil eighteen inches down. In order to secure the safety of the winter wheat it is sown among the growing Indian corn, plenty of the stalk of which is left when the corn is reaped to catch and hold the snow, which thus shelters the young wheat from the intense frost. The average crop of wheat is twenty-five bushels an acre, forty to fifty bushels of Indian corn, and forty of oats. But this year oats proved a total failure. White clover and blue grass everywhere make their appearance among the prairie-grass, where that is closely pastured. Cattle thrive well on these prairies, and the natural hay cut in August or September, on the upland prairie, makes excellent fodder for both horses and cattle. But horses do not thrive so well in the summer on the prairie, they are so tormented by the horse-fly, which seems unable to make any impression on the thicker hides of the cattle.
Towards evening we reached Monee, and an hour or two
79afterwards I completed my tour of the State at Chicago. About a fortnight later, on my return from the Upper Mississippi, I had an opportunity of verifying my first impression by traversing the country both in the former and in a new direction.
Soil and Climate of Illinois,--Nature of Prairie Roll.--Its Chemical Composition.
--Rich in Nitrogen.-- Wheat Culture and Produce.--Indian Corn.--Facility of Culture.--Oats.--Barley.--Sorghum.--Substitute for Sugar-cane.--Potatoes. --Stock Farming.---Prairie Grass.--Blue Grass.--Timothy.
HAVING now obtained the necessary information for forming an opinion of Illinois, I propose here to consider its advantages as a place of settlement.
The characteristic soil of this State is that of the prairies, of which it chiefly consists, and to which alone my attention was directed. They comprise many million acres of land, more or less undulating,--in their natural state covered with grass which is green and succulent in May, June, and July, and shoots up in autumn from three to six feet in height.
How the prairie formation originated it is unnecessary here to inquire. It is sufficient to know that we have a soil evidently of great natural fertility, which for thousands of years has been bearing annual crops of grass, the ashes or decayed stems of which have been all that time adding to the fertility of the soil. So long back as we have any knowledge of the country, it had been the custom of the Indians to set fire to the prairie grass in autumn, after frost set in, the fire spreading with wonderful rapidity, covering vast districts of country, and filling the atmosphere for weeks with smoke.
81In the course of ages a soil somewhat resembling an ash-heap must have been thus gradually created, and it is no wonder that it should be declared to be inexhaustible in fertility. In Europe such tracts of fertile country as the plain of Lombardy are known to have yielded crops for more than 2000 years without intermission, and yet no one says that the soil is exhausted. Here we have a tract naturally as rich, and with the addition of its own crops rotting upon its surface, and adding to its stores of fertility, all that time. It need occasion no surprise therefore to be told of twenty or thirty crops of Indian corn being taken in succession from the same land, without manure, every crop, good or better, according to the nature of the season.
Externally the prairie soil appears to be a rich black mould with sufficient sand to render it friable, the surface varying in depth from twelve inches to several feet, lying on a rich but not stiff yellow subsoil, below which there is generally blue clay. This drift surface lies on rocks consisting of shales, sandstones, and limestones, belonging to the coal measures.
Its chemical composition has been ascertained for me by Professor Voelcker, consulting chemist to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, to whom I sent four samples of prairie soil for analysis, brought by me from different and distant points of the lands belonging to the Illinois Central Railway Company. The letter of Professor Voelcker, and a copy of the complete analysis, will be found in an Appendix. They bear out completely the high character for fertility which practice and experience had already proved these soils to possess. The most noticeable feature in the analysis, as it appears to me, is the very large quantity of nitrogen which each of the soils contains, nearly twice as much as the most fertile soils of Britain. In each case, taking the soil at an average depth of ten inches, an acre of these prairies will contain upwards
82of three tons of nitrogen, and as a heavy crop of wheat with its straw contains about fifty-two pounds of nitrogen, there is thus a natural store of ammonia in tills soil sufficient for more than a hundred wheat crops. In Dr. Voelcker's words, "it is this is large amount of nitrogen, and the beautiful state of division, that impart a peculiar character to the soils, and distinguish them so favourably. They are soils upon which I imagine flax could be grown in perfection, supposing the climate to be otherwise favourable. I have never before analysed soils which contained so much nitrogen, nor do I find any record of soils richer in nitrogen than these."
Though these soils are so rich in nitrogen, they seem to be too loose for wheat, which is undoubtedly a precarious crop upon them. The open prairie country is so wind-swept in winter that snow seldom lies long to any depth, and the young wheat is thus left unprotected to the frost. Should it escape that, it is liable to be thrown out by the rapid changes of weather in spring,--and if it is fortunate enough to escape both, it is sometimes destroyed, as it was last year, by its enormously rapid growth in forcing summer weather, growing as it does almost on a muck-heap. In such a season as the last, the prairie wheat crops of Illinois were injured precisely in the same manner as our own in this country sometimes suffer from a too heavy dose of guano, in a warm moist summer. The growth is too rapid, the vesicles of the stem burst, and the ear does not fill. I cannot doubt that Professor Voelcker indicates the proper remedy for this in the application of lime, of which these soils are comparatively deficient. It would consolidate the soil, render the wheat less liable to be hoven, and help to strengthen the straw, and render the growthless
83rank. There is abundance of lime in the country, so that the remedy is at hand, and will undoubtedly be applied under a more scientific system of agriculture.
Autumn wheat is the most valuable corn, but it is also the most difficult to be grown, for it has to withstand the unprotected severity of winter. The earlier it is sown after the 1st of September the more likely it is to succeed, and it is generally successful when sown on the first and second crops of a newly-ploughed prairie which has been broken in proper season. If any of it should be destroyed by frost, the ground is sown in spring with spring wheat, and this seldom fails. The crop varies from fifteen to forty bushels an acre, twenty being reckoned a fair average.
Indian corn usually forms the third crop, and if the land is kept clean by diligent horse-hoeing, this crop may be repeated as long as the farmer likes. It is undoubtedly the main crop of the prairie farmer: it never fails. In some seasons it is more productive than others, but the most ordinary care will secure a crop. Under good management the yield often exceeds 100 bushels an acre, and, in the middle districts of the State, fifty would be reckoned a moderate average. One great advantage of this crop is that a large breadth of it can be cultivated by one man and a couple of boys. Two men and a boy with four horses can till 100 acres. Instances have been known of 100 acres of Indian corn and 50 acres of wheat being all managed by a man with his two sons and their horses. There is no hurry in harvesting it. It can be cut at any time after it is ripe, and takes no injury by standing either uncut, or in the shock, for many weeks. When consumed on the ground by cattle the shocks are merely opened, and the cattle shell the corn for themselves. It is always convertible into money, either as corn or pork, and it is extensively used in distillation and in the manufacture of starch.
Oats are not so certain a crop, but they are extensively grown in northern Illinois, and average about forty bushels an acre. They are light compared with good Scotch oats and more resemble the oats of Northern Germany.
Barley is a valuable crop when it succeeds, as it is largely used in the making of beer, for which a growing demand is springing up throughout America. I have little doubt that the application of lime to the prairie would render it a better barley soil. The crop averages forty bushels an acre, on suitable soils.
Sorghum saccharatum, or Chinese sugar-cane, is cultivated in every part of the State, as yet experimentally, for the production of sugar. The leaves are found very succulent and nutritious as fodder when taken off before the plant ripens. It grows precisely like Indian corn, and can be produced successfully on the best corn soils. It must not be sown near broom corn, as the plants hybridise and both are deteriorated. Some carefully conducted experiments show that the yield of sugar, per acre, from this plant has amounted to 1221 pounds, with seventy-four gallons of molasses, which is about two-thirds of an average cane sugar crop in Louisiana. It has been satisfactorily proved that this plant may be made a substitute for the production of sugar by white labour, should any circumstance hereafter curtail the cane produce of the slave States. The prairie soil is also admirably adapted for the growth of sugar beet.
Potatoes are a productive and valuable crop in the northern part of the State. They yield from three to seven tons an acre, which sell at from 30s. to 3l. a ton.
The rates of price for agricultural produce in America, as has been already shown, depend on the increase of the population, and the capability of the land to produce certain crops. Price is also very much modified by improved means of railway
85transit. Before railways were introduced into Illinois the expense of transport was so great, that no farmer, unless ho lived near a large town, could cultivate any kind of corn profitably. Stuck farming was then the most remunerative kind of husbandry, and the men who have become wealthiest in the State have made their money by stock farming. We shall now therefore devote a few sentences to the value of the different kinds of grass and provender produced in Illinois.
The prairie grass shoots up fresh in the month of May, and continues green and succulent till August. All kinds of stock thrive on it during this period. Cattle, which have been carefully wintered, and are turned out upon it in good condition, will become quite fat. Milch cows yield well upon it, and Merino sheep also thrive. After August it shoots up, and becomes comparatively hard and wiry. The most forward stock should then be placed on "tame" grass, but growing cattle of all kinds may be kept on the prairie till November. In August and September it is usual to cut as much prairie hay as may be requisite for winter provender. This is got very cheaply. I was told by a large stock-master that three teams a day, one cutting with a machine, one raking, and one stacking, might in these two months save as much hay as would winter 1000 head of cattle. I do not think that the natural prairie grass is nearly thick enough on the ground to maintain so much stock on a given extent of land, as our good pasture land in England. But at present that is not a question of much importance, inasmuch as unenclosed prairie can be had in most parts of the country for nothing and when the population becomes dense enough to occupy all the prairie lands, these natural grasses will have disappeared and have given place to corn and cultivated grass.
The grass most generally preferred is the blue grass (Poa pratensis), which is indigenous on the limestone lands of
86America, and will usurp the place of all other grasses on such soils in the course of years. It is said to yield a greater return of beef, milk, mutton, wool, or pork, than any of the cultivated grasses.
Timothy grass is not adapted for pasture, but is generally used for hay. It yields from one and a half to two and a half tons an acre.
Average Prices of Agricultural Produce In Illinois.--Cost of Labour.--Cost of Indian Corn in England.--Cost at which Pork may be raised by It.--Profit of Farming in Illinois.--Detailed Example.--Lands of Illinois Central Railway. --Advantages of their Position.--The Company's terms of Sale for Cash or Credit.--Exemption from State Taxes till paid for.--Comparison between Farming in England and owning Land in Illinois--Capital necessary to start one Farmer in England sufficient for four Land Owners in Illinois.--Profits of Sheep Farming.--Lands farther West only apparently cheaper.--Great Opportunity for Farm Labourers of Character and skill.--Farming by Shares.-- Facility for Investing Money in Land.--Even the Labourer can so invest his Savings from Time to Time.--Prospects of Emigrants from Towns.
WHAT are the profits of farming on the prairie lands of Illinois? That is the question of interest to the agricultural readers of this little book.
The average prices of wheat and Indian corn in Chicago, since 1850, and those of beef, pork, cheese, and butter, since 1854, have been: --
|Wheat, per bushel,||3||9|
|Beef, per lb.||0||2 1/4|
These prices may be reckoned, on an average, as about one half the value of the same articles in England. If the cost of production in the two countries were nearly the same, the value
88of land of equal quality should be twice as great in England as in Illinois. It is, however, thirty times as great, and in this disparity consists the advantage which a settler may hope to reap by buying land in Illinois.
The cost of production is an important element of price. Manual labour is 100 per cent. dearer in Illinois than in England; but the cost of keeping horses is 100 per cent. cheaper, and as a larger proportion of the work of the farm is done in America by horse power and machinery than in England, the cheapness of horse labour will fully compensate the prairie farmer for the dearness of manual labour. The cost of production, in so far as labour is concerned, is thus much alike in the the two countries.
I have already said that wheat has proved, during the last two years, a very precarious crop. It can usually be grown with safety as the first, and sometimes the second crop, on newly broken prairie. And it is also a pretty safe crop to follow grass land when first broken up after having been some years laid to pasture. But Indian corn is the crop of the prairie farmer, and there is always a market for it either by selling or consuming it in the fattening of hogs. If grown within 150 miles of Chicago, it may be carried by rail to that port, there shipped to Montreal, and thence to England, where it may be delivered at 25s. a quarter, after paying all expenses, and it will then leave 1s. 8d. a bushel to the grower. At such a price there would be a demand for any conceivable quantity, as it would be the cheapest food for horses, cattle, and hogs that we have ever had in this country. It was calculated by Mr. Lawes, as the result of experiment, that about 4 lb. of meal produced 1 lb. of pork. Indian corn meal at this price would cost less than 3/4d. a lb., and the English feeder could thus produce pork at a cost of 3d. a lb. This would be a great boon to the English farmer, and leave a paying price to the producer in Illinois.
I have now before me four detailed accounts of farms of eighty acres each, all of which show a profit, besides paying for the land itself, from the first crop. But these cases were instances during the period of high prices in 1855-6. And the same may be said of all the detailed accounts which have been recently laid before the public. I propose, therefore, to owner an estimate based on the probable future range of prices, and, to facilitate calculations, will take 100 acres of land; the first crop wheat, and the following crop Indian corn. The wheat crop shall be cultivated by contract, the land fenced, broken up, sown with wheat, reaped and thrashed, and a labourer's house built, during the first eighteen months. The second and following crops shall be managed by two resident ploughmen, whose wages, and the cost of keeping their four horses, will be the only outlay.
|Cash price of 100 acres of land,||Å200|
|Contract price of fencing, breaking, Bowing with wheat, reaping and thrashing, and building a labourer's cottage, and stable and shed,||250|
|Capital invested in the purchase of four horses, implements, and harness,||110|
|Second year, wages of two men, horse keep, taxes, and accounts,||200|
|First crop, wheat, 2,000 bushels, at 3s. 6d.||Å350|
|Second crop, Indian corn, 5,000 bushels at 1s. 8d.||416||766|
|Surplus after the second crop, besides the value of the land and stock,||Å6|
The third year begins by the prairie farmer finding himself the unencumbered owner of his land, all fenced and improved,
90with a stock of horses and implements, and the whole of his original capital in his pocket. He may continue to crop his farm with Indian corn, from which he will reap very large returns on his capital.
The foregoing example has reference to a capitalist purchaser, not a working farmer. The 100 acres may be multi-plied by any number for which there is adequate capital, and the results ought to be the same in proportion. There appears to be thus a very ample surplus in the way of annual return, whilst the value of land itself will probably treble within ten years from the mere growth of population.
But a working farmer will not only receive the same annual dividend from his capital, but will also take to himself the full rate of wages which is allowed for hired labour in this estimate. And he may, moreover, avail himself of the credit given by the Illinois Central Railway Company to the purchasers of their lands.
That Company have still 1,300,000 acres of land to sell. It is situated along their line of railway, chiefly within five miles on either side, and affords every variety of soil, climate, and situation to be found in the State of Illinois. They offer their lands at prices which, considering situation, quality, and terms of payment, are the cheapest I met with in America. Every facility for the transport of produce to market is at the command of a settler on their lands. At every nine or ten miles there is a station, with an electric telegraph, where the latest news of the markets may be learned; while there is usually a store at the station for the sale of produce, and the purchase of necessaries. Their terms of payment for the land are either cash with a proportional discount in the price, or a long credit with a low rate of interest. So confident do they feel in the increasing value of their land, that they readily leave the entire price of it as a mortgage to be repaid by annual instalments
91out of the produce of the land itself. Purchasers from them obtain the further important advantage of exemption from all State taxes until the whole instalments of the price have been paid off, and this usually extends over the first seven years.
Let us consider the advantage of this credit plan to the father of several sons in this country, to whom he may be anxious to give the means of starting in life. If he desires to place one in a farm in England, of 300 acres, he must provide him with a capital of 2,000l. But if, instead of making his son the tenant of another man, he determines to purchase a farm of the same extent for him on the prairie, he may pay the advance interest of the purchase money of the land, fence it, build on it, stock it, and sow the first crop for about 500l. Two years elapse before the first instalment of the price is due, and by that time, with good management, the land should have yielded enough to pay it, besides all the expenses of management. An intelligent, prudent man, with 500l. in his pocket, may rely on finding that sum sufficient to start him successfully on 320 acres of prairie land, if he avails himself of this credit system.
His position will be this. He enters into a contract with the Company for the purchase of 320 acres of their land, at the price of 50s. an acre. He pays 6 per cent. advance interest upon this, but he pays nothing further for two years. His first instalment, one fifth of the price, then becomes payable, and each year thereafter, till all is paid, another fifth. His account will stand thus:--
|Two years' advance interest on price of land,||Å48|
|Contract price of fencing 100 acres, breaking it, sowing with wheat, reaping and thrashing, and for building a house, stable, and shed,||300|
|Price of horses, implements, and harness,||110|
|Value of first crop,||350|
|Second year||contract for fencing another 100 acres, sowing it with wheat,|
|reaping and thrashing,||150|
|Wages paid and horse keep for cultivating 100 acres of Indian corn,||150|
His 200 acres of corn crop will now yield him from 600l. to 700l., thus more than recompensing his outlay, and leaving plenty in hand to pay his first instalment, and to proceed with the vigorous cultivation of the land. The same sum which would be needed to start one yon as a farmer of another man's high-rented land in England, would thus start four sons as the owners of farms, fenced, stocked, and under crop, on the fine prairie soils of Illinois.
I have in a previous letter pointed out the profitable nature of sheep farming in Illinois, and would again refer to it here, as an object well worthy of the consideration of young emigrant farmers. Merino sheep prove very healthy, and can be kept cheaply on the prairie. Their wool is nearly as valuable in America as in England, and the supply is not adequate to the increasing home consumption of that country. A large stock of sheep may be purchased with a small capital. I cannot help thinking, that the safest speculation for an enterprising immigrant farmer would be, the purchase of a section of land in the midst of untouched prairie, which he would enclose and crop, for the purpose of wintering a large sheep stock, which he might graze on the open prairie during the summer, at no other cost than that of herding.
The price of the land is the least consideration that a British emigrant need take into his calculations. For if he avails himself of the credit system, he may enter on as much or as
93little as he likes, for an immediate payment of only 3s. an acre; and his next payment is not due until he has been two years in possession, by which time the produce of the land ought to be much more than sufficient to meet it. The travelling expense's, the expense of maintenance, the building of a house, and the necessary outlays fur stock, are nearly as great to start a small farm of forty acres as one of four times the extent. A man with his wife and four children, could not transport himself and them from this country to Illinois, and place himself comfortably even on a forty acre farm, for less than 100l. But 20l. more would suffice to place him in a farm of 160 acres. I cannot, therefore, advise men who are unable to scrape more together than will merely pay their travelling expenses to go to Illinois. And far less can I advise them to go farther west. Suppose they could obtain land in Iowa or Minnesota, 400 miles farther away, at only half the price, the saving of 1s. 6d. an acre in their deposit, would never compensate even the cost of travel for the additional distance, while every article which they require to purchase must bear an enhanced price from the same cause.
But there is one class of our labouring population, for whom Illinois offers great encouragement. Young men of intelligence and prudence, who have been brought up to agricultural pursuits, and are acquainted with the management of land and live stock, may do very well by hiring land from the owner. They get the farm fenced, stocked with necessary buildings, and with all requisites, except labour, for carrying it on. They furnish the labour, and share the produce with the owner. This is a transaction which is very common in Illinois; it answers the purpose of both parties; and a prudent active man who enters upon it, will generally in a few years realise enough to start himself in a farm of his own. I heard of many instances of great success attending this sort of arrangement, and from my
94personal knowledge, I am sure that there are many hundreds of our northern agricultural labourers possessed of the requisite skill and prudence, to ensure success. To such men, I should be happy to offer any information in my power, on application being made to me.
One great advantage that an emigrant of any class possesses in the Western States is, the facility with which land may be acquired; not merely its cheapness, but the readiness and simplicity with which it may be legally transferred. Every five pounds that a man saves, may at once be invested in land. He needs to run no risk of bank failures; and his landed investment is constantly improving in value, though he does nothing whatever with it. The same process is going on at home, but the labouring man at home cannot share in an advantage to which he himself contributes, as the land is too dear for him, and the cost of transferring a small parcel of it is nearly as great as the cost of the land itself. He is thus shut out altogether from the hope of ever being the possessor of land, and cannot therefore participate in that increasing value which is the good fortune of the rich alone.
Though I have doubts of the success of even prudent men who have no more capital than their wits, and no agricultural knowledge or experience, I feel bound to say that such is not the general opinion of experienced men in Illinois. One gentleman of high reputation and fortune in Chicago, assured me that he knew innumerable instances of people brought up in towns, with no knowledge of country life, and very limited means, who had blundered into experience and comfort in a year or two. In this country, he said, that every necessary of life is sluttishly plentiful; that it is not possible here to find a man hungry; that nature is so abundant that no prudent man can help becoming rich; and that, though they may sometimes have a set back for a time, they will soon rebound and take a fresh start,--and that there is plenty for all.