ADDRESS BY D. A. MILLINGTON, BEFORE THE ARKANSAS VALLEY
EDITORIAL ASSOCIATION AT WINFIELD, KANSAS, APRIL 17, 1880.
Winfield Courier, THURSDAY, APRIL 22, 1880 - FRONT PAGE.
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Association:
Your committee has assigned to me the task of opening at this time the discussion on the subject:
The future Possibilities of Agriculture in the Arkansas Valley.
You now find yourselves in the eastern part of the Kansas division of that valley, surrounded by richly-carpeted fields of wheat, prairies thickly covered with luxuriant grass, trees gay with emerald foliage and variegated bloom, corn just shooting up from a thousand fields, and vegetation generally luxuriant and full of promise. You will also observe that the prairies are thickly covered with a mulch of old grass. This section last year produced the heaviest crops of corn and grass ever known, while almost all kinds of cultivated crops were notably good. Last year we had warm nights in summer and frequent and heavy rains. From April 1st to November scarcely more than a week elapsed at any time without rain.
It cannot be denied that the western part of this valley was less favored last year; that there, practically no rain fell for many months, that the corn crop was an entire failure, that most other crops were very light, and that the nights all summer were too cold to permit of a good corn crop even had there been plenty of rain.
Why this difference? It is well known that the land in that section contains all the elements to produce corn and any other kind of crop that can be successfully raised here, and, I might say, anywhere else. It is well known that with plenty of moisture and sufficient warmth, nights as well as days, the productions of this valley all along the line, in every variety, would be wonderful. But says one: It does not rain, and there is no way to help it except by expensive irrigation, and the nights are cold, which cannot be helped. Let us examine this subject a little, for this is the point to which I propose to address myself for the few minutes assigned to me.
One night, in November, 1873, I stood upon the high mound you have observed just east of this city, and watched for hours the progress of a general prairie fire. My eye traced the long serpentine lines of flame meandering over hills and valleys; here sinuous and wavy, there strangely bent in wild, zigzag forms; yonder slow and sinister, creeping down a declivity; hither rushing fiercely up a hillside; thither flaming high in the air along a ravine of rank, tall grass, far to the east and to the west, in glowing, seething, surging masses extending--far to the south, the rear folds flashing and raging--far to the north. The front loops rushed madly on, and I was spell-bound and awed by the gorgeous beauty and sublimity of the scene.
Such marvelous spectacles might be viewed with unmixed delight were it not for their terrible effects. The immediate destruction of fences, trees, hay and grain stacks, buildings, stock, and even life, attending such fires, are minor evils compared with those which follow more remotely.
In 1873 these prairies now about us had a growth of grass heavier than in any previous year, furnishing fuel for the hot fires which swept this entire section completely bare before the spring of 1874. The fires were so hot as largely to kill the roots of the grass and when new grass grew in the spring, it was only in little bunches, leaving most of the ground entirely bare, which so remained all the season. Therefore, we had from May to October cold nights, hot days, and practically no rain. The corn crop was, of course, a complete failure, and other crops shared its fate. Wheat only, having got well along in the colder months, gave a moderate crop. This was the year of drouth for this section, the last it has had and I think the last it will ever have.
In 1874 but little grass grew and fires could get no headway; besides more effort was made to prevent prairie fires, and this section was not burned over. The roots spread some, so that in 1875 the ground had more new grass in addition to the growth of the past year, and was much better covered; therefore, we had considerable rain and better crops.
The improvement continued in all those respects through the years 1876, 1877, and 1878. More patches of ground were plowed, more roads were traveled, more firebreaks were made, more effort was made to prevent fires year by year, and though the food for the flame became greater year by year, we had but little ground burned over, so that in 1879 we started in with the ground heavily mulched with old grass, and with new grass springing up thickly, and as a consequence we had the plentiful rains and abundant crops which I have described, and now the whole surface not plowed is thickly studded with grass, with the exception of small tracts which have been ignorantly or carelessly burned off.
Does not this description of this section in 1873 and 1874 describe also the condition of the counties further west in 1878 and 1879?
Writers on physical geography attempt in various ways to explain why some countries are deserts. One theory is that the vapor-laden air currents from the tropical seas in passing over high mountains are chilled and robbed of their moisture, which falls on the mountains, leaving nothing in these currents to fall and water the countries that they afterwards pass over; that in north latitudes the tropical currents flow in a general northeast direction; that the Himalaya mountains take all the moisture from them that would otherwise fall on the desert of Gobi, and the Cordilleras of Mexico and New Mexico absorb the moisture from the currents that pass over the country between here and the Rocky Mountains.
I regard much of this as sheer nonsense. In the times of the Carthagenian Empire the country between the Atlas mountains and the Mediterranean sea at Tripoli was a fruitful country, with plenty of rains, supporting a population of more than sixty millions of people quite civilized for those times, but the Atlas mountain stood there then the same as now when that same country is almost a rainless desert with only thirty thousand
The whole region from the Western Sahara to the Northeastern part of Gobi, eight thousand miles long and one thousand miles wide, is one vast desert, broken only by fertile belts along the Nile and Euphrates rivers, the Mediterranean and other seas, and the mountain ranges from the Caucasus to the Himalaya, yet in the western and central parts it has no mountain ranges to steal its vapors.
But this country was not always so. Far in the midst of this rainless desolation are seen by the traveler over these hot sands the lonely minarets and columns of polished marble and skilled masonry, the monuments which mark the grave of a dead and buried metropolis, Palmyra, the once beautiful city of the palm groves, with a population of half a million, in the midst of a productive and delightful country. Other ruins found here and there all over these desolate plains, mark the sites of a hundred other ancient cities, many of them prehistoric and unknown to tradition. Even in the heart of the Sahara are found evidences of fertility and civilization in times remotely ancient to the times of the pyramids. But wars have depopulated and desolated these once fertile regions; fires have denuded the land of forests and grasses; and year after year the annual fires have swept away the vegetation. The earth has become hotter and dryer, rains have diminished and ceased to fall, and the land has become what it is today.
This idea of the effect of denuded earth on climate is not a chimera. It would take many days to rehearse all the evidences in its support, and a still longer time to prove one fact inconsistent with it. The well known facts of science also prove it correct. It is well known that the direct rays of the sun do not appreciably heat the atmosphere in passing through it to the earth, for the upper regions of the air are always very cold. But the sun's rays do heat rock, sand, and any kind of bare earth intolerably hot, and the air coming in contact with these, becomes heated and continually rises, and the cooler air flowing in to fill the place is in turn heated.
You have doubtless known a large conflagration toward which the wind blew strongly from every direction. Land which is covered by trees in foliage, or covered by green or dry grass, straw, or other vegetation, does not get heated to any considerable extent; neither does it get cold. Go out in the afternoon of a hot day and find the bare earth cracked open, hot and dry to the depth of many feet, and if you find a spot where a mulch of straw has lain for a month, you will find beneath the straw the ground moist and cool. Replace the straw and go again in the early morning, and you will find the bare ground quite cold, and the ground under the straw apparently as warm as in the afternoon before. The bare earth has absorbed the heat from the sun during the day and has radiated that heat into space during the night. The straw has done neither to any considerable extent, so that the earth it covers has changed its temperature very little. This explains what makes extremely hot days and cold nights in desert lands, and comparatively cooler days and warmer nights in lands well covered by vegetable matter.
Practically all the rain which falls in this whole region comes from within the tropics in the Pacific Ocean. The local evaporation comparatively amounts to nothing. The perpendicular rays of the sun falling upon the ocean causes an immense evaporation, and the rare and heated air rising heavily laden with vapor, parts and flows north and south. The current, moving first northward, bends eastward, and in passing over us is always and constantly moving to the northeast.
In this latitude it is always, in the warmer months at least, so laden with vapor that at any time the sudden condensation of the vapors directly over us would deluge the country; and this is true in similar latitudes, whether fertile or desert. When these vapors are chilled, they always produce rain; the greater the chill, the greater the rainfall. Where these currents pass over well covered earth where little warm air is rising into them in the daytime, and little radiation of heat from the earth into them during the night, in that higher, cooler region, various slight causes will give them enough chill to cause some condensation and frequent rains fall. But when these currents pass over large tracts of bare ground, the rising hot or warm air by day, and the radiation of heat by night, keeps them warm enough so that they never chill, except in rare cases of unusual convulsions, and there it rarely or never rains.
Kansas was once much less fertile, had much less rainfall than it has now. The Great American Desert was no myth. Fifty years ago it extended eastward into Missouri. But settlements slowly advancing have tended to circumscribe the fires which annually had swept these broad plains, and the desert has slowly retired.
Prior to 1856 Eastern Kansas had less rain than Western Kansas has now. Then the mesquite was found along the "Big Muddy" and the blue joint was struggling for a foothold. This grass has since marched westward a considerable more than half the length of the state, and sent its advance pickets even to the western line.
In 1870 I passed over Sumner county when the uplands had only here and there a little clump of blue joint, too distant apart to be neighbors. Now that same land is thickly swarded with it. Population has hardly kept pace with it in the march. It is the avant coureur of the change of climate which is taking place. The old mesquite grass is too slight a covering, too gauzy for virgin earth, yet it was so fine that the fires ran over it every year.
The blue joint well grown makes a covering indeed. It is the herald of rains, warm nights, corn, and fertility. Save it as you would your greatest blessing. Let not fire destroy its roots or its dead growth of last year. Let it remain as a protection, a mulch to the land. Do not burn it off that your stock may get new grass unmixed with it, nor that you may better break your prairies. Turn it in for it is a capital fertilizer and even then tends to keep the land cool. Make fire breaks in every direction. Make the man odious who sets a prairie fire. Enforce all existing laws against him and make others more stringent. Educate the people, and by constant assaults upon their understandings, drive home the knowledge of the consequences of prairie fires.
The future of this valley for agriculture is full of promise. In the present course of events, the time is surely coming when its climate shall be equable and more delightful, and its products of corn, wheat, and other cereals, of fruits of almost every nameable kind, and vegetables of almost every kind for this latitude, shall flourish and produce equal to those of the best districts of earth. Surely will come the day when this whole valley will be cultivated and improved so that the traveler in passing through any part of it, will pass a succession of groves, cornfields, orchards, wheat fields, meadows, barns, fine residence, flocks and herds, and a large population of happy, wealthy, and intelligent people. It will be the great cultivated garden of Kansas.
The people who are now in it and those who are yet to come can hasten this time many years. United action will bring it along in a few short years. Shall it be done?
HE HAD "COBI DESERT"...I CHANGED TO "GOBI DESERT."
HE HAD MESQUIT...I CHANGED IT TO MESQUITE.
THE WINFIELD COURIER APRIL 28, 1881.
[THIS WAS MENTIONED IN APRIL 21ST PERSONALS: "We have received an excellent article entitled "Reminiscenses," which will appear in our next. The paper is well written and will be of interest to the pioneers of '70 and '71. The writer says, 'Should you consign it to the wastebasket, no offense will be taken.' We always like to publish articles that will recall the early days of our county. We should like more of them." THE AUTHOR IS NOT GIVEN!]
It will be ten years in June since I made my first visit to Cowley. The terminus of the railroad then was Florence, at which point my traveling companion and myself arrived a little before sunset, where we found our father waiting for us, to convey us to his new home down in the wilds. As camping out was then in vogue, after loading our goods, which until this time had been stored in our southern home, we started out of town and traveled about two miles until we reached a clear stream, where we thought it best to spend the night. My father and my friend pitched their tent by the side of the wagon where they soon were quietly reposing, but as the grass was their bed, and having quite an aversion to the snake fraternity, which I knew inhabited these prairie countries, no persuasions nor entreaties of theirs could induce me to share their lowly fare, so I climbed on top of a large dry goods box on the wagon and there spent the night. It was a splendid place for meteorological observations, but an exceedingly poor place for sleep; but true to first impressions, I spent three nights on that box, and when on Saturday, about noon, we arrived at our destination, it was with difficulty that I could be persuaded to relinquish my claim, and a number of days till youthful vigor asserted its wonted rights, and I could move around with ease. This first experience of camp life was anything but flattering.
What a strange country this was; one vast expanse of prairie, with here and there a line of trees showing the track of some stream. Although it had been but a few months since this country had been opened for settlement, almost every quarter section was marked by its pile of stone or cottonwood cabin.
How it made my heart sink as we neared our home, where my always patient mother was waiting to embrace me and give a hearty welcome. Although different from our former homes, adversity causing my father to seek this frontier settlement, still he and mother were cheerful, and with their usual good sense, trying to make the best of everything. The house was about twelve feet by fourteen, no window, a loose board answering that purpose, being shoved to one side when light and air were needed. Then the fare! Who would have thought of a city pedagogue enjoying corn bread, made without milk, and bacon; no butter, but instead "back woods preserves." But it did not take more than a week to convince us that these were much better than we supposed, and finally good appetizers.
Then came those hot days of July and August, and as the early settlers will remember, the tendency to rain at most any moment; the sun blazing out with scorching rays one hour, and the next a great black thunder cloud covering the sky's deep blue; and how everything did grow; the sod corn was a marvel, and the grass and weeds were without a parallel. Such a state of things could not last long without developing that unwelcome visitor, chills, and almost everybody had them.
The place of public worship was a little grove by the side of a stream where a clear, cold spring quenched the thirst of those who many times suffered for such a cooling beverage, wells at that time a rarity. Rude seats were improvised, and these weekly gatherings seemed to be the "season of refreshing for the people." Although the toil and privations they were enduring was telling on many, still almost all kept brave hearts, looking forward to the great future of this land of their choice.
Quietly and quickly sped the ten weeks' vacation with nothing to save the monotony except a couple of visits to Winfield. 'Twas a strange town, but then this was only its babyhood. Not a chimney in the place, and such a collection of articles in the stores: everything from a side of bacon down to a paper of pins. But of these small beginnings are the great ends.
Then came the sad good-bye, leaving the dear ones in this wild place, and sick most of the time, but feeling it was the best braved my heart. We traversed the same road to Florence again, this time making the trip in a little over two days, and having the empty wagon to sleep in, which was very conciliatory.
The months, fraught with hard work and its compensation, rolled along, bringing word weekly from the Cowley house, telling of plans and prospects, and giving words of admonition as well, until the next June, and again I packed my trunk for my second visit to the south. By this time the railroad had reached Newton, which was noted as the congregation point of the leading desperadoes of the country, so we hurried away from the polluted spot, and camped several miles away from town. The change one year had wrought in the appearance of the country was remarkable. So much had been done for the comfort and convenience of these new homes.
After the home greetings and rest of a few days, having brought a saddle with me, I proceeded with my faithful horse to explore the country. Every nook for miles around was subjected to a series of inspections, but the one spot particularly impressive was the canyon. To me it was full of wonder, contemplating the whys and wherefores of such a work of rude beauty, and it was not long until I grew to love the quiet spot.
Winfield had passed my expectations. People seemed to be flocking in from every quarter, all eager for the one great object: the "almighty dollar." There was something fascinating about this feverish bustle after something; it showed an object in life, which so many eastern people lack.
It took some time to become reconciled to the appellation of bachelor, as bestowed alike on boys of twenty-one and men of forty-five. All the men who had taken claims and were unmarried, be they beardless youths or middle-aged men, were designated in that term. Of course, any lady with an average share of attractions would come in for some attentions, although sometimes the way they were bestowed was quite impressive. For instance, one day going to Winfield, one of the young bachelors happened by accident to accompany me. Although the conversation was rather one-sided, still a good listener is to be appreciated, and I was more than repaid for my expenditure of strength in the entertaining line, when on coming home my escort bashfully rode close by my side, and without a word slipped some peanuts and apple in my hand. I shall always think of that boy with feelings of interest.
The third vacation was a more lively one. People were cordial and seemed glad to welcome me back, and my horse was ready for the summer tours; and this time, we had picnics, horseback parties, etc. Farmers were jubilant over good crops, and housewives proud of their culinary stores. Winfield had made a great stride toward its future greatness, and the stir and bustle pervading all was such as only a westerner can appreciate or endure.
Only too rapidly the weeks sped by, and again the ten months of work were entered upon, this time with a zest, for they were to be the last. The fourth summer was quietly spent, and one evening in early autumn I promised to share the fortunes and misfortunes of one of those lonely bachelors. It was misfortune to start on, for the grasshoppers were black over the land, making their way into every nook and corner of the house, stripping every green thing of its verdure, and making the whole land look as though a vast fire had devastated it. Some of the settlers turned back to their old homes, heart-sick and breathing out anathemas on Cowley's fair name; but the men with nerve and sinew stayed, and they are now reaping the harvest of their toil and endurance.
It did not take long to settle down to housekeeping, and thanks to my bachelor husband, I soon learned to make bread and biscuit, and experience taught me the grand possibilities there are in rice, and that soda and sugar are each good in its place. The "red letter" days were those when I could go home, and my father would always meet me with a smile to take care of my horse and show me some new improvement.
So sped three years of married life, bringing with them cares and many blessings. The most perplexing care was when household help was needed. Oh, those girls! And many another housewife will echo, "those girls!" When you can relish pumpkin pies made in such a way that they seem like modified sole leather, then you can truly sing, "Oh, for a lodge in some vast wilderness," for what you eat and drink will be of little consequence.
The fourth year brought its cloud. The white-haired father was stricken with disease, and as week after week he lay daily learning patience and trust, enduring untold anguish without a murmur, it was then we felt it would be a mercy if release would come, and it did come, and all that was left of our dear one was the poor, wasted body, to be laid by us tenderly away. It is a beautiful spot, overlooking the town, where our dead rests, and the simple inscription on the marble, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints," seems peculiarly adapted to the case.
Now as I sit by the open door in my home overlooking Winfield, for the farm life is one of the things of the past, I can take in the full beauty of the town, the setting sun casting its golden glow over all and adding to its already many charms. The beautiful Brettun House is the prominent feature; then the churches, school houses, courthouse, and fine stone and brick residences all present a striking contrast to the ten years ago.
Now our transportation facilities are fast approaching the best, our newspapers are spicy and intelligent, our pulpits are filled with men who have the people's good at heart. May blessings crown the work of men who can visit the poor, sick, and afflicted, and utter words of cheer, comfort, and hope, as well as preach the Everlasting word in the pulpit. This is surely what the bible means by "pure and undefiled religion."
Last, but not least, is the people. They are so genial, intelligent, and warm-hearted. The eastern idea of caste is only slightly recognized here. As a rule, the intelligent class place merit as their standard, and such judgment cannot fail to bring about good results. Everything seems to unite to make this a place of beauty and attraction, and we are often led to exclaim, "There is ne'er in the wide world a valley so sweet."