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Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).
Reproduced exactly as published in 1971 - no updates, no corrections.


Indians Were First Farmers


Agriculture, in a primitive way, was started by the Indians long before white men navigated across the upper Mississippi River. They gathered and harvested wild rice each year, raised some corn and horses and dogs.

About 150 years ago, the United States government attempted to make farmers out of the Indians in some parts of the Minnesota territory,including the region around the Gull River.

Chief Hole-in-the-Day was in charge, under the guidance of an experienced farmer, says Ingolf Dillan in his book, "Brainerd's Half Century". For a time, says Dillan, it looked as though it might prove successful, but it failed.

In the Dillan book, he summarizes the importance of agriculture in Crow Wing County in 1870 by quoting from the federal census reports of that year. There were five farms in the county in 1870, and they were located near Crow Wing. Daniel S. Mooers owned about one-half of all the stock in the county.

Timothy Mooers had nearly as much. The other three were unimportant.

All five had a total of 380 acres of improved land, and land and buildings had an estimated value of $10,000. The machinery and implements were valued at $900. The crops raised were wheat, Indian corn, and oats.

The livestock in the county were 39 horses, 1 mule, 35 milk cows, 18 working oxen, 62 other cattle, 67 swine, no sheep.

On July 10, 1870, Richard Ahrens came to West Brainerd, where he took up a homestead and planted a garden and some corn. Ahrens stated in Dillan's book that "trees were thicker than hairs on a dog's back' -- farming was out of the question".

Then came the lumbermen, followed by the farmers in the 1800's and 1890's and raised crops of wheat, oats, and potatoes, then rye, corn and clover. Agriculture did not progress very rapidly until about 1900 or so when large farms and clearings were made in every township.

"The soil in the highlands is sandy loam and in some places a mixture of sand and clay. The soil in the lowlands is black muck, vegetable mold, and in some places peat with sand or clay subsoil," state Bureau of Immigration, 1923.

By 1923, most of the timber was second growth which could be easily removed. Much timber was cut for building purposes. There was a considerable amount of wild meadow land.

Today, there are few places presenting better opportunities for diversified farming. In addition to grains, farmers raise beans, peas, potatoes, alfalfa. timothy, garden produce, fruits and berries. Wild blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, cranberries, currants, gooseberries, and thorn-apples are picked by the thousands each year.

Fifty years ago, E. G. Roth said, "Dairying is proving the chief source of wealth to the farmer today. At first, few of the recognized dairy breeds were raised. Now Holstein, Guernsey, Jersey, Short-horn, Ayrshire, Red Polled and Hereford breeds are the rule."

Also a half century ago, the State Board of Immigration said, "In 1919, the county had five creameries with an output of 374,352 pounds of butter. It also has one cheese factory with an output of 7,300 pounds of cheese. The livestock of the county was as follows: 4,420 horses, 15,550 cattle, 6,692 sheep, and 2,702 swine."

It was also said that prosperous farms were everywhere. Farm homes were equipped with furnace heat, electricity, running water, and other modern conveniences took the places of settlers' cabins.

"Excellent roads, paved or graded, connect all parts of the county with splendid marketing centers. Rural schools, numbering 102, rival the city schools. Rural churches are many," Ingolf Dillan, 1923.

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