1880 DeVore Farm - No hard surface

Old Cowtown Museum Tour

1880 DeVore Farm - No hard surface

Wichita, Kansas 67203, United States

Created By: Old Cowtown Museum


The DeVore Farm in the Agricultural District at Old Cowtown Museum represents an upper middle class progressive farmer who took advantage of science, inventions and economy to rise to that level.

The average farm in 1875 was 160 acres,

35 acres in corn,

30 acres in wheat,

10 acres in oats.

1-4 acres orchards for personal use or a cash crop

remainder for pasture or fields for hay.

Livestock included

4 meat cattle

two milk cows, - For milk, cream, butter or meat.

three horses, and maybe one mule – for transportation.

two sheep – for meat and wool

20 pigs – for lard for soap making or cooking, as well as the meat.

Flock of chickens for meat and eggs.

Beginning to farm cost a lot of money.

The immigrant farmers needed to:

travel to the area,

buy the land,

provide for a family until the first crop was in and sold.

Build dwellings, barns and outbuildings,

Buy livestock and machinery.

The price of Kansas farmland was cheaper than the Eastern states. Built on Osage Trust land and not eligible for the Homestead Act, it was not free, but it was still a bargain. Many paid for their land in cash, got title to the land, then mortgaged the land for farm improvements, leading to high indebtedness that causes of the agrarian unrest in the 1890s.

As mechanized farming had increased since before the civil war the cost rose as well. Machinery values jumped to become $120 of the average $2000 a farm. The DeVore farm reflects the growing mechanization of farm work through grain reapers, harvesters, binders, grain drills, mowing machines, and sulky (riding) plows. All of these increased productivity and lowered the need for physical labor. Women were needed less in the farm operation wihich brought gender roles more in line with that of the Victorian Culture.

Farms in 1880 were hotbeds of experimentation as farmers were anxious to find out what this untested former “Great American Desert” could produce. Lured by the scientific promise that “the rain follows the plow,” they initially planted crops from the East in anticipation that a similar climate would develop. After many failures they found varieties that adapted to the climate. They grew corn, the primary crop and oats which could be sold or fed to their animals while winter wheat (instead of spring wheat), was sold for cash. Lesser crops such as rye, castor beans, flax, cotton, hemp, sorghum and honey rounded out Sedgwick County agricultural production.

To succeed they battled the new climate and unpredictable weather, and the grasshopper infestation of 1874 and spring and 1875. By far their biggest challenge was the cowboys. The City and County spent lot money to recruit the cattle trade by building a railroad to the area. For the farmers, the cowboys did not keep the cattle from the farm fields and their cattle infected the eastern cattle with Texas Tick Fever. Farmers in Sedgwick County joined with local citizens, upset by the prostitution, drunkenness and gambling brought by the cattle trade. In 1875 the two groups joined to persuade the state legislature to move the quarantine line for Texas cattle west of Wichita. After the cowboys and the cattle trade departed in 1876, agriculture played a larger role in the economics of the area. Town businessmen were reluctant to give up the large profits, but farming did hold the promise of constant market for goods rather than the unstable feast and famine cycle of the cattle trade,

Farms in 1880's were not subsistence farms but businesses which affected and were affected by local, state, national and international events. For example, demand for American wheat fell sharply when wheat from Russia flowed once again after the Crimean war, causing American prices to fall dramatically.

Farms were powerful economic and political engines. Through the Grange, a rural based social and political organization, attempted to use their clout and gain a louder and more important political voice for farm related issues like railroad freight charges and low grain prices. They were active through the 1890 in local, state and national politics.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Old Cowtown Museum Tour


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