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THE EVOLUTION OF AGRICULTURE
The colony at Holland is almost exclusively an agricultural settlement. There is nothing extraordinary in this, as it would have been impossible for the little band of colonists, who founded the village, to have developed any other type of community. The Hollanders came to America from an agricultural country, where farming was their life’s vocation. They were seeking new homes, and this to them meant but one place, the farm. They had labored unceasingly with the stony and less fertile soil of Gelderland, and in addition to this, in Wisconsin they had the thickly wooded regions to clear. In choosing homes from the vast territory available to them, they were naturally drawn to what they deemed the ideal agricultural conditions of Lancaster County. Furthermore, any other industry which might have grown up in the village was discouraged by the crude and slow transportation methods of the time. So the story of the productive life of this village was the story of the progress of agriculture.
The development of modern scientific agriculture was retarded by two factors, namely, scarcity of money and the reluctance of the Hollander to adopt new theories and methods of farming. The majority of these pioneers, as I have already stated in previous chapters, had very little money, if any, when they arrived in the settlement. Their need of farming equipment was almost as desperate a their need of money. The only possessions of the most wealthy were a breaking plow and a team of oxen. One settler had a span of mules. Often when finances did not permit pioneers to purchase the necessary tools for farming, they borrowed them from more fortunate settlers. Some of the early settlers at Holland, in addition to developing their homes, spent the first few years after their arrival working as farm laborers. This provided the means with which to purchase the necessary agricultural equipment.1
In addition to their financial handicaps, the settlers also were obliged to overcome difficulties which were inherent in their own agricultural training. Most of the advances made in scientific agriculture have been made in this country. In the Netherlands, only the crudest methods were practiced. It was this crude culture which the Dutch pioneers brought to Holland, Nebraska. Most of the labor was done by hand, performed with the crudest of tools. The natural presumption would be that these pioneers would be slow to grasp the newer and more efficient agricultural methods which were developing in this country. This was true to a large extent. Traditional ideas are hard to eradicate. The Dutch pioneer watched the more efficient methods of his neighbors with askance and distrust, and the progress from their originally rudimentary ideas of land culture of the modern and up-to-date methods which prevail in the community today was slow.2
When the colonists arrived at Holland, they were confronted with a beautiful rolling prairie, completely covered by thick sod. There was no timber to clear, and the soil was fertile. The sod, however, presented a real problem and the breaking it up into tillable fields was a slow and difficult task. In many instances the settler broke only enough land for his garden and small grain. Corn was planted by merely chopping holes in the sod for each hill, with a hoe or axe, dropping in the seed and covering it. Corn planted in this manner was cultivated merely by hoeing around the individual hills, leaving the grass growing between hills. In spite of this rude culture, the virgin fertility of the soil, together with favorable rains, often enabled them to reap fair corn crops the first year.3
In the first two or three years there were few, if any, cultivators and no riding plows in the community. Cultivation of the broken acreage was accomplished with a one-horse shovel plow. Harrowing was usually done with a home-made “A-shaped” drag. At first the small grain was cut with a scythe. Later it was harvested with cradles.4 In 1876, Mr. Derk Wubbles, Sr. and Mr. Henry Vanderbeek purchased a Marsh Harvester. This was a second-hand machine, and for which these men paid one hundred dollars.5 The small grain was threshed by placing the stalks on sheets and beating the grain out of the heads by hand with home-made flails.6 Beginning with the year 1872, the colonists had access to a threshing machine. This was a second-hand machine, purchased by John Rennerdink and rebuilt by William Lefferdink.7 The pioneers threshed most of their grain with it until 1878, when Alcoe Vandertook purchased a threshing machine, propelled by horse power. This machine was an “Eclipse” manufactured by the J.I. Case Company and sold for six hundred dollars. The “Eclipse,” had a capacity of four or five hundred bushels of grain per day.8 Crude as these machines were, when compared with the same modern product, they constituted the greatest advance in farm methods in the first decade. Their efficiency shortened the labor of the Holland farmer, prevented waste, and increased the value of his product. The colonists toiled on through the first ten years, with no other agricultural advances than these. More land was broken each year, and gradually their rough dugouts became homes and their land became farms.
This progress was continued on in the “eighties” and “nineties.” As more land was broken and tilled, the prosperity of the colony increased. Farm machinery was purchased to ease the back-breaking work of the farmer. Harrows, iron rollers, walking two-row markers, corn planters, corn kings, walking cultivators, and other equipment were purchased with the fruits of the first decades struggle.9
The Dutch pioneers possessed very little knowledge of the importance of keeping their meagre farm machinery in working condition. Until 1878, tools which became dull were allowed to remain in that state. Practically no attention was paid to the proper care of their machinery. In 1878, J. G. Bade, (a German pioneer) who had received blacksmith training in his native country, arrived in the settlement. He explained to the Dutch pioneers the importance of pointed plow shares and also gave them other valuable information relative to the upkeep of their farm tools. In the early “eighties,” Mr. Robert Fisher, another native of Germany, set up a blacksmith shop at Holland. He received patronage from almost the entire Dutch settlement and his business prospered rapidly.10 In 1896, Mr. Fisher erected an addition to his shop and was equipped to handle repairs of all farm machinery. Mr. Fisher also held a sales agency for farm equipment.11
The binder came into general use in the colony in 1885.12 The John Deere reaper was the most popular binder in use. A.E. Van Burg at Hickman had the agency for this machine and before 1900 most of the Dutch farmers had binders of this make.13
In 1887, Cornelius DeVries and Frank Liesveld purchased a horse-power threshing machine and entered into competition with Mr. Vandertook in the threshing business.14 Mr. Vandertook, in order to meet the competition of the newer machine also acquired more up-to-date threshing equipment.15 There was work enough for both. The threshing season lasted from three to four months.16 Grain was stacked, and in the stack could be preserved fairly well until the thresher was available.
With this machinery it was not only easier to till the soil, enabling the farmer to further increase his acreage, but the increased efficiency of machine tillage added to the farmer’s income. With increased production came further expansion of acreage, until it was not unusual to see the farmer who had had difficulty tilling eighty acres, cultivating two hundred forty acres or even more with ease.
The turn of the century brought a new epoch in the development of farm equipment. Agriculture was about to be revolutionized by riding tools and a score of other machines now recognized as commonplace. The disc took the place of the old stock cutter, and few of the pioneers listed part of their corn. With the exception of a few, the pioneers did not favorably accept these new devices of farm machinery. Security had come to them with the old accepted methods, and they were skeptical of a change and slow to adopt these innovations. These Hollanders who had faced many odds a few years before, now found satisfaction in their present position and were unwilling to substitute a new type of farm implements for the old. Hence, it took several years for the modern machinery to come into general use.17
In 1900, Mr. Alcoe Vandertook substituted a threshing machine operated by a steam engine for the old horse power machine. Four or five hundred bushels of grain threshed with the old machine was considered an average day’s work. The new machine put out on the average, two thousand bushels of grain a day.18
Mr. DeVries and Mr. Liesveld had disposed of their machine, which left Mr. Vandertook the entire territory in the southern part of Lancaster County. His threshing season continued well into the latter part of November.19 About 1905, a few of the Hollanders began threshing out of the shock. The community, however, was slow to accept this change, and this method came into use only gradually over a period of years.
More important than the threshing was the milk-skimming station. This enterprise was not entirely new to the Hollanders, as they already had had experience with the creamery in their native land and also in Wisconsin. Furthermore, since the milk-skimming station was absolutely dependent on the farm produce of the locality, they were not unwilling to venture in this undertaking. Soon after the arrival of the Dutch pioneers, dairying became their chief source of income. Their herd of milk cows was increased as rapidly as their financial resources permitted. The butterfat was made into butter for which the Hollanders received six or seven cents a pound. They soon realized that a better market was needed to take care of their produce. As a result of this need, the farmers in and around Holland, Nebraska, formed a cooperative association for the erection of a milk-skimming station. Shares in this enterprise were sold at twenty-five dollars each. With the money derived from the sale of shares, a suitable building was constructed and the necessary equipment purchased. The plant was ready for use on May 2, 1898. The building and plant were leased to the Fairmont Creamery Company. This company placed Mr. David Bauma, one of the local Dutch pioneers, in charge of the operation of the station. He remained as its manager for the four years it functioned. During the months of May and June, the receipts were approximately 8,000 pounds. The station, during the summer, operated every day with the exception of Sunday. In the winter, however, the building was open for business only three days a week. This station not only provided a larger market for the dairy products but also practically doubled the price received by the farmers. They received thirteen cents a pound for their butterfat after this station opened, compared with the six or seven cents previously paid for butter by the local store.
The cream separator was a large bulky steam-driven machine. The milk, as it was received from the individual farmers, was emptied into a box-like receptacle on the outside of the building. From there it was piped to a large storage vat, and from the vat to the separator. The cream was separated from the milk. The skimmed milk was discharged into a large outlet tank, from which it was piped to the rear of the building.
Each morning the Dutch farmers brought their cans of milk to the skimming station to have the butterfat taken from it. On their arrival, the product was weighed and a sample was taken for the butterfat test. After the farmers had emptied the product from the cans into the receptacle, they drove to the rear of the building where they filled their cans with the separated milk. They were given receipts indicating the number of pounds of milk delivered. The farmers received a check for their butterfat twice a month. These Dutch farmers, during the summer months, milked from fifteen to thirty cows.
The hand-operated separator came into existence in the early part of the century. This seriously affected the business of the skimming station because the farmers separated their own milk. Hence, the station was disbanded. The hand separator was a great saving device to the farmers. Instead of making daily trips to the village, they made only three trips a week. Furthermore, they no longer needed to concern themselves with the problem of keeping their milk sweet. Because of the short duration of its life, the enterprise was not profitable to the shareholders. It did, however, create a home market for the farmers’ produce.20
The Hollanders’ acceptance of modern agricultural methods was not affected directly in any degree by the free assistance offered by the United States Department of Agriculture, the College of Agriculture of Nebraska, or any state agencies. They accepted improvement in machinery and methods of agriculture, only after observing the actual results of their use by neighbors of different national origin. An additional example of the Hollanders’ conservatism in these matters is furnished by the fact, not until the first decade of the twentieth century did they begin to seed part of their land to leguminous crops. By 1910, the average acreage devoted to alfalfa and clover was from five to ten acres per farm. They also gave more attention to the rotation of crops.21 These neighboring communities undoubtedly secured their ideas from governmental and University agencies, and the increasing activities of the United States Department of Agriculture. These agencies ware undoubtedly of great assistance to the Dutch, but only indirectly. They formed no 4-H Clubs in their schools.
Regardless of their backward ideas of land tillage, the early Dutch colonists recognized fertile soil when they saw it. The extraordinary fertility of the soil around Holland, coupled with exceptionally fine weather, misled many of the pioneers who had not yet become acquainted with the fickle character of Nebraska climate. Early agricultural success, and the almost ideal climatic conditions, caused many of the early settlers, optimistically, to expand their original homesteads and acquire further acreage. In many instances this proved to be almost a calamity. The expansion undertaken in the expectation of the continuance of ideal conditions, was met instead by droughts, grasshopper plagues, and low prices, which now are only too familiar to Nebraska farmers.22
The table which is shown on the following page is adopted from the Agricultural Census Report for 1870 and 1880, and also includes a table of landholdings for 1900, found in the Lancaster County Plat Book.23 Statistics were available for only a small number of the original settlers.24 The table shows in summary a comparison of three periods (represented by the years 1870, 1880, and 1900) and reveals the material progress of some of the first members of this colony.
[At this point in the original Bade thesis, there is a page insert containing the table described above as the Agricultural Census Report for Lancaster County, 1870-1880-1900.]
Out of this group, only two pioneers are shown to have owned more than eighty acres in 1870, but in the next decade there were five who each owned more than eighty acres. In 1900, there were eight who owned more than eighty acres. Among the eight were included two farmers, each of whom owned a section of land, and two others who owned four hundred eighty acres each. Other pioneers not represented in this table had increased their holdings by 1900 substantially the same proportion as those shown on the opposite page.
The table for this group in 1870 shows an average of twenty-seven acres of sod broken per farm. The average increased to eighty-four acres by 1880. In addition to three hundred fifty bushels of corn, this report also indicated that seven hundred ten bushels of wheat were harvested in 1870. The farmers for whom corresponding figures for 1880 were obtained, harvested a total of twenty-seven thousand, three hundred bushels of corn and three thousand three hundred fifty-nine bushels of wheat. In 1870, eight of these pioneers produced twelve hundred ninety pounds of butter, compared with four thousand eight hundred sixty-five pounds produced by fifteen families in 1850. The average value of livestock per settler at the earlier date was one hundred seventy dollars, while ten years later the average had increased to five hundred sixty-nine dollars per settler. In summary these figures show a large increase in output of agricultural products between 1870 and 1880, based upon larger average landholdings and acreage cultivated, and also improved machinery and methods of cultivation.
The statistics above appear to indicate a decided prosperity in the Dutch community, but they only present one side of the picture. There is no accurate statistical information available upon the crop production of the entire colony. The statistics of the United States and the State Department of Agriculture from 1870 to 1900 have been taken by states.25 There has never been any statistics compiled by any agency for the entire Dutch community, except those for the United States Census Bureau. These figures are buried in the archives of the Bureau at Washington, and the Census Bureau has refused, at this time, to make them available.26 As a matter of fact, there are no indisputably accurate figures for crop production in the state at large between 1870 and 1900.27
A general survey of the period between 1870 and 1900 has shown a heavy increase in crop production in the Dutch settlement. Prices, however, were very low throughout the period compared with markets after 1900, and the income derived by the Dutch pioneers was much smaller than the scale of their operations would indicate.28 Prices of corn remained approximately on the same level between 1870 and 1900, but wheat shows a definite decline during this period, with the exception of 1888. Butter also showed a decline in price during this period, but eggs varied. Following 1900, markets had an upward trend, which was a great help financially to these farmers because of the fact that the production also showed an increase.29
To some, these figures may be merely statistics, but for the Dutch pioneers they represent a glorious record of hardships, privations, and heroism unsurpassed by any in the annals of the American people. They suffered strenuous days of dangers, discomforts, and the keenest discouragement. In 1874, six years after the arrival of the first caravan, the grasshoppers came, and a few returned in 1875. An ample description of this terrible plague has been previously given.30 The wheat had practically been harvested and the potatoes had made their growth before the grasshoppers made their raid. The garden and corn, however, were entirely devastated.31 These pioneers received no government relief and only a little aid through the church synod.32 To many this was most discouraging, but to those who hung on long enough, a new day arrived. A period of prosperity followed this calamity and continued until 1894, when another season of drought struck this settlement. The markets for the years that preceded and followed this date were relatively low, which also increased the farmers’ burdens. These catastrophes greatly disheartened the entire settlement. Their courage, however, was strong enough for the unequal struggles, and their fortitude in every crisis through which they passed was rewarded by increased prosperity in the years that followed.
Table of Contents
1 Personal interview with Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles; Mr. John Huzenveldt; Mr.Ed Vermaas, 1937.
4 Personal interview with Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles, 1937.
5 Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937.
6 Personal interview with Mrs. Dillie (TeSelle) Wubbles, 1937.
7 Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937. This machine was propelled by horse power. Upon examination of the census report for 1880, oxen had been replaced by horses.
8 Personal interview with Mr. William Vandertook, 1937.
9 Personal interview with Mr. Ed Vermaas, 1937.
10 Personal interview with Mr. Robert Fisher, DeWitt, Nebr., 1938.
11 Hickman Enterprise, December 18, 1896.
12 Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937.
14 Personal interview with Mr. Albert DeVries, Holland, Nebr., 1938.
15 Personal interview with Mr. William Vandertook, 1938.
17 Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1938. The first Dutch pioneers to adopt the agricultural riding implements were the Liesvelds, Walvoords, and the Lefferdinks. One of the pioneers, persuaded by his sons, permitted the riding cultivator to be used in his field. The father, unnoticed, watched the lad work. He discovered that the lad not only was covering the corn but he also found his son asleep. The parent ordered the boy to take the riding implement home, and return to the field with the walking cultivator. The father said that riding implements were the “Lazy man’s tools” and consequently forbade their use in his field.
18 Personal interview with Mr. William Vandertook, 1938.
20 Personal interview with Mr. David Bauma, 1937.
Personal interview with Mr. Henry Wubbles, 1937.
22 Personal interview with Mr. John Huzenveldt, 1937.
23 Nebraska Agricultural Census for 1870 and 1880, Nebr. Hist. Soc.; Plat Book of Lancaster County, Nebraska, 10. The only complete figures obtainable for 1900 were those for the total landholdings, found in the Plat Book of Lancaster County.
24 Many of the Dutch pioneers living in the setlement in 1870 and I880 are not represented in the census for reasons unknown.
page 140 and 141 (140a is a table and not copied)
25 A.E. Sheldon, The Nebraska Blue Book, (Lincoln, 1915) , 768.
26 A letter from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 1937.
27 Investigation has been made of the statistics of the U.S. Dept. of Agr., Nebr. Bureau of Labor, and Nebr. Bd. of Agr., but all sources vary in figures and give statistics unreasonably high in view of known conditions.
Beatrice Express, October 21, 1871; Idem.; January 28, 1873; Beatrice Republican, November 6, 1886; The Cortland Herald, November 16, 1888; The Hickman Enterprise, December 10, 1892; Idem., October 26, 1896; A.E. Anderson (statistician), Nebraska Agricultural Statistics, (Lincoln, 1923-1924), 28.
29 Anderson, op. cit., 28.
30 This thesis, 20.
31 Personal interview with Mr. William Dykstra, 1937.
32 Personal interview with Mr. Garret Prange, 1937.