Post-Civil War Americans Move Westward to Make Money from Vegetables
After the Civil War, in the wake of the miner and the cowboy came the farmer. The railroads were eager to colonize the areas they controlled with potential customers and offered land near their tracks through giant advertising efforts in the East and Europe. The federal government tried various ways to sell public lands, most of them badly managed.
Regardless, the settlers rushed in. The populations of Minnesota, Kansas, and Nebraska doubled or tripled. The Dakotas went from 14,000 residents after the Civil War to 500,000 in 20 years. In 1889, the “Cherokee Strip” in northern Oklahoma was purchased from Native Americans and thrown open to settlement, and by 1900, the Oklahoma Territory had a population of about 800,000.
Most of the farmers faced a blizzard of hardships: drought, grasshopper invasions, prairie fires, and, well, blizzards. There was even foreign competition. In the 1870s, crop failures in Europe helped drive up prices and open markets for American farmers. But in the 1880s, crop prices fell as new producers in Australia and India came on the scene.
More and more farmers in the West found themselves in the same plight as those in the war-torn South. The number of farms that were either mortgaged or farmed by tenant farmers steadily increased as the last 20 years of the century passed.
Still, between 1870 and 1900, the number of American acres under cultivation more than doubled, from 407 million to 841 million acres. The frontier had been mined, ranched, and farmed into submission.