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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 23:  More Historical Papers

Agricultural Development

-As transcribed from pages 891 - 893

Agriculture in Trempealeau County had its beginning on Decorah Prairie, when the squaws of Decorah's band planted a small corn field.  Later Wabasha's band had a small corn field near Trempealeau.

The agriculture of the white man originated in this county in 1836, when the Rev. Daniel Gavin, the Swiss missionary, and his helper, Louis Stram, broke some land near a clear spring, east of Mountain Lake and some three miles northwest of the present village, and endeavored to teach the Indians farming.  The attempt was not a success.  John Doville, who arrived in 1838, started a garden ont he land broken by Stram.  Oats and peas were the principal crop.  The oats were threshed in a primitive way with horses driven in a circle.  Doville also broke a tract of land in the upper part of the present village.  In those days the pigeons were a serious drawback.

The history of agriculture in Trempealeau County is the history of very many newly settled regions.  The early settlers found a land rich in the natural resources of a silt loam soil.  A land, which, with a minimum of labor and the use of the crudest of agricultural implements, yielded large crops of wheat, oats and corn.

For a few years after a piece of land was broken the yields were amazing, 45 to 50 bushels of wheat per acre not being unusual.  Their machinery at that time consisted of a breaking plow, crossing plow, V-shaped drag and a scythe, cradle and flail.

A few years before the Civil War broke out a threshing machine run by a tread-power was introduced.  This was little besides a cylinder, concave and fan.  It had no straw stacker and one man stood at the rear with a fork and threw the straw back.  In a short time a machine run by horse-power and tumbling rod, and equipped with a straw-carrier and measuring device was invented; and the settlers would have thought they were pretty well fixed, except that every bushel of grain in Trempealeau County had to be hauled either to Trempealeau or Fountain City, a round trip of 50 miles or more over roads that were barely passable.

Some little improvement was made on farm machinery during this time, but not much.  And the threshers were not greatly changed for many years.  Not long after the war, reapers began to be used; great heavy, clumsy machines, very apt to clog in heavy grain and requiring two men to operate them.  One drove and the other was strapped to a post set in the center of the platform and removed the grain with a rake as it was cut.

Their heying was all done with a scythe, hand-rake and pitchfork.  They kept only such cows as were needed to supply the family with milk and butter, and raised a few hogs for their own use, and sometimes hauled some dressed pork to the lumber camps and exchanged for lumber.

But this method of famring could not continue forever.  Grain crops gradually dwindled until the yield of wheat was very small.  Chinch bugs and weeds helped to crowd it out.  Wheat was about their only money crop and when that failed they were at a loss how to live.  At this time many, thorugh a ruinous system of usury practised by money lenders who profited by the farmer's misfortune, were compelled to gather up their personal belongings and journey on toward the West, there to repeat the sad experiment of trying to take from the land continually without putting anything back.  But others, strong in the faith which every true farmer mus hat in his "spadeful of earth," hung to their homesteads, and soon after they saw a great light, for Gov. W. D. Hoard came preaching the gospel of corn, clover, cows and creameries.

The land had by this time become so robbed of humus, nitrogen and phosphorus that only meager and unprofitable crops could be raised.  But with the advent of clover and cows, agriculture received a stimulus which has had a healthy and prosperous effect upon the county's farming industry ever since.

Farmers, pretty generally, started rotating their crops, keeping cows and hogs, thus adding to the fertility of the soil, and also giving them a steady income instead of the uncertain one afforded by grain raising.

About this time better machinery began to come into use and many farmers found their labors lightened by the use of combined reapers and mowers.  These machines were usually drawn by three horses, two abreast and one on the lead ridden by a small boy.  This was done to avoid injury to the unbound gavals which would result from driving three horses abreast.

The next evolution was in the nature of a harvesting machine which required three men to operate it.  One drove and the other two bound the grain as it was elevated to them.  Thus was followed by the self-binder.

The old horse-ower threshers were gradually improved until we now have the modern steam thresher with wing feeders, automatic elevators and weighers, and wind stackers.  Nearly every farmer now uses a cream separator in place of the old gravity system of separating cream.  Harrows, disks, cultivators, drills and seeders have come into universal use, and the land has been brought back to its original fertility.

Silos and leguminous crops have insured the farmer a summer ration for his stock all the year round.  And Trempealeau County has in this year 1917 the proud distinction of raising 156,000 bushels of wheat and of being the banner winter wheat county of Wisconsin. 

- By W. E. Bishop.

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