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It is also true, doubtless, that the
clearing away of dense forest areas has been attended with some
inconvenient climatic results, and particularly with some objectionable
effects upon the even distribution of rainfall and the regularity of the
flow of rivers. But most persons who have been alarmed at the rapidity
of forest destruction in the white-pine belt have wholly overlooked the
great compensating facts. It happens that the white-pine region is not
especially fertile, and that for some time to come it is not likely to
acquire a prosperous agriculture. But adjacent to it and beyond it
there was a vast region of country which, though utterly treeless, was
endowed with a marvelous richness of soil and with a climate fitted for
all the staple productions of the temperate zone. This region embraced
parts of Illinois, almost the whole of Iowa, southern Minnesota, Kansas,
Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and parts of Montana--a region of
imperial extent. Now, it happens that for every acre of pine land that
has been denuded in Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and northern Minnesota
there are somewhere in the great treeless region further south and west
two or three new farm-houses. The railroads, pushing ahead of settlement
out into the open prairie, have carried the white-pine lumber from the
gigantic sawmills of the Upper Mississippi and its tributaries; and thus
millions of acres of land have been brought under cultivation by farmers
who could not have been housed in comfort but for the proximity of the
pine forests. The rapid clearing away of timber areas in Wisconsin has
simply meant the rapid settlement of North and South Dakota, western
Iowa, and Nebraska.



The settlement of these treeless regions means the successful growth on
every farm of at least several hundred trees. Without attempting to be
statistical or exact, we might say that an acre of northern Minnesota
pine trees makes it possible for a farmer in Dakota or Nebraska to have
a house, farm buildings, and fences, with a holding of at least one
hundred and sixty acres upon which he will successfully cultivate
several acres of forest trees of different kinds. Even if the denuded
pine lands of the region south and west of Lake Superior would not
readily produce a second growth of dense forest--which, it should be
said in passing, they certainly will--their loss would be far more than
made good by the universal cultivation of forest trees in the prairie
States. It is at least comforting to reflect, when the friends of
scientific forestry warn us against the ruthless destruction of standing
timber, that thus far at least in our Western history we have simply
been cutting down trees in order to put a roof over the head of the man
who was invading treeless regions for the purpose of planting and
nurturing a hundred times as many trees as had been destroyed for his
benefit! There is something almost inspiring in the contemplation of
millions of families, all the way from Minnesota to Colorado and Texas,
living in the shelter of these new pine houses and transforming the
plains into a shaded and fruitful empire.


[Illustration: SLUICE-GATE.]

The enormous expansion of our railway systems will soon have made it
quite impossible for any of the younger generation to realize what
hardships were attendant upon such limited colonization of treeless
prairie regions as preceded the iron rails. In 1876 I spent the summer
in a part of Dakota to which a considerable number of hardy but poor
farmers had found their way and taken up claims. They could not easily
procure wood for houses, no other ordinary building material was
accessible, and they were living in half-underground "dugouts,"
so-called. There was much more pleasure and romance in the pioneer
experiences of my own ancestors a hundred years ago, who were living in
comfortable log-houses with huge fire places, and shooting abundant
supplies of deer and wild turkey in the deep woods of southern Ohio. The
pluck and industry of these Dakota pioneers, most of whom were Irish men
and Norwegians, won my heartiest sympathy and respect. Poor as they
were, they maintained one public institution in common--namely, a
school, with its place of public assemblage. The building had no floor
but the beaten earth, and, its thick walls were blocks of matted prairie
turf, its roof also being of sods supported upon some poles brought from
the scanty timber-growth along the margin of a prairie river. To-day
these poor pioneers are enjoying their reward. Their valley is traversed
by several railroads; prosperous villages have sprung up; their lands
are of considerable value; they all live in well-built farm-houses;
their shade trees have grown to a height of fifty or sixty feet; a
bustling and ambitious city, with fine churches, opera-houses, electric
illumination, and the most advanced public educational system, is only a
few miles away from them. Such transformations have occurred, not alone
in a few spots in Iowa and South Dakota, but are common throughout a
region that extends from the British dominions to the Indian Territory,
and from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains--a region
comprising more than a half-million square miles.


[Illustration: BETWEEN THE MILLS.]

Naturally the industrial life of these Northwestern communities is based
solidly upon agriculture. There is, perhaps, hardly any other
agricultural region of equal extent upon the face of the earth that is
so fertile and so well adapted for the production of the most necessary
articles of human food. During the past decade the world's markets have
been notably disturbed and affected, and profound social changes and
political agitations have occurred in various remote parts of the earth.
It is within bounds to assert that the most potent and far-reaching
factor in the altered conditions of the industrial world during these
recent years has been the sudden invasion and utilization of this great
new farming region. Most parts of the world which are fairly prosperous
do not produce staple food supplies in appreciable surplus quantities.
Several regions which are not highly prosperous sell surplus food
products out of their poverty rather than out of their abundance. That
is to say, the people of India and the people of Russia have often been
obliged, in order to obtain money to pay their taxes and other necessary
expenses, to sell and send away to prosperous England the wheat which
they have needed for hungry mouths at home. They have managed to subsist
upon coarser and cheaper food. But in our Northwestern States the
application of ingenious machinery to the cultivation of fertile and
virgin soils has within the past twenty-five years precipitated upon the
world a stupendous new supply of cereals and of meats, produced in
quantities enormously greater than the people of the Northwestern States
could consume. These foodstuffs have powerfully affected agriculture in
Ireland, England, France, and Germany, and, in fact, in every other part
of the accessible and cultivated globe.



So much has been written of late about the condition of the farmer in
these regions that it is pertinent to inquire who the Western farmer is.
In the old States the representative farmer is a man of long training in
the difficult and honorable art of diversified agriculture. He knows
much of soils, of crops and their wise rotation, of domestic animals and
their breeding, and of a hundred distinct phases of the production, the
life, and the household economics that belong to the traditions and
methods of Anglo-Saxon farming. If he is a wise man, owning his land and
avoiding extravagance, he can defy any condition of the markets, and can
survive any known succession of adverse seasons. There are also many
such farmers in the West. But there are thousands of wheat-raisers or
corn-growers who have followed in the wake of the railway and taken up
government or railroad land, and who are not yet farmers in the truest
and best sense of the word. They are unskilled laborers who have become
speculators. They obtain their land for nothing, or for a price ranging
from one dollar and fifty cents to five dollars per acre. They borrow on
mortgage the money to build a small house and to procure horses and
implements and seed-grain. Then they proceed to put as large an acreage
as they can manage into a single crop--wheat in the Dakotas, wheat or
corn in Nebraska and Kansas. They speculate upon the chances of a
favorable season and a good crop safely harvested; and they speculate
upon the chances of a profitable market. They hope that the first two
crops may render them the possessor of an unincumbered estate, supplied
with modest buildings, and with a reasonable quantity of machinery and
live stock. Sometimes they succeed beyond their anticipations. In many
instances the chances go against them. They live on the land, and the
title is invested in them; but they are using borrowed capital, use it
unskillfully, meet an adverse season or two, lose through foreclosure
that which has cost them nothing except a year or two of energy spent in
what is more nearly akin to gambling than to farming, and finally help
to swell the great chorus that calls the world to witness the distress
of Western agriculture. It cannot be said too emphatically that real
agriculture in the West is safe and prosperous, and that the
unfortunates are the inexperienced persons, usually without capital, who
attempt to raise a single crop on new land. For many of them it would be
about as wise to take borrowed money and speculate in wheat in the
Chicago bucket-shops.

[Illustration: MOSSBRĘ.]

The great majority, however, of these inexperienced and capital-less
wheat and corn producers gradually become farmers. It is inevitable, at
first, that a country opened by the railroads for the express purpose of
obtaining the largest possible freightage of cereals should for a few
seasons be a "single-crop country." Often the seed-grain is supplied on
loan by the roads themselves.

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