Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri • ca. 1914

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens

Chapter 8
Farming and Stock Raising
by A. M. Haswell

Pioneer Methods of Farming—It is a good thing for those of the present generation, accustomed only to the modern methods of agriculture, the multitude of various machines for lightening the labor of farming and increasing 'the efficiency of the worker, to glance for a moment at the crude implements and the old-time ways with which the pioneers of Greene county conquered the wilderness and laid the foundations for present-day prosperity and comfort.

Looked at with the eyes of a modern farmer, the tools with which his forefather cultivated his crops would seem as if imported from the center of darkest Africa of today. Of these tools, the principal, and in very many instances the only one was the so-called "bull tongue plow." This was a narrow, flat somewhat curved blade of steel, sharply pointed and mounted upon a plow stock much like that of a double shovel of later days with one shovel left off.

For loosening up the earth among the stumps and roots, or around the standing trunks of a "deadening," nothing could have been better devised than this. One of our modern plows with a broad mold board would not have made one-tenth of the progress in a day, or have done it one-tenth as well, as the bull tongue; for the narrow blade could pass through narrow spaces, around roots and rocks, and stir the virgin soil to a good depth, where the modern plow would have stalled under a tough root or been wrecked upon a hidden rock.

In raising his crop of corn the pioneer not only used the bull tongue for preparing the land, but it was also the only tool used in planting and cultivating the crop. After he had gone over his proposed field time and again," crossing and recrossing it until he had reduced it as far as possible to a good seed bed, the old-time farmer marked off furrows four feet apart, with the same plow which he had used in breaking the land. Then, as he marked other rows at right angles to the first, there followed at his heels his son or daughter, or, perchance, the good wife herself, dropping at each crossing three kernels of corn. Behind the person dropping, the seed followed another with another bull tongue, throwing back the earth moved by the first plow and thus covering the corn. [196]

When the young corn had attained size requiring cultivation the ubiquitous bull tongue was again brought into use. It required four or more times through each row with that narrow blade to properly cultivate the corn, and two or three acres was about the limit of a long day's work. But, slow and tedious as one of our Greene county farmer boys would think that method today, it certainly did raise corn. The long, narrow blades stirred the earth much deeper than one of our modern cultivators, and the new fresh soil gave the corn just the sustenance which it required, and the stories told of tht crops raised in those days are enough to make our present-day farmers do their modern best to equal.


For raising the small grains, too, the methods were strangely different from those now employed. There were no grain drills, no broadcast sowers, no disk harrows—nothing but the immortal bull tongue! In all justice to the facts of history, the coat-of-arms of Missouri, instead of two grizzly bears holding up a barrel of beer (as Mark Twain has described it), should be two "bull tongue plows" rampant! For there was never a grizzly bear in old Missouri, whereas the bull tongue was the implement that won her soil from the wilderness, and made her a fitting home for millions of people.

For raising the small grains then the land was more or less thoroughly scratched over with the bull tongue; then the grain was sown broadcast upon it, and the pioneer then cut down a thick-topped young tree, and, hitching his team to the big end of the trunk, mounted himself upon a convenient crotch, and thus, riding in triumph, he "brushed in" his crop! There are many parts of the South where this crude method is employed today. I have seen it in operation in central Tennessee within a few years. I do not doubt that it can be found in some parts of the remoter Ozarks yet, but it disappeared from Greene county long ago.

When the grain was ready for harvesting you may be sure there was no big self-binder waiting ready for it. Far from it. For many years the grain wascut with sickles, a handful at a time, and carefully laid in gavels ready to bind. When grain cradles were introduced, by which a strong man could lay three or four acres of grain in the swath in a day, it was thought that he last word in harvesting grain was now certainly spoken—that human ingenuity could go no further. After the grain was harvested, the pioneers had no better way of cleaning it from the straw than the old-fashioned flail; so they cleaned off a space of level earth, packed it as hard as possible, and, laying the bundles of grain thereon, two men facing each other pounded it with alternate blows from their flails until the most of the grain was eaten out. It was a good pair of flail men who could show twenty-five or thirty bushels of grain as the results of their long day of hardest labor. [197]

It was many long years after the settlement of Greene county before the first horse-power thresher made its appearance. It was a clumsy treadmill machine worked by two horses, but it was an almost miraculous advance over the flail. Long afterward came the large threshing machine worked by four or five spans of horses upon a "sweep power." And it was, in truth, a wonderful machine. Then swiftly followed the great improvements, resulting in the steam operated machines of our day. And, unless all history reverses itself, our descendants in the twenty-first century will smile at the crudeness of our methods as we now smile at our forefather's "bull tongue" plows and flails!

After the close of the Civil war, with the influx of immigration and the coming of railroads, the methods of farming changed as it were in a day. The people of this county, and of all the Ozarks for that matter, have always, been quick to adopt anything new which appealed to them as better than that which they already had. In the matter of plows alone, I remember that in one season—I think it was 1869—the firm of McGregor & Murray (now the McGregor-Noe Hardware Company), of Springfield, sold more than seven hundred "turning" plows. When the thinly populated condition of the county is taken into consideration that means that a very large proportion of the farmers of Greene changed from the old plow to the new in one year.

Smaller Farms and Diversity of Crops—Greene county is especially blessed in not being a region where the farmer has to place his reliance almost wholly on any one particular crop. Here be can choose for his specialty, if he so wills, almost any standard crop of the temperate zone. Or he can have crops of any and all grains, fruits and vegetables. Thus, with "more than one string to his bow," he can feel sure that if disaster befalls on one or two of his crops, the others will hold him safe from harm.

As in all the best states of the Central West, two great crops here take precedence of all others—corn and wheat. Greene county easily holds her own in the production of either. Here, as in all the rich Western States, the original settlers rarely used any fertilizers upon their land, and laughed at the idea that the productiveness of such, soil could ever be exhausted.

I have seen many places on old farms in this county where the log stables had been torn down and moved, again and again, to be set up in a new spot, because the accumulation of manure rendered it impossible to use the stable without cleaning it out; and it was easier to move the stable than the manure! Newcomers, thirty or forty years ago, frequently found several such beds of well rotted manure upon the farms they purchased. When they spread those piles upon their fields they were laughed at by some of the old settlers, but when the crops they got were seen these same old settlers were quick to follow their example, and distributed their own neglected piles, of fertilizers. [198]


The great possible diversity of crops has a rapidly increasing tendency toward smaller farms. "Small farms and diversity of crops," could well be chosen as the motto of Greene county. Take a late map of the county, which the names of each-land owner, and the size of his holdings, and you will be surprised to see how far this subdividing of lands has already gone. In one government township, taken haphazard from the map, I find one hundred and forty-four farms. Of these, ninety-six, exactly two-thirds of all, are tracts of eighty acres or less. Fifty-one are forty-acre tracts. I have little doubt that, leaving out the hundreds of little truck farms that cluster around Springfield and the other towns, it is safe to say that fully half of the farms of the county are less than sixty acres in extent. There are, of course, some large farms. There are also some large timbered tracts which are held by individual owners, but the tendency, as land rises in value, is toward subdivision into smaller tracts.

Small Farms—Better Methods—Farm Bureau—Smaller farms call for greater care, more intensive cultivation, improved methods. The man with a quarter-section of cheap land could afford to scratch over fifty or sixty acres and raise twenty bushels of com to the acre, but the man, today, with forty acres of high-priced land, would quickly go into the poorhouse if he was-content with any such yield as twenty bushels to the acre.

Hence the incentive toward better methods of farming. The day for sneering at "book farming" has forever passed. Today the best farmer is the man who can most readily adapt himself to modern methods in his farm work. Greene county has not been backward in realizing the wisdom of making use of every possible means toward increasing the yield of crops, bettering the quality of the live stock and giving her. farmers all help possible in learning all modern methods. In 1912 a meeting was called and there was organized "The Greene County Farm Bureau." Judge A. B. Appleby, one of the most practical and successful farmers, was elected president, and George W. Campbell, another farmer of the same stripe, secretary.

Many Springfield business men are interested in the success of this bureau, and are aiding it with time and money. Among the things accomplished by the bureau is a fine collection of the products of Greene county farms. This was exhibited at the State Fair at Sedalia in the fall of 1913, and took first prize for a, county exhibit, from the entire state.

Other important. Matters which are fostered by the farm bureau are the boys' corn clubs and the girls' tomato clubs. The rule is that each boy entering the contest shall plant and tend one acre of corn, doing all the work himself. The girls are to plant an eighth of an acre of tomatoes, also doing the entire work themselves. [199]

The season of 1913 was such a bad one for corn, on account of the drouth, that the contest on corn was made for the best ten cars. There were some forty contestants, and the merchants of Springfield furnished a large number of valuable prizes, which were distributed to the winners. The credit for establishing these clubs is due to Professor J. R. Roberts, the able county superintendent of schools. For some time he added the care of this branch to his many other labors, but on the organization of the bureau, turned it over to that body.


Improved methods, introduced from whatever source, are yearly increasing the yield of Greene county crops. Our standard crop, winter wheat, naturally has been among the first to attract the attention of those who are studying and testing the ways in which the crop can be largely increased. And, these experiments and tests have by no means been without results. The average crop of the United States is about thirteen bushels of wheat to the acre. Greene county very rarely has fallen as low as that average. Occasionally, some unusual weather conditions, or some unpreventable invasion of chinch bugs or Hessian flies, have cut our crop, as they cut crops at times everywhere, else, but, one year with another, Greene county is one of the regions wheat can be counted a sure crop.

The year 1912 was an unusually poor one for wheat, but 1913 followed with a crop that could challenge any part of the world. The most careful unprejudiced estimate of the crop of that year is that for every acre of wheat sown Greene county threshed no less than twenty-three bushels. That means, of course, that there were many individual crops that far exceeded those figures. For instance, Mr. F. S. White, who is doing more than any other one man in showing how the lands of Greene county can be increased in productiveness, threshed wheat on his farm two miles south of Springfield that went fifty-one bushels to the acre. This was on land that had been in cultivation many years, and until Mr. White took hold of it with his improved modern methods, had probably never yielded twenty bushels of wheat to the acre. Not a great distance from Mr. White's field, Mr. Steury raised forty-three bushels to the acre on a forty-acre field. There were scores of yields of from thirty to forty bushels to the acre, and this in the driest year in the past twenty-five years. [200]

The corn crop of Greene county far exceeds in quantity of all other grains combined. The soil of the entire county is emphatically "corn land," although that of the river valleys and the better types of prairie is, of course, the best. The average crop of com, will run about thirty to thirty-five bushels to the acre. In his report of the crop of 1912 Mr. Fitzpatrick, State Labor Commissioner, gives the acreage in corn for that year as 77,063, the average yield as thirty bushels per acre, and the total crop as 2,211,890 bushels. As has been shown by the statistics of crops exported from the county, nearly the whole of this immense amount of corn was consumed in the county. Only 31,602 bushels found its way into the outside markets. That is, the county used sixty-nine-seventieths of its crop of corn within its own borders.

The statement that thirty bushels per acre was the average hardly gives a fair idea of the corn-producing possibilities of the county. Instances are well authenticated of large fields that produced as much as eighty bushels to the acre. Mr. M. J. Hubble, one of Springfield's veteran citizens, whose residence here dates well before the Civil war, recently published the story of a champion ten acres of corn, raised about 1859, in competition for a large prize offered for the best ten acres of corn, by the Southwestern District fair. Mr. Hubble goes into the smallest particulars as to the method employed, including, by the way, the use of the bull tongue plow, of which I have spoken. The yield, as recorded by disinterested judges, was a fraction over one hundred twenty-five bushels to the acre. That is, so far as I know, the record. But already the new methods which are being used have shown crops of ninety bushels per acre, and it is well within probabilities that the old-time record will be broken in Greene county.

Stock Raising—Theshort and mild winters, the fine natural pasturage of blue joint, blue grass and white clover, and the unnumbered gushing and unfailing springs of purest water, have rendered Greene county a fine stock-raising region from its earliest settlement. When the lands were largely unfenced commons, the herds of cattle were, of course, larger, and as a matter of fact the quality of the stock was proportionately poorer. Today with no cattle allowed to run at large, the whole system of raising and fattening livestock has changed.

No Greene county farmer today, with his high-priced lands, costly improvements and steadily rising prices for corn and fodder, can afford to raise the old-fashioned, long-horned cattle, which in former times were able to rustle for their own living for most of the year, and could then be partially fattened and sold at a profit. Hence, we find today, that our farmers rarely keep any stock that is not at least well graded up toward thoroughbreds.

The changed conditions in the plains country of the far West and Southwest, which have put an end to the free grazing of huge herds of cattle, have made stock raising here, as elsewhere through the Central West, a growing and profitable industry. Our farmers, even i those with comparatively small holding of land, are finding that there is money in fattening a few stall-fed steers, and the sales of such stock are steadily increasing. [201]

Hogs, too, form an important part of Greene county live stock, and exceed the cattle in value. Horses and mules are also largely raised. The horses are mostly sent to the northern cities, while most of the mules find their way to the cotton fields of the Southern states. The sheep growing industry has not had the attention which its importance, and the adaptability of the region to it, deserves. Of late years, however, it is slowly growing, and has attained considerable importance. For the rougher hill pastures of the county nothing could be better than sheep raising. Foot rot, scab and the other diseases that affect these animals elsewhere are practically unknown here. Angora goats are also attracting some attention as profitable stock for these rougher tracts.


Mr. John T. Fitzpatrick, the, energetic, and capable commissioner of the State Bureau of Labor, has kindly furnished me with advance sheets pertaining to Greene county, from his forthcoming annual report, from which I quote the following figures:

"Surplus Shipments, Greene County, 1912 (Nothing -Consumed Locally Is Included) —Cattle, 11,346 head; hogs, 35,732 head; horses and mules, 4,384 head; sheep 12,471 head; goats, 320 head; jacks, stallions, 12 head."

Of farm products, Mr. Fitzpatrick gives the following. It should here be emphasized that these figures are of the surplus only. Our wheat, for instance, is almost wholly used in the mills of the county (see later figures of mill products). Corn, also, is almost all used in the county.

"Wheat, 168,300 bushels; corn, 35,602 bushels; hay, 238 tons; buck wheat, 5,500 bushels; planting and garden seeds, 19,510 pounds.

"Mill Products,—Flour, 526,792 barrels; cornmeal, 2,739,527 pounds; bran, shipstuffs, 8,159,527 pounds; feed, chops, 6,008,740 pounds.

"Farmyard Products—Poultry,live 5,552,214 pounds; poultry, dressed, 3,620,295 pounds; eggs, 8,102,460 dozen; feathers, 100,130 pounds."

These farmyard products indicate somewhat of the importance of the poultry raising industry of Greene county. When it is recollected that it is estimated that at least one-fourth of the entire product is consumed in the county, either on the farms or sold in Springfield and other towns in the County, the above figures are significant. As a matter of fact, while Missouri is the greatest poultry state, Greene county is the greatest poultry county in that state—therefore, the greatest chicken county in the United States. Springfield as the capital of Greene county, makes the claim of being the largest initial market of poultry and poultry products in the entire Union. To continue; Mr. Fitzpatrick's statistics, Greene county shipped in 1912 of her surplus products:

"Hides and Pelts—2,691,580 pounds; dressed meats, 13,585 pounds; tallow, 32,585 pounds.

"Dairy Products—Butter, 113,418 pounds; milk and cream, 57,536 gallons; cheese, 80,000 pounds. [ 202]

"Wool and Mohair—Wool, 277,390 pounds; rnohair, 12,642 pounds.

"Miscellaneous—Canned vegetables and fruit, 4,957,500 pounds; strawberries, 33,240 crates; apples, 100,771 barrels."

One of the developments of the past decade is the greatly increased attention paid to market gardening and truck farming. The products of hundreds of these little farms does not appear in the statistics given in this chapter, for the reason that they are all sold in the markets of Springfield and other towns in the county for home consumption. Nevertheless, the total of such products foots up a large amount, and Springfield is probably as well supplied with fresh vegetables every day in the year as any town of its size in the whole country. Each of these little farms is also a producer of chickens and eggs, and many of them add such small fruits as strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries etc., and find the combination to be profitable.

Taken as a whole, no county in the central west surpasses Greene in the variety and excellence of its farms and its farm products. And as the farmer learns to apply to his work the same systematic attention that the merchant or manufacturer has to apply to his, the profits will increase, and the man behind the plow will reap greater and greater benefits from his labor. [202-203]

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