SHSND Home > North Dakota History > Unit 4: Building a New State,1878-1914 > Pioneer Farms

Unit 4: Set 2. Pioneer Farms - Introduction

Introduction | Agricultural Census | Estella's Letter | Holmes' Letter | Images | Activity

Plowing in North Dakota
Five horse team plowing, Wahpeton, ND

By the early 1870s land in northern Dakota Territory was being claimed or purchased for farms. Many farms were claimed through the Homestead Act (1862), the Timber Culture (Tree Claim) Act (1873), or Pre-emption Act (1841), while others were purchased from the Northern Pacific Railroad land grants or from private parties. The Great Dakota Boom (1878 – 1890) brought thousands of settlers to the region from eastern states, Canada, and Europe. Many of the new settlers stayed in North Dakota, others sold their land and moved on, a few returned to their previous homes.

Farmers found rich land for Hard Red Spring wheat in the Red River Valley and excellent grazing land for cattle from the Missouri Coteau west. The land that had once been considered too cold and dry for crops and too distant for livestock was discovered to be excellent agricultural land. The Northern Pacific and Great Northern Railroads transported products to eastern urban markets.

Estella letter page 1
Estella letter, page 1

The letters in this section were written by some of the people who came here to take advantage of the boom in agriculture. Two letters went to members of Eugene Kingsley’s family of Smithfield, Pennsylvania. One of the writers, J. Rush Holmes, lived with the Kingsleys in 1880 and was probably a farm laborer. Holmes may have been working for the Amenia and Sharon Land Company, a bonanza farm that hired dozens of workers to plow, plant, harvest, and thresh the wheat crop. Though Holmes saw a possible future for himself in North Dakota, he returned to Pennsylvania by 1900 and raised his family there.

Another member of Eugene Kingsley’s family was his daughter DeFrantie, addressed as Frantie by her correspondent, whom we know only as Estella S. At the time of this letter, Frantie was twenty-two years old; Estella was probably near that age. Estella was living near Eckelson with her family on her father’s claim.

We know little about these letter writers and how they fared in later life, but they tell us a lot about the excitement that lured easterners and people from other countries to the northern plains to take up farming. During the Great Dakota Boom, Dakota was the subject of discussion among people looking for land, looking to start a successful business, or simply wanting to make a new start.

These letters are transcribed with their original spelling and punctuation except for a few clarifications which appear in brackets.

Kingsley Mss SHSND Mss 20426

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