Baca County History

by the Plainsman Herald


The old and new settlement of Baca county The 1917 view of Sam Konkel

Sam Konkel told us much about the first wave of settlement in the 1886-1887 time frame.  In this article from the December 21 1917 issue of the Springfield Herald he offers some observations comparing that first wave with the second wave starting in 1907    Sam as always is entertaining with his writing. I will leave it at that and hand it off to that master wordsmith of early Baca County. Enjoy.

The old settlement began thirty one years ago, first striking old Boston, then Minneapolis, then Vilas, then Springfield, then Carrizo, Brookfield, Stonington. Plymouth, Holmes City, Carrizo Springs.

A striking feature of all the old settlements in the whole west was that an intended town would be laid out, and the settlers would then swarm around the new town.  

Thus land within a few miles of all the above old towns was filed on and a great deal of it proved up, while beyond those limits the country was mostly unpopulated. Just what that old population was— is hard to even approximate at this time. Basing the population on the claims of the towns and their communities would give several thousand  — anywhere say from seven thousand to ten thousand.  As an illustration, old Boston at one time claimed 750, when as a fact the real population of the town probably never exceeded 250, and may have been even considerably under that number.  

If we were going to venture a rough guess on the population of the county at the high-tide of that old settlement, we would say anything up to 5,000 —  feel sure at least it was considerably less than half what it is at the present time.  Why that settlement came and why it absquatulated, is is the one quandery of the new settlers of the county and those coming to visit, invest, or to investigate.

Very often the collapse of that old settlement is at the present time accounted for on the presumption that those old settlers didn’t come with the intention of staying and making this their homes  —  were here simply to speculate  — to prove up and get out.

We believe though there is no foundation for the presumption.  On the contrary, those old settlers moved here with their families nearly all of them staked everything they had on the country  — and nearly all of them left with nothing.

The why of the failure is about five fold. In the first place, they came with the belief that it rains here on the just and unjust exactly as elsewhere — that the American desert and mostly rainless west was a myth of geographers and the early pioneers crossing these plains.

In the second place, not one of those old settlers—and no one else as a fact, had at that time ever stopped to presume that farming could adapt itself to the rainfall, or that one plant is different from another in rainfall requirements.

In the third place, they did not know that new ground in a dry country is not dependable—didn’t know that age to the’ ground properly farmed, would give added moisture for the crops.

In the fourth place, not knowing there is a difference in plants as to moisture requirements, the settlers during the first three tragical years of the country’s settlement staked their all on corn, and those years being on the dry order, the big ears failed to materialize—often the stalks ditto—and then they gave up all hope and pulled their freight.

In the last place, those old first settlers were almost invariably afraid to risk the sandy land, where, as we know now  at least on new ground they would have stood a better chance, than on the hard land soils.

Well, at the end of the third year the settlement was mostly gone  — a few lone and forlorn settlers hanging on by the skin of their teeth and remaining with the country. Then followed the middle ages of the country’s history—every man knowing every other man in the county, and the whole county a neighborhood.

About seventeen years, then the renaissance—if we may be; allowed to borrow the term, new migration to the west starting in about 1907.

We have told the why of the old settlement and of its failure. The why of the new settlement has its sequel no less than the why of the old settlement; and indeed upon this sequel is based the hope and depends the salvation of the country.

The sequel to this new settlement is the study of dry farming methods and dry-farm plants, and the promulgation of these investigations and discoveries.

At the time of our “renaissance” there was no questioning the fact by anybody—practically at least, that this is a dry country; but the experiment stations and a few individual experiment* ore gave out the hope that by dry methods a living could be made in the dry west—and this hope brought the second settlement.

The feudal lords who had parceled out this great county neighborhood  during on the middle ages among themselves for range purposes, naturally balked on this new settlement, and honestly actually believed farming here to be an impossibility.

Dry farming at that time was just beginning to be heard of here, had never been practiced in the county, as indeed was about the case of real farming of any other kind —  consequently they were all from Missouri on the farming proposition.

Three years were given to the first of the new settlers to pull out — five years at the uttermost. All though said that some of them would stay, some putting it at 50 percent, some at 25 per cent, but most of them at 5 to 10 per cent. Our readers know the rest of the story. The maximum five years elapsed, five years more have followed suit, and practically every year has seen an augmentation of the settlement we had the year before.

There is no longer any questioning the new settlement, and no longer any questioning the agricultural status of the country. The only question now is as to how long land will continue to sell here for a half or a fourth of what it in average years will produce in standard crops, and as to what this land is actually worth.

To close by answering the question—if in the rain belt a piece of land is paid for in ten years by farming it, Mr. Farmer | considers he has been a tollerably prosperous case.

Here on old time prices crop values ran upward of ten dollars, while on up-to-date prices crop values are running everywhere from $10, to upwards of $100 per acre.

At $10 an acre for crops, on the bases of ten years to pay for the farm, would give $100 an acre as the value of the land.

Years alone will tell the story, but if this land isn’t worth from $25 to 50 an acre right now — wholly for fanning purposes, then crop production and values have nothing to do with the question.

Meantime we would say to eastern investors, come here and investigate for yourselves.

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