Created By: North Dakota State University
From the 1870s through the 1920s bonanza farms dominated the Red River Valley. These large, wheat-growing farms each covered thousands of acres and brought rapid development and change to all aspects of life in the Red River Valley.
The Northern Pacific Railroad had completed a line to Bismarck, ND, and intended to extend it to the West Coast, but an economic depression in 1873 caused the company to declare bankruptcy, stalling the progress of this line and leaving investors with worthless bonds. To placate these stockholders, the company let them exchange their bonds for land, allowing investors to purchase land for just $0.15 per acre.
Recognizing the fertileness of the land and taking advantage of the high wheat prices, many investors established farms on these massive tracts of land and hired men to manage the farms. George Cass, president of the NP, and a board member named Benjamin Cheney owned the first bonanza farm, managed by Oliver Dalrymple. The success of this farm after just one harvest sparked massive interest, and large farms soon emerged all over the Red River Valley. Most of the owners of these farms lived on the east coast or in the Twin Cities, and would simply hire managers to run them.
With this bonanza boom came rapid advancement in milling technology as well as farm machinery, but the success of these farms ultimately led to their demise. The huge amount of wheat being produced drove prices down, as labor, equipment, and land prices went up, making the farms far less cost efficient than they had initially been. Additionally, the continual growth of only wheat every year depleted the nutrients in the soil. As a result, these huge farms began fading away as smaller farms growing multiple crops took their place.
This point of interest is part of the tour: The Bonanza Days of Bonanzaville