What they farmed/What they dreamed
Those who came to the prairie were not simply yeoman farmers. They wanted a little more than to merely subsist on the land and be good Jeffersonian citizens. They grew wheat, a cash crop that could be raised quickly, and turn a decent profit if it weren't eaten by plagues of grasshoppers (as it was for four straight summers in the early 1870s); or if the railroads didn't charge exorbitant fees for hauling grain to market; or if hail or drought didn't wreck the fields.
Investors in Europe and the eastern United States also recognized the possibilities for turning the western prairie into a giant breadbasket, and sunk money into huge "bonanza" wheat farms in the Dakotas and the western reaches of Minnesota. These forerunners to modern agribusinesses cultivated thousands acres of wheat in fields that stretched, just as the prairie once had, as far as the eye could see.
For most of the newcomers to the western prairie, however, the farms were modest, and so were the dreams. These immigrants wanted a piece of property. They wanted to grow things. They wanted to make a little extra for a piano or a family Bible or some lace. They were glad to have left old class systems and hoped not to settle into new ones in this country.
NEXT: Trees to the Prairie
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