KanColl: The Kansas Historical Quarterlies

The Kinsey Boom of the Late Eighties
Final Installment

by James C. Malin

May, 1935 (Vol. 4, No. 2), pages 164 to 187
Transcribed by lhn; additional HTML by Susan Stafford;
digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.

ALONG with the swelling of the buds on the sand hill plums each spring, the annual crop of settlers came to replace those who had starved out the year or years before. Weeks before the plum thickets were white with bloom, the emigrants headed West in white-topped wagons or in trains which deposited them at desolate way stations. The immigrants hoped to make their fortune, and the communities to which they came hoped for a large crop of immigrants, if of nothing else, because of the stimulation to the year's business which flowed from this importation of cash even in the limited quantities possessed by these small farmers. During frontier and drought years about the only cash which came into a frontier town was railroad taxes and wages, and the spendings of the homeseekers. It was with anxiety and no doubt with foreboding that they looked for signs of a big immigration in 1888. On January 28 the Daily Mercury recorded, whether fancifully or not-the point need not be pressed-that "the prairie schooners are beginning to sail westward." On February 1 it announced that 50,000 copies of the paper would be printed in March for circulation in the East. The immigration prospects were summarized February 7 from the Larned Chronoscope: "Had there not been a partial failure of crops in some localities of this state last year the immigration would have been unprecedented." The article pointed out further that "the distressing drought last year in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri will create in the minds of the people of those states an uneasiness and a disposition to look for a better place," and in view of the additional burden imposed by the financial depression in that region, this discontent would be intensified. It was estimated that the emigration from that quarter would be divided, about four-fifths to the West and one-fifth to the South. The prediction was made further, that the terribly cold winter in Dakota and Nebraska and the high temperature on the Pacific coast would direct most of the emigration to Kansas and Texas. Southwest Kansas boomers thought that their region had not received a fair share of publicity from the state immigration bureau and organized a Southwestern Kansas Immigration Society. The Daily Mercury, February 28,


reported that a meeting had been held in Kinsley at which a decision was reached to have Edwards county represented, money was pledged, and committees appointed to interview the county commissioners for aid, to manage the advertising program, and to welcome visitors. As late as May 30 the Mercury reported that the railroads were working up a big immigration and that "in a few weeks it will be pouring in upon us like an avalanche."

Kansas had her rivals at the boom business in 1888. The San Luis valley of Colorado was being opened as an irrigated district under the management of T. C. Henry, formerly of Abilene, and his advertisements in the Mercury promised home markets, no crop failures, no hot winds, no chinch bugs, no grasshoppers, no blizzards, and no coal famines. The most threatening rival, however, was Oklahoma, not yet opened to settlement. For several years the Oklahoma boomers had kept up the agitation and in 1888 the opening appeared imminent. A mass meeting was held in Kinsley as in many other Kansas towns to protest to the Kansas delegation in congress against the pending bill. In discussing the call for the meeting the Daily Mercury, February 11, maintained that the movement was the work of "town-lot boomers, land sharks in some of the border towns, backed up by Kansas City . . . . The opening of this Indian country will rob Kansas of 100,000 people direct while it will have the effect [of] diverting fully that many more from settling in Kansas." When the appointed time arrived it was reported that the board of trade rooms were packed with citizens voicing similar views.

The protest of the Greensburg Republican was reprinted on February 18:

Kansas City would be the principal winner, and can afford to spend money lobbying this measure through congress; but the state of Kansas would be the principal loser and ought to oppose it. It would be worse than a failure of crops, or a siege of drought and a grasshopper raid combined. If our senators and representatives in congress do not oppose and defeat this measure the shadow on the dial of Western Kansas will go back five years.

Six days later in another exchange the voice of the Salina Journal was echoed in the same key.

The railroad question was raised early in the year and January 31 the Daily Mercury declared that the Frisco and Rock Island railroads would extend their lines during the course of the year, and Kinsley was just waiting and doing nothing. If these companies came there must be some inducement, and the editor insisted that


Kinsley must present its case. On February 10 the same paper reported that the Omaha, Kansas and El Paso Railroad would be built from Kinsley to the south line of the state "at once, or in a short time at least." A four-line item in the same issue, however, leaves a reader wondering. It read: "The officers and directors of the Kinsley and Milkyway Rapid Transit Company will meet this evening for the purpose of discussing the practicability of running a branch line to the moon." Was it just another vagary of Hebron's sense of humor, or had the printer's devil put one over on the "Old man"? The issue of the following day recorded that the stockholders meeting of the O. K. & E. had been held the preceding day, officers were elected, with Hebron of the Mercury, secretary, and the president had reported that arrangements had been made to finance construction to the south line by way of Ford City. For some reason new flights of fancy did not come easily to the Mercury in booming railroads in 1888. The leap-year issue of February 29 reprinted substantially a last year's article about the Santa Fe cutting out its arcs. The only other significant mentions of railroads occurred on April 6, when the president of the O. K. & E. appeared before the board of trade stating that construction would begin as soon as the bonds were voted, and April 17 when a promise was made of a speedy bond election.

One of the most peculiar features of the boom of 1887, as it was reflected in the press of Edwards county, was the neglect, almost omission, of agriculture. There were no discussions of field crops, or of live stock, varieties of products, adaptation, or methods of production. The ballyhoo was railroads, town lots, and manufacturing. The farmer came into the picture only as an incidental factor connected with the other three subjects. Other cities and towns had behaved similarly.

During the long winter the Kansas boomers themselves became conscious of the omission, and there were numerous instances where western Kansas papers in 1888 began to emphasize the necessity of building a sound prosperity on the product of the local farms. In this connection the Mercury fell in line urging the business men to get behind the sugar factory and to assist in modernizing its machinery to produce sugar as well as syrup. This would provide a market for sorghum, the sure crop of Edwards county, and on January 12 it returned to the rural question suggesting "that it was high time an effort was made to boom our farming lands, just a little. City building is all right and proper, but the country


must be kept in the line of procession . . . ." A few days later it advised all farmers to plant a little flax, in view of the papier maché plant, and even if there was no market for the straw the seed was as valuable as any other crop.

The failure of crops the preceding year was so serious that many farmers did not have seed to plant another crop. As early as February 22 the Mercury reported that Greensburg had raised $800 to buy seed for Kiowa county, but except for flax seed, Edwards county did not act until March, when the board of trade arranged to advance seed of all kinds to farmers unable to buy through the usual channels.[15] They would do nothing about the sugar mill, however, and a meeting reported in the Mercury April 6 that Bennyworth, the owner, stated that it was too late to expect to renovize the mill for the current season. The conclusion seems justified that, except for the imperative matter of spring seed, the business and boom leadership, although conscious of something lacking, did not understand how or where to take hold of the agricultural problem. Their peculiar talents were much more fitted to the attempt to revive the industrial boom of 1887.

The first boom article in 1888 of the type so common the year before was printed by the Daily Mercury, February 3:

Already our people have caught the inspiration of the great boom coming, and are marching in time to the music. There are more new buildings planned in Kinsley today than ever were built here in any two years of the city's history, and there are more inquiries being made by eastern people regarding our city than ever before; and it is safe to presume that when spring opens there will be such a rush to Kinsley as our most ardent and enthusiastic boomer never dreamed of . . . By the middle of April or the first of May the probabilities now are that more than a million dollars worth of buildings-business houses, hotels, factories and machine shops will be in the course of erection.

In addition to all this we have here one of the finest and best waterpowers in the state, a stream, whose banks on either side might be dotted with mills and factories and still not exhaust its power.

Fortunately for Hebron's equanimity the phrase "Oh, Yeah" had not yet been invented. He might have pointed in defense to the report in the same issue of the paper, however, that the First National Bank had just declared a four per cent dividend on its first six month's business and placed $1,500 in its surplus fund besides. The next day the headlines to the news story of the meeting of the board of trade ran "Over forty new members added . . . . Four hundred dollars subscribed in ten minutes. Which amount will be quad


rupled at the next meeting, Tuesday evening. Everybody jubilant over our prospects. 'Tis not Wealth, nor Fortune, nor High Estate, but Git up and Git that makes men Great. Measured by this standard our people are Great. Great is Kinsley and the Mercury is Her Prophet."

Again on February 11 the Daily Mercury expounded its theory- of booming:

There are several hundred towns in Kansas, each represented by a good newspaper or two, and each clamoring to be heard on the subject of the merits of the locality in which it is located. These towns may be compared to as many men in a room, all talking at once and each anxious to be heard. Speaking for the Mercury we propose to talk loud enough to attract attention.

The big meeting at the Opera House February 10, under the auspices of the board of trade, was reported in the local papers and in the Topeka Commonwealth. The features of the evening were speeches by the men representing the two big manufacturing enterprises, packing and papier maché R. R. Beemis, president, and George W. Adams, secretary, spoke for the Interstate Packing Company, and George Quigley, of Randolph, Mo., patentee, and F. E. Parker spoke for papier maché. The Daily Mercury, February 15, pictured Kansas "'Tis a land of mighty rivers flowing over sands of gold. All nature conspires to boom sunny Kansas in 1888."[16] The issue of February 18 boasted that "God might have made a better country, but doubtless He never did," and on February 17 declared that "The prospects of Kinsley could not well be brighter than at present. Should the present plans materialize, Kinsley will, in the very near future become the leading manufacturing and commercial city of Kansas. Not a second Hutchinson or Wichita, but a city of from fifty to seventy-five thousand in the next two years."

But like the wasp and his relatives the sting was in the tail, because near the end of the article he added the qualification: "We must, however, have the nerve to grasp our opportunities. So far our people have done nothing, absolutely nothing." The particular enterprise then being urged was the organization of a stock yards company, because without such facilities Kinsley could not become a live-stock market.

Until this spring boom revival there had been nothing explicit published concerning the method of subsidizing industries in this money-


less country to attract them to Kinsley. The first definite reference occurred in the above editorial on the stock-yards company, and in the next issue the matter became the subject of a full-length article.

The plan was for land owners in the city and vicinity to list their lands and to pledge in so doing half the profits from the sale of the lands as a bonus to the new industries. The explanation represented that the same principle was involved as in federal land grants to railroads of alternate sections. The grant of lands made the railroad construction possible and enhanced the value of all land near the road. The same idea applied to Kinsley bonuses meant that without the prospective industries the land would enhance in value very slowly, while with the industrial development all land would be benefited. Half of these profits on land listed on the bonus plan would accrue to the companies during the period in which their capital investment was unproductive, and the other half retained by the land owners would exceed greatly the whole profit obtainable if the industries did not locate there. For a community without cash such a scheme sounded attractive.

The organization of the Kinsley Water Power and Land Company with a capital stock of $300,000 was announced in the Daily Mercury, March 1. A meeting was reported March 28, at which the officers of the packing house and papier-maché factory presented a proposition for a canning factory. They solicited an offer of a suitable bonus to transmit to the canning interests they were representing. A committee was appointed and the next day the report was published that an understanding had been reached which it was thought would be favorably received.

Under the caption "No Boom for Kinsley," the Daily Mercury, April 10, presented in display headlines "A plain unvarnished statement of facts. It is what we are sure of that makes us happy. Kinsley not driven to false representations to create a market for town lots." The article which followed employed much the same technique as the notorious article of December 15:

Our readers will remember that a few weeks since we stated that we were through with writing boom literature. That we have religiously lived up to this promise our patrons car? attest. Indeed so well pleased are we at the result of the experiment that nothing could induce us to publish a boom article. A plain statement of facts concerning the great enterprises going in here is sufficient.

Then followed reference to the "mammoth packing house and papiermaché factory" and the announcement that work on the packing plant would commence April 17: "With the mammoth


industrial and commercial enterprises going in here the great need of our city was felt to be in the line of more railroads. This longfelt want, we are happy to state is about to be filled."

The bond election for the O. K. & E. was to be called at an early date. The D. M. & A., about which hope had almost been given up, would arrive about midsummer and would connect with the Kingman-Larned road at Turon. The Frisco and Rock Island would be built also before the end of the season. These were the predictions of the Mercury.

A week later the Daily Mercury carried five boom articles. One of them mentioned under "Possibilities" the desire of the Portable House Company of Grand Rapids, Mich., to locate there, and the board of trade was said to be corresponding with a boot and shoe company of Massachusetts. Another article announced the organization of the Union Stock Yards Company, and the possibility of a second packing house. There were certain peculiar things about the issue of April 17. Except for a few locals the issue was reprinted complete April 18. One of the articles was a reprint from the previous year, "Kinsley's Find," the story of the waterpower, published as though it was a new discovery. This reprinting of the ebullitions of 1887 was becoming a habit, and this was the fifth time it had occurred within a few weeks.

During the remainder of April and May the booming continued, the Mercury, April 2, for instance announcing self-consciously, "The population of Kinsley to be quadrupled the present season, this is no lie, we have our little hatchet with us." Three days later, in competing with Ralph M. Easley of the Hutchinson News in bragging like small boys about their respective towns, Hebron boasted that his town "becomes a competitive [live stock] market with Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago." And before long, he continued, Hutchinson would be buying Kinsley paper, and Kinsley canned goods, and would be patronizing Kinsley as its wholesale center instead of Kansas City and Wichita. On April 26 the paper recorded the arrival in Kinsley of the president of the papier-maché company, but nearly a month later he arrived again, to start operations on the plant. In the meantime the packing house was actually under construction, and May 21, the Daily Mercury reported thirty-six men at work. Banner-Graphic locals recorded progress also, from week to week, commenting that it was not so important how fast the work was done, as that work continued to be done at all. The Daily Mercury gasped for breath May 22 assuring its readers that


"The Mercury will `say something' just as soon as there is something to say. It will not be a great while either." It was June 20 before it committed another boom article, an exhausting effort from which it never recovered, and then on July 14 it quietly expired, leaving a brief note of farewell, half hopeful of a glorious resurrection in the life to come:

We'll see you later. As soon as business livens up and Kinsley starts out on another boom we'll be on the ground with the Daily Mercury to carry the news to Mary. For the present we propose to give the people a rest ....

At the present time a daily is hardly a necessity in Kinsley, and when regarded in the light of a luxury it is just a trifle too expensive.

There is no necessity for moralizing or philosophizing over the matter. . . . the daily is a thing of the past. Good bye. We'll come again sometime perhaps.

Eighteen-eighty-eight was another year of short crops. Corn was the principal field crop, and August 9 the Weekly Mercury admitted there was no use denying that the dry weather has injured the yield, but enough would be raised for home consumption and to spare, and even "should the worst possible luck befall us, Edwards county will raise four times as much corn this year as last." There was a little wheat. acreage that year, but the crop was reported fair. Oats were rather generally very short. After viewing the prospects, the Banner-Graphic concluded July 6 that "we are now convinced that what Kansas needs more than anything else is scientific farming aided by a little more capital." It was thinking of farming, however, in terms of corn. Comments on crop prospects later in the season pointed to the planting of a larger wheat acreage than formerly, but West Kansas had yet to find itself in this matter.

The year which had begun with such apparently high hopes of retrieving the disaster of 1887, turned to disappointment long before its close. The immigrants had not come, neither had the railroads, nor the industries, the rains or the crops. Drought had come again and stayed. A correspondent wrote to the Banner-Graphic that "while crossing the Arkansas during the summer, I noticed clouds of dust rising from the river's bed. It struck me quite forcibly that the river needed irrigating, just enough to lay the dust." In hopes of aiding the farmers to meet their dire need of money income, the Kinsley board of trade attempted to establish a periodic live-stock auction in September, advertising from Newton west, in order to get better prices for stock. The project died. The board again agitated the sugarmill question, but with no better results. Finally the farmers called a meeting to give consideration to the establishment


of cheese factories. Eventually two coöperative plants were organized, at Kinsley and at Lewis, which afforded some cash to the communities immediately adjacent to those towns.

Even while booming was most hysterically insistent, news items inadvertently revealed more than was intended. Many of the less tangible boom towns, such as Fargo Springs or Ravanna, collapsed as quickly as they had come. Others suffered disastrous fires, which frequently visited boom towns, by coincidence, after the bubble had burst. In March, 1888, at Coldwater, a whole block burned, and at Cimarron the whole north side, except one brick building. Taxes for 1887, which became delinquent after June 30, 1888, were advertised in August. At the top of the first column, the Mercury printed a short paragraph from an exchange: "Kansas is one of the biggest and grandest states on the American continent. It has 106 counties, is a total abstainer from strong drink, Republican in politics, prolific in soil, and inexhaustible in resources." Then followed five columns of tax-delinquent real estate; three of Kinsley city lots, and two of farm lands. It is evident that Kinsley's boom resources were about exhausted, but not quite. Several near-by towns, early in 1888, had promoted the boring of test wells to locate salt, or coal, or gas. Although Kinsley had ridiculed this movement at the time, it had admitted condescendingly that. more salt underlay Kinsley than Hutchinson. Kinsley had anticipations of bigger enterprises in those days. By December, 1888, the town was somewhat humbled, however, and a movement was organized to bore a hole in the ground for just anything. Like the other booms it failed, no hole was bored, and Kinsley was left still wondering "what might lie beneath the surface." By January, 1889, the Kinsley fire department was reported to be "getting plenty of practice."

The dispersal or eclipse of the boomers was relatively a quick process. Most of them, after the collapse, fell into such obscurity that their departure or later activities were not made a matter of specific record. Along with the boomers, many of the established business enterprises passed out of existence. The Edwards County Real Estate Co., managed by Arthur, the official booster of the board of trade, was dissolved in February, 1890. The real estate and loan agents, instead of carrying quarter-page advertisements, disappeared altogether from the Mercury in 1890 and were represented in the Graphic by only two obscure notices. The stores continued to sell for "cash only," and came to boast of the virtues of the "spot cash idea."


A prolonged depression brings forth other marks of its demoralizing ravages, and usually the last phase of a boom and its collapse is the rise of political discontent. In 1887 there had been a People's party movement in the county elections. In 1888 the national and state elections provided a wider range of agitation. The Knights of Labor became active as early as January, and in the late summer political organization produced vociferous Union Labor and Prohibition parties. The Democratic Graphic, while supporting the Democratic ticket, nevertheless gave aid and comfort to the other two minority parties, avowing that as neither had a newspaper through which to present its views, the Graphic would undertake to give them full publicity. The Republican ticket was elected, but the leaders of discontent set about preparing a continuous system of agitation, partly through the organization of a Union Labor club which held meetings every week for discussion of economic issues, especially money and tariff.

The political campaign opened early in 1889 for a year in which only county officials were elected. The Mercury, May 30, took notice of the so-called People's party movement, insisting that the people were really quite unaware that such a "spontaneous uprising of the 'people'" was taking place. Rather it was a movement with two or three politicians as wet nurses and "the capital stock

is in its name . . . spelled with a capital P. Its assets will be based upon the supposed gullibility of the `People'." A week later the Mercury again belabored the political "soreheads." In the November election the People's party polled a modest vote, but did not elect any candidates. Their boom was not yet ripe.

The next stage in the evolution of the political boom began in January, 1890, when the so-called Edwards County Farmers Alliance was organized at Kinsley with county-seat politicians as ringleaders. The unsuccessful People's party candidate for county treasurer in the election of the preceding November was chosen president, and the candidate for register of deeds secretary. In spite of the name this was merely the Kinsley subordinate alliance, and in a few weeks others were organized throughout the county. The real County Farmers Alliance was organized at a delegate convention held at Lewis February 17. The Alliance was represented as nonpolitical, and in that guise drew membership without. respect to party lines. But as summer wore on it became clear that the leaders of the Union Labor party of 1888 and the People's party of 1889, combined with regular Democrats, were really in control and


were determined on using it for political purposes. During its early months the Alliance discussed agricultural problems, especially those touching the marketing of farm products, but later in the year they turned almost exclusively to the political issues of 1890 as they were drawn between the Republican and Democratic parties, the Alliances opposing the Republican party on tariff, trusts and money. In effect, the Alliances took essentially the Democratic position on all the main issues of the campaign.

In March the Kinsley Alliance, renamed Sunflower, adopted a political platform and pledged itself not to support any candidate who would not pledge himself to it. The state Alliance, later in the month, took similar ground. The Republican Mercury supported the Alliance movement through the early part of the year, but denounced the attempts of the political element, especially the Sunflower Alliance, to make it a political party. Finally, July 24, with the calling of Alliance nominating conventions to put candidates of their own into the field, the Mercury turned definitely against it, declaring that "The Alliance is now an opposition political party, and of course must be treated as such." The Kinsley Sunflower Alliance, not satisfied with casting votes against the Republican party ring in the county, voted August 30 a boycott of the Mercury. Shortly afterward, the County Alliance, acting as a People's party central committee, issued a call for a People's party convention to meet September 13 to nominate a county ticket. The outcome of the election in November was a clean sweep for the People's party in county offices, including a mortgage company lawyer for county attorney.

The aim and excuse for booming was to get rich quick. It was a speculation or, to put it more vulgarly, a form of gambling. In the boom the mania had passed through several phases, in each of which a particular feature had received a larger emphasis than others; the small-farmer boom based on free government land or cheap government and railroad land, then the townsite boom, the railroad boom, and the industrial and town-lot boom. With the collapse of the boom as a whole, the emotional defense of a disillusioned and nearly desperate people alternated between religion and politics; religion from January to planting time, and politics from harvest (or the time when harvest should have come) to November, but in the nineties it settled down to politics pretty much all the year round. The political program took the form of an appeal to the government to rescue them from their folly and from


the visitations of nature, and quickly to make them rich. They blamed their misfortunes on the political party in power, on somebody else, not on themselves. The protective tariff, they said, required the farmer to buy in a protected market, and sell in a free market; the trusts forced prices of finished products to the maximum, while manipulating the markets for raw materials so that the farmer received less than cost of production; the bankers, through control of credit and curtailment of the volume of money, beat down farm prices and wages, strangled the producing classes, and consolidated in their own hands the wealth of all.

These boomers being gamblers themselves found it not unnatural to use the gambling terminology in their political revolt, and, holding a bad hand, accused the dealer of dishonesty and called for a "new deal,"[17] the People's party. It is admitted that this diagnosis of the movement is not complete, but in touching on the Populist movement as a phase of the boom, this aspect of it must be sharply emphasized. Undoubtedly the movement had two important aims, recovery of losses and reform, but the motives were badly mixed, and it is probably impossible ever to know exactly where to draw the dividing line between them.

While there can be no doubt that a higher price for farm products would have afforded the community a larger income, there is serious question whether a moderate difference in price through these years would have changed materially the situation as a whole. The outstanding fact for some ten years after 1886 was that the commercial surplus of farm products at any reasonable price would have yielded a wholly inadequate income on a normal capitalization of land, improvements and equipment, both urban and rural. Viewed in terms of the inflated capital values resulting from the boom, the situation was hopeless for most land holders, especially if in debt. Only a limited number of land owners, however, and mostly speculative buyers, had purchased farms at highly inflated figures. For the most part to the average resident farmer of Edwards county high price land was not the dominant factor, for in large measure they had received their farms free as homesteads or timber claims, or at low prices as preemption claims. If they were heavily in debt, it was for improvements, or because of insufficient income resulting from crop failures and low prices, or because of small farm units and insufficient working capital, or combinations of these elements. The question of the size of the farm unit scarcely received mention in the contemporary


press discussions. The quarter section farm predominated and relatively few men had adequate capital to operate that efficiently, while the minimum-sized unit should have been a half-section or larger.

The Populist enthusiasts among historians have been prone to interpret the party almost entirely in terms of reform, although they are not agreed on just the nature of the reform. In Edwards county it is significant,, therefore, to test briefly the current hypothesis. On July 13, 1893, the People's party convention met at Larned to nominate a candidate for the judgeship of the sixteenth district. A bitter fight ensued in which the worst of old line party tactics were employed in selecting Fred S. Hatch, and Editor French, in reviewing the episode in the Populist Graphic, concluded with the vehement declaration that "the methods pursued by his [Hatch's] supporters in Pawnee county . . . were a disgrace to the party and an outrage on its members." Nevertheless on November 3, the last issue before election, the Graphic called on all Populists to vote the ticket straight. The same issue also praised W. S. Hebron, former Mercury editor and former postmaster, recently dismissed from government service for embezzlement, for his remarkable Populist speeches in which he "completely captured" his audience.

After some years in control of the county offices a Populist voter protested in the Graphic against the fact that no reform had been instituted. He said that he voted for the party because it promised to reduce taxation, but his taxes had been increased 33 per cent; county officers' fees were retained by the incumbents instead of being applied to reduce taxation. The Graphic defended the party record, one of the main points being that the officers were following strictly the law. The issue was then joined squarely by the protestor:

The present officials are to blame because, as reformers, they have not made the slightest attempt to expose these old Demo-Republican laws. No, the moment they get to sucking the public teat, I am sorry to say, they went to "sawing wood" and said nothing, just like their Demo-Republican predecessors.[18]

Somewhat later one of the county officers was "smoked out" and replied in the Graphic, March 29, in a classic of reform literature. He warned that the discussion of salaries and fees "may create dissension in our party," and then continued:

The article referred to above implies that it would greatly please him, or them, for the present incumbents of the county offices to preach their own funeral sermons and proclaim themselves fools at one and the same time


by taking less than the Republican statute makes it lawful for them to take. If there is a readjustment of salaries of county officers desired by the tax payers of this county, it will have to come through the People's party. The present law is Republican. I have worked for reform for 20 years, and will not be the last to advocate it now. Let us be active, harmonious and united, and never let it be said that the People's party lost their prestige in Edwards county by petty dissensions in their ranks.

If further illustration is necessary it may be found in the conduct of the register of deeds, T. H. Evans, in 1897. At that time tile owner of a half-section of land in the Ohio City project sold it, but the fees which accumulated in the filing of the papers on the numerous tracts into which it had been subdivided amounted to more than $700. The purchaser then refused to accept delivery and though the transfer was not completed Evans sued the owner to recover his fees. Judgment was rendered in favor of Evans September 7, 1897, for $766, plus costs of $34.80, and the land was sold by the sheriff to satisfy the claim. Mrs. Evans bid it in at $200, the court accepted the bid, and the transfer was recorded May 14, 1898. Two days later the property was sold by Evans for a consideration .of $1,200.[19] A correspondent of the Graphic in the issue of May 31, 1895, put his finger on a vital spot in a jeremiad on the crop outlook of the season: "If it don't rain pretty soon and the wind stop blowing, we will have to have another campaign to redeem Kansas this fall." The election did not turn out that way, however, even though the harvest was nearly a failure. The People's party and the Republican party divided honors evenly in county offices. In other words Populism was slipping, and in the presidential campaign of 1896 they fused with the Democrats and did whip up a campaign to redeem Kansas. In order to accomplish this, and in the face of sharp minority protests, they threw overboard their reform platform and united the whole opposition to Republicanism on the single issue of silver.

The weakness of the People's party was not so much in the inadequacy of the reform program, even though that was defective, but rather in the "reformers." As individuals, they themselves had not been regenerated. Certainly nothing can be said in defense of the Republican county ring in Edwards county, but the Populists were little if any better. Whatever the good intentions in the beginning of the reform agitation, it turned out to be primarily a case


of the outs trying to oust the ins by capitalizing on the misfortunes of the postboom period.

The liquidation of the boom and the accompanying readjustment was a long- drawn-out process, covering over a decade. The people never did quite learn that prosperity would not return next year with a big spring immigration, a bumper corn crop, or a new industrial plant of some kind. On January 10, 1889, the Mercury seemed almost convinced:

It must be confessed that times are a trifle dull at present, but it should be remembered that it is only about six or eight weeks until the grass will start to grow.

P. S. We have been consoling ourself with this reflection for a week, but now that we have reduced it to writing we can't for the life of us see where the consolation comes in. We don't propose to eat grass, by a darned sight.

Six weeks later one cannot be so sure that booming was over:

The "booming" business seems to be over in Kansas and nobody cares to renew a boom of any kind; but the people of Kansas never let up on business enterprises, and are always keeping an eye on the main chance. Every town in Kansas, however small or unimportant, has something on foot to benefit the place. Salt wells, gas wells, coal mines, sugar mills, canning factories, foundries, creameries, paper mills and many other enterprises and industries are being considered and pushed forward . . . . It is this spirit of watchfulness and perseverence that keeps Kansas at the head of the procession.

The Banner-Graphic on March 15 was much less restrained in its article which opened with a similar condemnation of "wild speculation" and then urged the energetic development of "the grand and varied natural resources" of the country; gas, paint, salt and other substances-even diamonds might turn up.

To the disaster of drought and depression in western Kansas was added the opening of Oklahoma, which drew from the Graphic the second-hand, but no less fervent, comment that "Now that we have Oklahoma, hell is no longer a necessity." Kinsley and Edwards county sent forty or fifty of its citizens with good references to assist in the boom. The Mercury made the claim that there was not a farmer in the crowd. Kinsley was well represented in Guthrie, Lisbon, and Kingfisher. One lumber dealer loaded his stock in a car and joined the other forty-six lumber yards at Guthrie, while Hebron, in addition to editing the Mercury at Kinsley, edited a paper at Kingfisher. Although the Kansas boomers in Oklahoma had complete schooling in the art, and possessed, absolute confidence in their extraordinary talents, they found it quite impossible to make a fortune out of nothing, and by the middle of the summer many


were returning. They found that even Kinsley offered greater prospects than Oklahoma.

During the spring of 1890 several conventions were held throughout southwest Kansas in the interest of an immigration bureau [20] and in later years there were similar revivals, but all met the same fate. Population was moving out, not in. At the peak of the boom in 1887 the state census reported Kinsley population at 1,206 and the county at 4,717. Except for an increase in 1893, the decline in inhabitants was continuous until 1897, when the city figures were 681 and the county 3,024. The county did not again reach the boom numbers of the year 1887 until 1903, and the city of Kinsley until 1904.

In contrast with the boom period the economic history of the county in depression is concerned almost solely with agriculture. Kinsley, the city, settled back into the obscurity of a country village where farmers brought their eggs and butter on Saturdays and traded for a few groceries. Its only distinction was the doubtful one of a county court house with an empty treasury.

The certainty of the sorghum crop kept the sugar-mill issue alive, but not enough capital could be raised to modernize the machinery, so the plant operated only as a syrup mill. Kaffir corn was relatively new to western Kansas and the papers carried several articles during the spring in which its culture was discussed. There was no kaffir boom, but gradually the new plant became established as a reliable dry-weather forage and seed crop. For some time certain live-stock men had taken the initiative in cooperating with small farmers in horse breeding and in 1889 substantial shipments began to eastern points. Probably also part of the horses shipped were the better class of horses sacrificed by hard-pressed farmers to secure a little cash. These out-shipments of horses continued for the next two years. During this season several live-stock men entered heavily into the transient cattle business, buying their stock iii Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona for grass fattening or even finishing in Edwards county. Many of these cattle were sold in small lots to farmers, or were handled by farmers on shares or a rental basis. In the following years, in addition to this type of business, Kinsley became for a time an important distributing point for western cattle to be placed in the eastern Kansas bluestem pastures or in the corn-belt feed lots.

The wheat yield of the county in 1889 was large, but the acreage was small, and the corn crop was fair, but the price almost nothing.


There was much talk of burning corn instead of coal. The Edwards County Bank in September offered loans to farmers to enable them to buy cattle to feed hoping thereby to aid its patrons to realize a larger income on the corn. Hay shipments were large during the winter and supplemented other sources of income. In the spring an attempt was made to interest farmers in raising castor beans, but they did not make anyone rich. The good wheat yield of 1889 was followed by another in 1890, and Turkey hard winter wheat was gaining the ascendancy. Short items in the papers indicate clearly the trend:

The wheat crop of this county this year will relieve a number of farmers of quite a large amount of indebtedness and put. them on their feet so that they can be a little more independent in the future.-Graphic, June 27, 1890.

An immense crop of wheat will be sown this fall, as it is the only thing a man can rely on to meet his taxes and interest.-Graphic, July 25, 1890.

The Mercury reported August 21 that the wheat acreage would at least be quadrupled over tile last year, and "taking into consideration the prices that farmers are realizing for their grain this year it is by odds the most prosperous of any in the history of the county." Kinsley implement men were well pleased with this development because they sold an unusual amount of machinery, especially drills.

General conditions were not as favorable as these optimistic reports indicate. Corn and feed crops were short and before spring live stock was reported suffering from the severity of the winter and from scarcity of feed. During 1891 dry weather and chinch bugs damaged all crops, but the short yields were offset to some degree by high prices during August and early September. Later in the fall prices of both grain and live stock collapsed. Among the newer experiments induced by these conditions was an emphasis on irrigation and alfalfa as forms of insurance against complete loss of farm income.

The drift toward wheat and the prolonged depression caused absentee landowners to take more aggressive steps to realize some income from their unsalable holdings. The years 1892 and 1893 were especially noteworthy for the amount of sod broken for these absentees. The temporary increase in population and the enlarged farming operations of 1893 caused a turn in the tide of the horse business and heavy importations from the East were recorded. Then crop failure stopped the movement and outshipments were resumed the following year.

The time came when even wheat did not produce and again ex-


periment was the order of the day. Broom corn had been fairly certain as a supplementary money crop, but in 1894 the price was abnormally low. Renewed interest was taken in pump irrigation and in alfalfa. An attempt was made in 1895 to start hemp culture. The cheese factory was revived by Kinsley business men to replace the cooperative plant of earlier years, but most farmers had disposed of their milk cows in order to raise wheat during the wheat boom and the milk supply within reasonable distance of this factory was insufficient.

The crop failures of 1894 brought disaster to a large part of Kansas, and government relief seemed to be the only way out. The legislature acted accordingly. Among the relief measures was one authorizing the distribution of seed to farmers in the form of loans in the fourth, sixth and seventh congressional districts; one for the distribution of coal; and another requiring local officials to make fireguards at public expense. By March 8, Edwards county had advanced coal to 100 families in amounts ranging from 500 to 800 pounds, and ninety-nine applications for seed were filed. By a perversion of the fireguard law, local officers in western counties decided to make fireguards in the spring instead of in August in order to get protection, to save moisture and to get money into circulation among farmers. The first two allegations were probably excuses, while the last was the reason.

The winter wheat crop was reported from South Brown township in the Graphic, March 29, 1895, as "wheat dull; twenty-five cents per acre asked, no bids, no sales." Root blight had killed most of the wheat. South Brown reported again May 31: "We have no wheat that will make twenty bushels to the acre, but we have `scads' of it that will go twenty acres to the bushel." The pastures by this time were reported dry enough to burn, and the same correspondent reported further "Weather cold-sand drifting-people blue-fruit killed or blown away-hurrah for Kansas." In July he suggested again, with his usual shrewd cynicism, that "If wheat should bring $1 per bushel, we suppose the farmers of Edwards county will sell every cow, pig and chicken they have, and try to get up another over-production."[21]

Nature and the price system succeeded, however, in preventing both dollar wheat and over-production. On August 2 the Graphic reported that the grasshoppers were stripping the leaves from the trees. Two weeks later, the smut damage to corn was estimated


at one-third. As late as September 27 the local items reported "No wheat sown yet., and but little preparation made in that direction, owing to dry weather," but October 11 the Lewis items recorded rains that put the ground in fine condition, while South Brown commented that "This cool, dry weather is hard on flies, grasshoppers, chintz bugs, Republicans and other pests." Yields for the season were reported at the same time as two bushels per acre for wheat and mostly about ten for corn. The best market for such corn as was raised was the Laird ranch near the east line of the county, which paid seventeen cents per bushel for ear corn. During the winter of 1895-1896 some outside relief came to this part of Kansas from the Santa Fe railroad which was engaged in laying new steel. Homesteaders came to Kinsley from as far south as Oklahoma to earn a little cash by working on the steel gang.

The year 1896 was similar only in a different manner. Among the new crops offered to the farmer was peanuts, but there was little opportunity to make them a money crop. The early summer was dry and damaged early corn, but during the remainder of the crop season rainfall was favorable. Irrigation plants were idle. The curse of the season was of different origin. Insects of all kinds appeared in appalling numbers. Possibly the extremely dry, hot weather of preceding seasons had upset the balance in the insect world by killing off certain species that normally preyed upon others. Whatever the explanation they ate "everything . . . green, except the inhabitants," according to the South Brown correspondent. Grasshoppers finished what the dry weather left of the early corn as well as the peach crop. Whitehead army worms cut off the wheat heads just before they matured. Potato bugs ruined the potato crop and disappeared only when there was nothing else left to eat. Red ants damaged the corn, aided by cut worms and grasshoppers. South Brown challenged any township to "show more worms, greater variety, and better quality." In the midst of calamity the South Brown Populist cynic pretended to be hopeful that the next season would be "free from all kinds of pests" under "McKinley and protection." The wheat that had promised twenty bushels per acre yielded five, and in late October the grasshoppers and drought were playing havoc with the next year's crop. Corn yields made about 70 per cent of the expected crop.

Everybody was agreed on at least one thing, that the famed Kansas "Eyetalian climate" was not performing according to the specifi-


cations of the real-estate agents. Instead of man limiting himself to the adaptation of his mode of living to the conditions provided by nature, he is perennially cursed with the urge to change and to improve upon nature to make it conform to his wishes by rain-making, irrigation and timber growth. Private advisers had been urging throughout the decade that farmers irrigate and plant orchards and windbreaks. The state government now revised its irrigation law and the government was again aiding and abetting man's conspiracy by advertising that forest trees would be furnished free, except freight, to all who would apply to the commissioner of forestry at Dodge City. Black locust trees predominated in the tree stock offered, but other varieties included on the list were honey locust, white ash, box elder, alianthus and elm.[22]

If Kansas people could have thought of other crops to experiment with no doubt they would have given them a trial. At that time the agricultural colleges and experiment stations had not developed far enough to have accomplished much toward doing this experimental work under a system of governmental subsidy. The farmers did their own experimenting, for the most part. A decade of drought had not resulted in the discovery of any crops that could survive with certainty. Cattle, hard winter wheat, sorghum and kaffir corn, while not drought proof, had made the best showing, although the verdict against the corn tradition, associated naturally with live stock, had not been decisive.[23]


Bank failures, tax delinquency, tax evasion, tax deeds, mortgages, stay laws and redemption laws were painful subjects, but were the intimate and persistent companions of Edwards county people during this dry decade. The historian is more fortunate than they, inasmuch as he can exclude such subject matter altogether from his narrative or limit the space allotted it for his particular purpose. Both defensive devises are resorted to here. The first bank failure was that of the Edwards County Bank in October, 1890, followed by the Exchange Bank in 1893. The Graphic, February 16, 1894, carried the announcement of the dissolution of the First National Bank and its reorganization as a state bank with a reduced capital. The reasons for this action were set forth in a short statement which is highly significant to the historian of the national banking system.

We have taken this step because the limited amount of banking business in this section does not pay the expenses incident to the National system and leave us a reasonable interest on the amount of capital required by law to be invested in order to retain a national charter.

The personal property valuations in Edwards county for purposes of taxation in 1883, before the boom, totaled $112,844. This item rose to $309,551 in 1886 and then decreased to a low of $32,307 in 1896. In Wayne township at one time only three persons paid


a personal property tax, and they were merchants. Land valuations in 1884 amounted to $341,602, reaching $553,869 in 1887 and rising continuously thereafter because of the patenting of homesteads and tree claims entered during the settlement period of the middle eighties. The average valuation per acre offers no guidance because it fluctuated narrowly between the limits of $2.01 and $2.33 for nearly a decade. The total valuation of city lots was $62,400 in 1884, reached $251,746 in 1888, and declined to $135,922 in 1900. Railroad valuations were increased through the decade. There is more in the tax figures, however, than appears on the surface, because abnormally low valuations on personal property and on farm improvements tended to reduce the relative share of tax burden of the resident farmer, shifting it to the unimproved nonresident owned land and to the railroads.

The record of tax delinquency after the boom seems appalling at first sight, and while it was serious for the community, an analysis tends to dissipate some of the gloom. The publication list of tax-delinquent land in 1889 occupied twenty columns in the local paper, fifteen of which were Kinsley and two Wendell city lots. Farm land listings made somewhat over four columns, but part of them were small tracts adjacent to Kinsley, which had been subdivided for promotion purposes. In 1890 the list occupied seventeen columns, twelve and a. half of which were Kinsley lots. In 1891 it was an eight-column story, in 1892 eleven, 1893 eight, 1894 thirteen, 1895 twelve, and 1896 ten and one-half.24 The list of agricultural lands fell to a little over two columns in 1892 and 1893, rising to six in 1895, and falling to four and one-half in 1896. So far as tax delinquency reflected hard times, the city of Kinsley suffered more seriously than the rural districts from the immediate collapse of the boom. The farmers' ability to pay did not hit bottom until the middle nineties.25 Some specially favored city lot owners had received partial relief by going to the state legislature for special dispensations removing parts of their additions from the city limits and freeing them from the burden of the city taxes necessary to pay Kinsley's boom debts. Others had secured relief by selling the improvements .off their lots, and many north-side farms benefited thereby. South-side farmers obtained cheap buildings in a similar


manner from Kinsley's boom rivals, the Belpre community drawing from Larned and Lewis and vicinity from Greensburg.[26]

Tax delinquency for three years, if not removed by payment of back taxes and charges, resulted in a transfer of title by tax deed. The final test, therefore, of the seriousness of nonpayment of taxes previously reviewed is indicated by this final disposal of the land. The first large lot of tax-deed transfers was advertised in April, 1892, for taxes of 1888 delinquent after June 30, 1889. Something less than half of the land sold for taxes in September, 1889, had been redeemed, leaving a total of twelve columns advertised for taxdeed transfer in April, 1892. Kinsley city lots made up ten, Wendell one, and agricultural lands one column. In 1893 the total was over fourteen columns and in 1894 twelve and a half, but in 1895 the list dropped to five and one-half, and in 1896 to four. In 1894 and 1895 agricultural lands occupied about one column, and in 1896 one and one-half.

The loss of land by individuals for nonpayment of taxes is only one side of the problem. From the standpoint of government finance it was almost equally disastrous. The breakdown in the tax system left the county without adequate funds for several years. It was 1893 before the treasurer was able to take up the unpaid warrants issued in 1888, and it required several years more before the county was on a cash basis.

The mortgage question is too complicated to be treated adequately except as a separate study. Mortgage loans were of various kinds, certain ones bearing directly on the community, while others only indirectly became local problems. The resident-farmer debtor was the leading case under the first head. The local creditor was not an important factor, because there had been few men with capital to loan. Leaving the resident farmer who was improving his homestead out of the question for the moment, a large part of the mortgage loans were speculative. Many homesteaders or tree-claim holders had been purely speculators or farmers who were easily discouraged. Many of these had borrowed to the limit to prove up, and then deserted with the proceeds leaving the creditor to foreclose. Many other speculators bought at high valuations making only a small down payment. Their mortgages were quickly foreclosed. Many Easterners had bought land as an investment, only to suffer a collapse in its value. Just how many of each type there were, it is impossible to know, and for that reason a wholly satisfactory treat


ment of this topic is impossible. Nevertheless the agricultural land holders of these types were nonresidents, they were reluctant to liquidate their holdings at distress prices, and hoped, of course, that prosperity would soon return. The resident farmers struggled to hold their farms against nonresident creditors, advocating stay laws or redemption laws, and secured the latter allowing an eighteen months redemption period. The issue between resident and nonresident was acute. The resident pastured nonresident land or cut hay from it, and shifted as much of the tax burden as possible to his shoulders. The nonresident refused to expend money for improvements, or to plow fireguards, and the lack of fire protection resulted frequently in the partial or even complete loss of many farmers' homes, crops and live stock.

In 1896 the newspapers record that Easterners were beginning to sell out, the prices ranging from $250 to $750 per quarter.[27] This was the beginning of the end, the liquidation running its course during the next five or six years. They were taking whatever they could get-that is, when the question is viewed from the standpoint of the nonresident. Buyers were giving what the land seemed to be worth or what they could afford to pay. The rebuilding of the community was scarcely possible except it be done on the foundation of a capitalization of land at its current income value. It was a bitter process for all concerned, but this phase of the liquidation of the boom marks one of the turning points toward the recovery of the next decade. This process incidentally contributed in part also to the general increase in the size of farm units to a point where they would more nearly sustain a farm family.


15. Daily Mercury, March 9, 1888.
16. The sentence "'Tis a land of mighty rivers flowing over sands of gold," was taken from a song of the pioneers which usually bears the title "Out in the West." It may have had originally a definite authorship, but it took on the character of a folksong with different versions and with an indefinite number of stanzas.
17. Kinsley Mercury, May 30, 1889, "We the People."
18. Kinsley Graphic March 18,1895.
19 Ibid., May 14 1897 Records of the Register of Deeds, Edwards county, Kansas, for the south half of S. 29, T. 24, R. 18.
20. Kinsley Banner-Graphic, February 28, March 7, 1890; Mercury, March 8, 1890.
21. Graphic, July 12, 1895.
22. Ibid., November 29, 1895.
23. An amount of land in cultivation in Edwards county is given in the following table compiled from the reports of the State Board of Agriculture. As the figures given there include prairie grass under fence it has been necessary to adjust the printed figures to determine the number of acres under the plow.

189372,908189479,656* [69,556] ?
189593,441189689,331* [79,331] ?

There are serious defects in most of these statistics, and some years are clearly out of line. The declines in field crops is 1887 and 1890 are possibly too extreme. The figures for 1894 and 1896 are unquestionably defective. The item most clearly out of line in the computations is that of prairie under fence. The figures for the five years most concerned are given below:

189316,19518968,810 [18,810] ?
18942,837 [12,8371 ?189830,102

It does not seem reasonable that the fluctuation in fencing could be an great from year to year, otherwise the farmers must have spent most of their time tearing down and rebuilding fences. The figures in brackets are suggested as being more nearly in accordance with conditions as reflected in the press.

The changes in the field-crop program in Edwards county by decades is tabulated below, in the average acreage per farm

YearCorn, acres.Oats, acres.Winter wheat, acres.

The above table gives some indication of the increase in acreage per farm under the plow for the decade, as well as the shift to wheat as the principal crop. The average yields of corn, oats and wheat for the county is given in the table below.

Year.Corn, bushelsOats, bushelsWinter wheat, bushels

24. The data for 1896 omits thirty-nine columns of Ohio City tracts which were the ruins of a wildcat promotion scheme originating in Ohio during the nineties.
25. By way of affording some standard of comparison, similar lists in 1934 occupied seventeen columns, four and two-thirds of which were agricultural land, and about half of the remainder were Kinsley city lots.
26. Kinsley Graphic, December 21, 1894, and several issues during the following weeks.

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