Bonanza Farms and Ranches Prove Worth of Land
Thousands Seek Free Land
Great Dakota Boom Explained
Fargo, May 8, 1890
What everyone is calling the Great Dakota Boom is coming to a close. In 1878 the population of northern Dakota was just 16,000. Now in 1890 it has skyrocketed to nearly 191,000. People from states to the east and from foreign countries have flooded into northern Dakota, hoping to claim a homestead and make money growing wheat. And the towns have mushroomed. Almost 6,000 people live in Fargo, 5,000 in Grand Forks, 2,300 in Jamestown, and 2,100 in Bismarck.
The state has 35 flour mills, 125 newspapers, 1,362 public schools, and 868 church organizations. Grand Forks even has a street railway. Grain elevators dot the horizon. Over 27,000 farms (7,700,000 acres) produced 40,000,000 bushels of wheat this year.
Northern Dakota has been looked upon as a land of opportunity—some say a Garden of Eden. What has attracted so many people in so short a time? Free homestead land and the hope for a better life. The great bonanza farms which began in the 1870s focused the nation’s attention on the Red River Valley and northern Dakota. A native New Yorker who first bought 6,000 acres near Leonard in 1875, James B. Power, led the way. When the Northern Pacific Railroad went bankrupt in 1873, he convinced eastern investors to acquire huge tracts of land, mostly in the Valley, to grow wheat and run the farms like a business. Ranging in size from 11,000 acres to 63,000 acres (the average size farm in America was less than 100 acres) the gigantic farms employed hundreds of people and made great profits on their large wheat production. Most important, the bonanza farms proved that Dakota was a bountiful land.
The “Beef Bonanza” in western Dakota indicated that Dakota was lush grass country. During the 1880s many of the West’s large cattle outfits moved north into the Badlands and beyond. Good profits in cattle lured American easterners to invest in the region. Howard and Eldon Eaton and A.C. Huidekoper of Pennsylvania organized cattle companies. The young New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, eagerly jumped into the business in 1883.
The most colorful and ambitious of Badlands investors was a Frenchman, the Marquis de Morès. Between 1883 and 1887 he worked to perfect his plan to slaughter cattle right there on the range in Medora, his town, and ship the dressed meat to eastern markets. He failed in his business venture, but he brought attention to the richness of Dakota’s cattle region.
Convinced that northern Dakota was a good place to homestead and to make a living, the people who have come to northern Dakota during the boom represent a broad spectrum of places and nationalities. In this year of 1890, 43 percent of the people were born in a foreign country. They and the children of foreign-born parents comprise about 70 percent of the population. The largest group is Norwegian (23,000) followed by Canadians (9,000), Germans (8,000), English and Irish (8,000), Swedes (5,500), and Germans from Russia (4,000).
About 30 percent of the newcomers hail from the states east of northern Dakota: Minnesota (13,000), Wisconsin (9,900), New York (6,700), Iowa (4,100), Michigan (4,000), Illinois (3,700), and Ohio (3,000).
Northern Dakota has attracted people from most eastern states, Canadian provinces, and European countries. The influx of people has slowed down, however. The lower price of wheat lately, down to 60 cents a bushel from nearly a dollar in the early 1880s, has discouraged many farmers and many of the bonanza farms are being sold off in small parcels. The terrible blizzard of 1888 and the end of the open range have damaged large-scale ranching. In spite of these setbacks, the spirits of the people remain high.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council