Agriculture in Post-Civil War Missouri
In the 1866 Missouri county agriculture reports, J.R. Woodside was quoted as saying, “The ravages of a cruel civil war so depleted us of population, stock, and everything else indicating the thrift of the farmer, that a report must be meager, indeed that correctly describes the status of this county.” In May 1865 the county contained fewer than two hundred families, half of which lacked a male head. The villages and farms of Oregon county had been burned by the “torch of the relentless Jayhawkers”, leaving many of the remaining families living in camps.
Oregon County is a tract of land lying north of the Arkansas line and south of township 26. It is 30 miles long and 26 miles wide. After the Civil War, the average price of improved land was about five dollars per acre with unimproved lands selling for around two dollars per acre. There were about 8,000 acres in cultivation in November 1866 with an estimated population of 3000.
The staple crop of the county was corn, with 20,000 bushels being produced annually with an average of 35 bushels per acre. Wheat production was at about 3,000 bushels annually with an average of 15 bushels per acre. To add to this the farmers raised 800 to 1,000 pounds of cotton. Sorghum was another crop that was considered a necessity to the county, although no sugar had been produced from it yet. The cane was rolled between two wooden rollers propelled by a single horse and cooked in wash tubs to make the much desired molasses.
As for livestock, there were no large flocks of sheep, just a few that grazed freely on the forage of the hillsides. The hogs were of the common “long snout” type and ran free over the countryside, however improvements were expected through a cross with Berkshire and Byefield boars. The cattle of the area numbered about 4000 and ran loose in the green valleys of the county. They were also of a primitive type being required to winter themselves in the wooded areas without the assistance of mankind. From these 4000 head about 1000 offspring were driven to market. The county contained a total of about 2500 horses from which 400 offspring were marketed in the year with an average value of 60 dollars per head. There were a few mules with an average worth of 100 dollars.
In 1860 the people of the county saw a need for the introduction of orchards into the area. Hence thousands of trees were imported into the county from New York, Ohio, Illinois, Arkansas, and Springfield, Missouri. But most were destroyed, along with the lives of the people who planted them, during the bloodshed of the civil war.
The county had some immigration in November 1866 and expected a great influx in the fall of 1867. Field hands demanded at least 25 dollars per month, and were very happy to receive it. There were few freedmen at the time; “I cannot see much difference now and when they were slaves. They were an expense to their masters then; don’t think they are much better now” stated J.R. Woodside.
This page was designed by Jeremiah Peterson.
For more information, contact Lyndon N. Irwin