Agricultural History Series
Agricultural History Series
 Missouri State University

Agriculture in Post-Civil War Missouri 

McDonald County

gold bar

McDonald County is the extreme southwestern county in Missouri.  In 1867 the western part of the county was part of the Cherokee Nation and the southern part bordered the unreconstructed state of Arkansas.  There were thirteen streams and rivers supported by numerous springs throughout the county providing some of the purest of drinking water for animals and man.  Many farms were located in the valleys of rivers and streams.  Many of these farms were built on bottomland, made of a rich dark moist soil mixed with gravel.  McDonald County was said to be extremely fertile for cultivation and early planting.

On top of having profitable farmland McDonald County was well supplied with different varieties of timbers; including pine, cedar, all oaks, hickory, ash, hackberry, dogwood, the gums, walnut, maple, locust, mulberry, sassafras and many other species of forest. The abundance of trees and streams supported four steam saw and gristmills and two water powered saw and gristmills who flourished using the cheap fuel.  The unimproved land could be purchased for three to ten dollars per acre; improved land went for five to twenty-five dollars per acre after being cleared.

The county residents had no reapers, cultivators, or mowers.  Farm labor was accomplished by the simplest of implements - muscle and mule. The population was about five thousand; only one-twentieth of the county was in cultivation and only about one-tenth successfully tilled.

The principle crop production in 1867 was corn, averaging fifty bushels; wheat at twenty; oats, fifty; Irish potatoes, one hundred; sweet potatoes, two hundred bushel; and tobacco, 1000 pounds per acre.   It was stated that these reported yields per acre could be doubled with good cultivation.  Hungarian grass, sorghum, and fruits such as grapes flourished throughout the county. 

The climate was said to imitate the sunny lands of Italy and Southern France.  It was predicted that it would become the Italy of America, the grape and fruit region of the world.  The winters were mild and open. 

Cattle and swine were said to require little attention, living the winter months on the "luxurious herbage" along the valleys.  Frost seldom entered the valleys allowing the lush grasses to be available all winter.   Bordering the famous Mason - Dixon line the boundary of free labor, McDonald County was said to be free from the stigma of slavery.   It was near the geographical center of the United States and in close proximity to the great national thoroughfares, the railroads that were uniting the North with the South. 

McDonald County had excellent range.  The small farms had access to this range. Livestock of all varieties are easily raised and for the most part disease free.  Horses, mules, sheep and cattle were profitable, cheaply raised and cared for.  

         Longhorn steers

There was a need for better grades of livestock.  The county offered such a good climate and range favorable for cheap and profitable stock raising.  It is amazing that the area did not already have the best varieties introduced.

McDonald County’s invitation was extended to farmers, mechanics, investors and fruit growers to come and settle among the citizens of extreme Southwest Missouri. McDonald County had rugged hills, bold cliffs, each covered with cedars and pines, deep valleys viewed from higher points, showing a vista of small cultivated farms, clear winding streams, cascading rivers, cold gushing springs. 

Next page.   Reference: 
  • Agriculture Report of Missouri, 1867

 This page was designed by  Lane Truman

For more information, contact Lyndon N. Irwin