Pioneer Farming Quick Facts

Activity 2

Pioneer Farming

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The Fertile Soil

  • Prairies once covered about 40% of the United States.
  • In Iowa, 99.9% of the prairie landscape is gone.

  • Iowa has some of the most fertile farmland in the world.
  • Scientists believe it takes about 400 years to produce one inch of new soil.

The First Farmers

  • The last great glacier retreated approximately 12,000 years ago.
  • Scientists believe people have lived in the upper Midwest for nearly 12,000 years.
  • Indian groups began building earthen mounds in the upper Midwest approximately 4,000 years ago.
  • Mound-building activities along the Upper Mississippi ended around 1300 AD.
  • About 700 years ago, Indians of a farming culture settled along the Mississippi river in northeast Iowa.
  • The state of Iowa was named for the Ioway Indians.
  • The Ioway were living in the Upper Mississippi River Valley when the first European explorers arrived in the 1600s.
Photographer: Scott Fairbairn

The Fur Trade

  • The first European explorers to reach the upper Midwest were Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette in June 1673.
  • France claimed the entire Mississippi River and the surrounding valley in 1682 after La Salle's explorations.
  • After the French claimed the Mississippi valley, they set up fur trading posts on the frontier.
  • Indian groups traded the skins of beaver, raccoon and deer for objects such as iron kettles, glass beads and cloth.
  • The Sauk and Mesquakie Indians replaced the Ioway Indians as the dominant group in the Upper Mississippi River Valley in the mid-1700s.
  • Black Hawk was the most famous Sauk war chief. Another important Sauk chief was Keokuk.

Pioneer Farmers

  • The Louisiana Purchase was sold by Napoleon to the United States in 1803.
  • The United States paid France 15 million dollars for the Louisiana Purchase.
  • The Louisiana Purchase totaled approximately 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River, including the present-day state of Iowa.
  • Pioneer settlement in Iowa began in 1833.
  • Iowa became a state in 1846.
  • Between 1833 and 1846, Iowa was part of the Michigan Territory, the Wisconsin Territory and the Iowa Territory.
  • By 1851, the U. S. Federal government claimed ownership of all Iowa lands once held by Native Americans.
  • Most of the pioneer settlers were born in states to the east of Iowa.
  • After the Civil War (1861-1865), large numbers of European immigrants came to live in Iowa.
  • Immigrants from Germany were the largest group to settle on the Iowa prairies.
  • The new immigrants traveled to Iowa by wagon, stagecoach, steamboat and railroad.
  • The use of steamboats and stagecoaches dropped sharply after railroads were built in Iowa.
  • Most of Iowa's early settlers were farmers.
  • The abundance of farmland drew many immigrants to the United States.
  • When Iowa was first a state, land usually sold for $1.25 per acre.
  • Prairie pioneers built their homes from materials around them. Log homes were built where timber was available. Where timber was scarce, sod homes were built.
  • Early pioneer settlers were self-sufficient farmers. They built their own buildings, sewed clothing, raised livestock and grew their own food.
  • By the 1870s small farms covered most parts of the state.
  • Corn was the main crop grown in Iowa.
  • Pioneer farming required much hard work with few mechanical tools.
  • By 1870, the pioneer frontier was gone.
  • Farmers who arrived after the pioneers had more efficient equipment that allowed them to plant and harvest additional land.
Photographer: Debbie Bates
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