WHO has not heard of the cornfields of Kansas and the wheat fields of Dakota? Not that all the mammoth fields of corn and wheat are found in these localities; for the New West, clear to the Pacific coast, challenges the world to survey its empire of golden grain. Contrary to the expectations of a quarter of a century ago, the States and Territories along the Missouri, and beyond, yield marvellous harvests. Daniel Webster said that wheat could never be produced in paying quantities in California. For years, the reports of remarkable harvests in that distant portion of our country were not believed in the East. Thirty and sixty bushels of wheat, and seventy-five of corn, to the acre, was simply a "Western lie." Eastern farmers, accustomed to raise a few acres of grain, --five, ten, perhaps twenty acres,-- contemptuously sneered at the newspaper report of ten thousand acres of corn and wheat on a single farm. "The spring is too short for so much, planting and sowing." "Couldn't gather half of it in the autumn months." "Couldn't sell so much for ten cents a bushel." "Speculators get up these stories." "Tell it to the marines." The reports were too big for belief. Stories of half the size, though expressing only half the truth, might have been accepted. The delighted Irishman, who asked his employer to write a letter for him to his old father in Ireland, said:--
"Write him that I have meat to eat once a day."
"Why, Pat; you have meat three times a day," replied his employer, "and why write that you have it but once? "
"Faith, sir, it is too much for them to believe. If I say that I have meat once a day, they may believe; but if I say three times a day, they will say it's Pat's fabrication."
So the letter went telling the old father that his son in "Ameriky" had meat once a day; and it was true as far as it went. It was so much nearer the state of things in Pat's native land that it challenged belief.
So it was with the marvels of agriculture in the New West a generation ago. They presented so great a contrast with the agriculture of the East that credulity could not span the chasm. If the reports had been half the size they might have been believed. As it was, caricature and burlesque modified even the facts that were generally accepted, after the manner of the following:--
"Yes, sir," resumed the Dakota man, as the crowd of agriculturists drew back from the bar and seated themselves around a little table, "yes, sir, we do things on rather a sizable scale. I've seen a man on one of our big farms start out in the spring and plough a straight furrow until fall, then he turned around and harvested back."
"Carry his grub with him?" asked a Brooklyn farmer who raised cabbage on the outskirts.
"No, sir. They follow him up with a steam hotel and have relays of men to change ploughs for him. We have some big farms up there, gentlemen. A friend of mine owned a farm on which he had to give a mortgage, and I pledge you my word the mortgage was due on one end before they could get it on record at the other. You see it was laid off in counties."
There was a murmur of astonishment, and the Dakota man continued:--
"I got a letter from a man who lives in my orchard just before I left home, and it had been three weeks getting to the dwelling-house, although it had been travelled day and night."
"Distances are pretty wide up there, ain't they?" inquired a New Utrecht agriculturist.
"Reasonably, reasonably," replied the Dakota man. "And the worst of it is, it breaks up families so. Two years ago I saw a whole family prostrated with grief, -- women yelling, children howling, and dogs barking. One of my men had his camp truck packed on seven four-mule teams, and he was around bidding everybody good-by."
"Where was he going?" asked a Gravesend man.
"He was going half-way across the farm to feed the pigs," replied the Dakota man.
"Did he ever get back to his family?"
"It isn't time for him yet," returned the Dakota gentlemen. "Up there we send young married couples to milk the cows, and their children bring home the milk."
But time has not only vindicated the reports, but proved also that the half was never told. The wildest dream has become reality. The biggest story is not too large for belief. The bigger the better. The pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Nothing is too large for belief. Twenty and even thirty thousand acre farms, and a hundred bushels to the acre, is not an extravagant story now. Corn eighteen feet high, with ears long and heavy enough for a policeman's club, is not questioned now even by the uninitiated. Harvest like an army with banners, waving their golden plumes above the house which the farmer occupies, require no stretch of the imagination to realize.
We have seen Kansas corn several feet higher than the dwelling which the owner occupied. The stocks were marvellously stout as compared with Eastern corn, and seemed to defy ordinary methods of harvesting. An axe appeared as necessary to lay that field of corn flat as in gathering a crop of hoop-poles. Indeed, we should be as hopefully inclined to feed cattle with moderate-sized hoop-poles as with the stock of that corn.