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(story icon)1949

Wisconsin and Its Resources

by James S. Ritchie   1857



WISCONSIN offers more and better inducements for agriculture than any other country can boast, and, owing to its geological formations, presents a great variety of soils. By the late census, and other data, it may be safe and fair to calculate that there are about one and a half millions acres of cultivated land in the State, which, as now occupied, constitutes about 50,000 farms, more or less tilled.

Besides this one and a half millions acres of improved land, there is, within the area of the State, above 30,000,000 acres of land, of which at least 20,000,000 is suitable to be converted into productive and pleasant farms--enough land to make two millions additional farms--waiting for occupants, and may be purchased at low prices, ranging from $1.25 to $60 per acre.

In regard to the value of improved lands in the new States, the same report shows that the average value is: in Illinois, $7.99; in Iowa, $6.09; in Texas, $1.09; and in Wisconsin it is $9.58--a very fair show for a young State.

And by looking carefully through the tables, we find that the average value of products per acre exceeds that of the other States named, in about the same proportion that the land exceeds theirs per acre in value. Draw a line from Manitowoc to Portage, thence directly to the Falls of St. Croix, the farming lands lying south of this line, and comprising nearly one-half the State, are not equalled, in all respects, as farming lands, in any State of the Union; on which an industrious farmer can raise from 30 to 50 bushels of wheat, or from 50 to 80 bushels of corn to the acre. North of this, a belt of hard timber extends east and west 150 miles on the latitude of Stevens Point--from 50 to 100 miles in width. The soil of this region is fertile, but the timber is its present wealth. Unlike the prairies, building material for fences is convenient, and no country produces better or more wheat--the staple crop. The indigenous and cultivated grasses flourish admirably, and, combined with numerous streams, afford the best facility for grazing. This peculiarity (abundance of water) pervades the entire State, and presents inducements for cattle-growing not found in the other prairie countries, where running water is found at distances too great for cattle.

The prairies of Wisconsin are not as extensive as those of Illinois, Iowa or Minnesota, but, as they are skirted and belted by timber, are adapted to immediate and profitable occupation. The soil of the prairies is a rich, dark vegetable mould, varying from two to eight feet in depth, capable of producing in the greatest profusion, anything which will grow in these latitudes, and inexhaustible in its fertility. For centuries, the successive natural crops, untouched by the scythe, have accumulated matter on the surface-soil to such an extent, that a long succession, even of exhausting crops, will not materially impoverish the land. Dr. Owen says: "The dark mould which prevails over a large proportion of Wisconsin, so rich in genie has proved itself an excellent and productive soil, especially adapted to the culture of every species of culinary vegetables and small grain, and producing, probably, good Indian corn as the State of New York, or any other State of the same latitude.

"The power of absorption of these lands is generally in proportion to their amount of genie and the lightness of the soil. In general, the more finely the parts of a soil are divided, the better they absorb water.

"This is an important item to the cultivator. Lands possessing this power in a considerable degree, readily absorb the dew in dry weather; and in wet weather do not suffer the superfluous rain to accumulate on the surface.

"A striking feature in the character of the Wisconsin soils, as an analysis shows, is the entire absence, in most of the specimens, of clay, and the large proportion of silex. This silex, however, does not commonly show itself here in its usual form--that of a quartzose sand. It appears as a fine, almost impalpable, siliceous powder, frequently occurring in concreted lumps that resemble clay; and, indeed, it was often reported to me incorrectly as clay--an error ultimately detected by analysis.

"This almost impalpable powder, the chief constituent and almost sole residuum of the Wisconsin soils, is so highly comminuted that, when examined under the microscope, for the most part its atoms present no crystalline or even granular appearance.

"This fine siliceous residuum, after being boiled with strong aqua regia, lost but ten per cent., of which but five per cent. was alumina.

"This absence of any material per centage of clay in the soils under consideration, prevents the rolling lands from washing away; and it imparts to the streams a crystal clearness, which even after heavy rains is hardly disturbed. The appearance of these transparent rivulets, flowing over a soil which, when moistened by rain, is often of an inky blackness, arrests by its singularity, the eye of a stranger.

"Whether the lack of clay in the Wisconsin soils will render them less durable may be doubted. A coarse sandy soil, the open pores of which suffer the rain to percolate, carrying with it the nutritive genie from the surface, requires an admixture of clay before it can become rich and durable; but the minute-grained siliceous powder of this district forms a species of soil entirely different from the above--one which, without any such admixture, retains moisture and genie in much perfection.

"I believe it to be peculiarly adapted to the growth of the sugar beet, which flourishes best in a loose, fertile mould and which has of late become, in some European countries, an important article of commerce. It is estimated that the amount of beet sugar manufactured in France during the year 1840 was 100,000,000 pounds, and in Prussia and Germany 30,000,000 pounds. In the western part of Michigan, in as northern a latitude, and in a climate similar to that of Wisconsin, 240,000 pounds are reported by the papers of that State (how accurately I know not) to have been manufactured the same year."

In regard to the soil of the mineral regions, Dr. Owens also says:--"It is a common, and usually a correct remark, that mineral regions are barren and unproductive. 'If a stranger,' as Buckland has well expressed it in the opening of his Bridgewater Treatise, 'if a stranger, landing at the extremity of England, were to traverse the whole of Cornwall and the north of Devonshire, and, crossing to St. Davids's, should make the tour of all North Wales, and passing thence through Cumberland, by the Isle of Man, to the southwestern shore of Scotland, should proceed either by the hilly region of the border counties, or along the Grampians, to the German Ocean, he would conclude from such a journey of many hundred miles, that Britain was a thinly-peopled, sterile region, whose principal inhabitants were miners and mountaineers.'

"Not so the traveller through the mining districts of Wisconsin. These afford promise of liberal reward, no less to the husbandman than to the miner; and a chemical examination of the soils gives assurance that the promise will be amply fulfulled.

''I may add, that I know of no country in the world, with similar mineral resources, which can lay claim to a soil as fertile and as well adapted to the essential purposes of agriculture.''1

In this work, the writer wishes more particularly to call the attention of settlers to the northern part of Wisconsin. For years, valuable lands in this part of the State were offered for sale at the Government price ($1.25 per acre), but with very rare exceptions, here and there, they remained without purchasers. This neglected region contains some of our most valuable agricultural lands, and now offers greater inducements to settlers than any other part. The new railroads, already commenced from Milwaukee, through our eastern and western borders, to Lake Superior, have received from Government over 2,000,000 acres of these lands to aid in their construction, and while they open the country to agriculturists, will doubtless follow the example of the Illinois Central Railroad, in offering their lands, on easy terms and on long credits, to actual settlers. Let it be remembered, that there are several millions of acres in this part of the State open to pre-emption.

A great mistake prevails in the Northern and Eastern States among those who are preparing to come to Wisconsin. Congress granted a large amount of lands to railroads, and all the Land Offices have been closed, so that no lands can be sold; and, therefore, settlers abroad infer that they cannot get land, except what they purchase at second-hand of those who secured their land before the closing of the Offices.

1st. We wish to inform every one that the closing of the Land Offices does not prejudice the rights of pre-emption in the least.

2d. The Railroad Grant, in its terms, respects all pre-emptions made, UP TO THE TIME THE ROADS ARE ACTUALLY LOCATED. After the location, pre-empters are excluded from pre-empting odd-numbered sections only, within six miles of either side of the roads as located.

3d. The closing of the Land Offices operates as a benefit to the poor man; for it extends the time within which he is required to prove up and pay for his land.

4th. The closing of the Land Offices was intended to operate in those districts only where large bodies of public lands were subject to private entry. It was done to prevent speculators from taking up all the public lands along the line of the proposed roads, to the exclusion of the actual settler. We repeat, the right of pre-emption is not thereby affected until the roads are actually located.

The Act of Congress says, that the railroads shall have every alternate section of an odd number; that is, Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, &c., for six miles each side of their tracks of the land not sold. Therefore, all the sections of an even number are virtually open to actual settlers, because settlers are perfectly safe; and at the land sales no speculator or other person will bid against a settler, and he can get his kind at Government prices; but the Government price for all lands within six miles of the railroads will be $2.50 per acre. If they wish to go farther off than six miles from the proposed railroad lines, then the price of the lands will be $1.25 per acre.

How soon the railroad companies will get through selecting their lands, and the offices again be open, no one can tell--possibly not before the close of the summer. The Government will give at least two months' public notice of the time of sale. There is not the least doubt but that now is the best opportunity that will ever offer itself in the West to the laboring man of small means, taking into consideration timber, climate, and soil.

We would again say to those who wish to actually locate upon and improve the soil, Now is the time to make a "claim." Do not be induced to delay settling here until a few hundred dollars have been added to your earnings with the belief that it will give you a better start. You can do better now with two hundred dollars than you will be able to do, two years hence, with one thousand. These lands are daily increasing in value, and those who would advance with them should embrace this "golden opportunity."

The following description of the lands in the valley of the Chippewa river, is from the pen of an intelligent and observing traveller, who recently made a personal examination of that country. These lands are open to settlers at Government price; in fact, all lands lying in the northern part of the State.

"The soil, for the most part, is a deep rich sand loam, and the face of the country very much as we have pictured the Hunting Parks of Old England. About every three miles, there is a succession of small streams starting from the ridges, half a dozen miles back, and making straightway to the Chippewa. The ground between is nearly level, and interspersed with 'gems of prairie,' 'oak openings,' and timber, with here and there specks of hay marsh, just enough to meet the wants of new settlers. In short, the country is about as near right as any jolly husbandman could ask from the hands of Nature. There is no fact which gives more value to these lands, than the general healthfulness of that portion of the country in which they are situated. Well watered, possessing a pure and dry atmosphere, with no local causes to produce fever, ague, or sickness, in any of the numerous forms often exhibited in the more southerly parts of the Mississippi valley, it is undoubtedly as healthy a region as can be found on the continent. It may be supposed, by some, that these lands are too far north to be well adapted to agricultural pursuits. The supposition is entirely erroneous. None of the lands are farther north than the northern parts of the States of Vermont and New York, nor as far as a large part of Maine, New Hampshire, and nearly the whole of Canada, while the more southerly portions of them are in the latitiude of the southern part of Vermont and central New York. But it is well known that latitude is not alone the index of climate. London is in latitude 51° 30', the same as the latitude of the upper or southern end of Hudson Bay, and of Queen Charlotte's Sound, on the Pacific. Paris is in the latitude of the north shore of Lake Superior and of the Pembina settlement. Florence, where it is almost perpetual summer, is in the latitude of Sheboygan and of Portland, Maine, while Berlin is further north than a large portion of the coast of Labrador. But, on the American continent it is well known that the climate on the Pacific coast is several degrees milder than on the Atlantic. The same causes operate to produce the same result as we recede from the Atlantic and approach the Pacific. The isothermal line is continually bearing north of latitudinal lines; and it is well known that the climate of St. Paul, in Minnesota in about latitude 45°, is as mild during the winter months as that of Massachusetts and central New York. St. Paul and Buffalo, Hudson and Albany, Chippewa Falls and Rochester, are isothermal."

All the arable lands in the area above described will be intersected by the St. Croix and Lake Superior Railroad, and are peculiarly adapted to the growth of wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, potatoes, and all other esculent roots. Indian corn, also--especially of the yellow flint variety--is produced in great perfection. The whole country is excellently adapted to grazing. It is well watered by numerous springs and small creeks, of pure limpid water; and small transparent lakes, with picturesque shores, are found in many places, which, as well as the creeks, abound with fish. The raising of cattle and sheep in this region will prove to the farmer a profitable business, and, if viewed solely with reference to its advantages for agricultural pursuits, there can be no reason why, when it shall be supplied with railroad facilities, it will not become as densely peopled as any part of the State.2

Every description of husbandry suitable to the latitude may be successfully prosecuted. The difficulties experienced in the Eastern, or in Western timbered States, in bringing lands under cultivation, are unknown here; the soil is easily turned over, at the rate of two acres to two and a half a day, by a heavy team of horses, or two yoke of oxen, or it may be contracted to be worked, at from $2 to $3 per acre; and an active practical man can readily cultivate ten acres here as easily as one in the Eastern or Middle States, taking them as they run, while the yield per acre will be infinitely greater.

Wisconsin is one of the largest grain-producing States of the Union. As an example, the statistics of the following counties, for the year 1850, may be cited.

  Population.   No. Acres cleared   No. Farms.   Bush. Wheat.
Milwaukee 39,077 82,623 985 60,096
Waukesha 19,174 104,439 1,703 331,156
Racine 14,973 64,338 971 281,149
Kenosha 10,732 50,938 914 318,051

These four counties, with a population of 83,956, had for exportation not less than 500,000 bushels of wheat Which, at 50 cents per bushel, would be $250,000. Besides, there were large quantities of Indian corn, oats and barley raised. Considerable attention has been lately attracted to flax, and the quantity raised the same year, in these counties, was 58,304 pounds.

It must not be supposed that the farmers of Wisconsin have been turning their attention exclusively to grain; they have also engaged in the business of stock raising, of the dairy, and of wool growing. In the above-mentioned counties, the quantity of sheep and wool raised, as reported in the census, was as follows:

  Sheep.   Lbs. of Wool.
Milwaukee 4,356 8,330
Waukesha 12,430 26,042
Racine 10,093 20,223
Kenosha 12,767 33,439

A large number of sheep were brought into Wisconsin during the year 1851, from Ohio and Michigan. The produce of wool for the year 1853 may safely be estimated at 175,000 pounds, and in 1857 the united products of these four counties will not be less than 700,000 pounds.

These counties may be taken as a fair basis, in order to form an estimate for the balance of the State. If we take the estimate of the census of 1850--20,000 farms--as under cultivation, the amount realized by farmers on wool and wheat alone would be, at present prices, nearly $3,000,000. But when we consider that the population then was 305,538, and now it is about 1,000,000, it is manifest that no correct estimate can be made, further than that the agricultural products have increased in the same ratio as the population.

The steady and exclusive prosecution of agriculture on the fertile soil of the mineral districts, has the advantage of an active home market and ready pay. There are large tracts of the very finest lands in these districts which have been neglected, from the absorbing nature of the mining business, and may be purchased at very low rates. In proportion to the growth of the towns and villages, the demand for the products of the soil increases, presenting a remunerative home market to the farmer. The surplus of his corn, wheat, oats, &c., command fair rates at the nearest railroad depot, as soon as delivered. On some of these lands it is not uncommon to raise from 80 to 100 bushels of corn to the acre, of wheat 40 to 60 bushels and every kind of vegetables in the greatest abundance. The price of wheat during the year 1856, was, on an average, $1.25 per bushel. At these prices, is it any wonder that the farmers in Wisconsin are so rapidly accumulating wealth; or that, with such inducements to agriculture, so many are flocking here every year?

Let every farmer who has to tug and toil on the sterile and rocky soil of New England, and some of the worn out Southern States, to support his family, judge for himself, whether it is better to emigrate to Wisconsin, or stay where he is; whether it is better to struggle for existence, and feel the cold grasp of poverty, or roll in plenty and live at ease.

Let those who reside in cities, and cannot find profitable employment, come here, and raise their food out of the bosom of the earth. Thousands have made the experiment, and to-day are among the wealthiest and most respected of our citizens.

We might present to our readers the testimony of hundreds of farmers, in regard to their experience, the capability of the soil, and the amount raised to the acre, but our limited space forbids. In the second part of this work, on Lake Superior, will be found some interesting reports from farmers in the northern part of the State, bordering on the lake.

Persons desirous of settling here should not form their Opinions of the capability of Wisconsin in an agricultural point of view, upon the figures given in the census reports of 1850, as if they furnished a fair criterion by which to judge. It must be borne in mind, that since those statistics were made up, nearly five hundred miles of railroad have been built in the State; that its population has increased from 305,538, to at least 1,000,000; that the number of acres now under cultivation is at least double that of 1850; that all the recent improvements in agricultural implements are in general use; and farmers stimulated to industry by the late unprecedented high prices. They also must not forget that, with all this increase of population, hardly one-fourth of the arable lands of the State are under cultivation. The conclusions drawn from the census reports of 1850, would be of the most fallacious character, and do great injustice to the resources of our noble State.

1 Geological Explorations in Wisconsin.

2 Report of the La Crosse and Milwaukee Railroad Co.