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Hibbard, Benjamin Horace, 1870-1955 / The history of agriculture in Dane County, Wisconsin

Chapter IV: Selection of land,   pp. 105-113 PDF (2.2 MB)

Page 107

until wheat could be grown: in many cases a house could be dis-
pensed with for some months; but in no case could the use of
water be foregone while a well was being sunk, and although
it may seem that hauling fire-wood a few miles is a matter of no
great consequence, the man who knew the West only through the
medium of exaggerated reports telling of awful storms and cold,
hardly dared risk living more than a stone's throw from fuel."
However, there are some few facts among all this tangled mass
which speak out distinctly. That the settlers were almost without
exception discriminating in their choice of land is seen by the
shape of the farms taken. In the great prairie region where one
quarter-section is about like another, the buyer or homesteader
almost invariably prefers a farm in as compact shape as possible;
but on the patchwork surface of Dane county there was much
difference in forties falling within one general class, and as a
result the farms present every possible combination of forty acre
lots. Often a hundred sixty acres was made up by a row of
forties across the section, or not infrequently they cornered only,
and occasionally one man would own land entirely surrounding
some forty or eighty which was rejected on account of being too
swampy or too hilly. The first settlers having once made these
selections, the later arrivals were compelled to make purchases
equally irregular in contour. Some of these inconvenient farms
have since been made more compact by exchanges, but irregu-
larity is still the rule.4"
  Of the swamp land approximately half was taken by choice'
before the act of I85i gave it to the state, and after that date it
sold about as readily as other land until only a small quantity
remained.48 This was owing to the scantiness of hay to be had
on the drier land, also, shallow wells could be made in this low
ground affording water for stock or even for house use.
  The most interesting and at the same time the hardest ques-
tions to answer, are those relating to the choice between prairie
and wooded land. In the first place there were so many little
  "One German when advised to take land out In the open remarked that
expected to carry all the family fire-wood on his back for some years to
and a few rods was far enough.
4TWhat has here been said does not apply so much to the prairies.
"In eleven towns taken at random, fifty-three per cent, of the swamp
was sold prior to 1851.

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