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The Farmer's Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860-1897

By Fred A. Shannon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
Special Problem of Prairie Farmers

TRANSPORTATION

EXCEPT for the continuation, in most districts, of wretchedly poor country roads, the transportation problems of the Middle Western farmers, after 1860, were of quite a different nature from those of farmers in most of the earlier history of the country. Canals, as in the South (see page 104, above), were no longer of much use, except perhaps in parts of Ohio and for the competition with rail rates afforded by the Erie Canal from April to December. Steamboats continued to serve localities that they could reach. But the advance of railroads was usually ahead of extensive settlement along the whole frontier line, and the squatters who found unmonopolized lands beyond the railheads, in the earlier years, did not have to wait long till transportation agencies overtook them. The problems that arose were partly, but not mainly, the old ones of the paucity of facilities. Rather, they were the monopolistic practices of the railroads, which often took the last cent of profit out of a crop, thus retarding commercial agricultural ventures and forcing selfsufficing practices, such as the burning of corn in the western Prairies.

The ordinary homesteader, forced by the railroad land grants to locate many miles remote from the right of way, had the special disadvantage of long hauls over roads that generally were no better than a series of ruts, and that often were so muddy that

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