In population, the county has advanced rather slowly, some years being quite progressive and others retrogressive. In 1870, the population of the county was 156, and this was confined entirely to a small locality in the neighborhood of the coal banks on the Smoky at the eastern line of the county. The population at that time was composed of men who were brought to the county for the purpose of opening up coal mines, and outside of these there was not a settler in the county at the time the census was taken in 1870. By 1875, the population had increased to 1,212, and by 1878 it had reached 3,239. The years of 1878-79, were remarkable for the immense emigration that came to the county, and the United States census for 1880, shows the population at that time to have been 7,321. Since that time, however, the population of the county has been gradually and constantly decreasing, until 1882, according to the assessors’ returns for that year, the population of the county had fallen to 5,950. These are the figures regarding population that appear on the statististical (sic) record for 1882, as found in the office of the County Clerk, although it is maintained by many that the figures are not correct, and that the population is much greater.
Prior to 1872 no attempt had been made at farming in the county. Up to that time the soil remained in its primitive state, not a single furrow having been turned over by the plow. The total area of field crops in 1872 was 601 acres, of which 19 were in wheat, 567 in corn, 2 in barley, 7 in oats, 5 in buckwheat, and one acre is sorghum. This attempt was more of an experiment to test the capabilities of the soil than anything else. The first real attempt at genuine farming was made by Luther Landon, who moved out in the summer of 1871, and located on a claim in the southern part of the county, on what is now known as Landon’s Creek, where he erected a stone house, and turned over some prairie, most of which he planted to corn the following year.
Others followed in 1873 and 1874, but the grasshoppers in the latter year destroyed the promising prospect. In 1875, the total acreage of field crops was 6,407.54, of which 992.50 were in winter wheat, 310.50 in rye, 584 spring wheat, 1833 corn, and 507.50 in oats. This increase would indicate that the people were not discouraged by the disaster of the preceding year, and the abundance of the crop gave good encouragement for the future. The following year the acreage increased to 6,487 acres. The three following years the crops were extremely good, and the fact was now established that the soil of Russell County, with ordinary rains, could produce large crops of all kinds of cereals. The statistical record for 1882, compiled from the returns of the various assessors, shows the number of acres in farms, at that time, to have been 214,260, valued at $859,014.
This valuation would make the acres in improved farms worth only a fraction over $4 per acre; but to more correctly approximate the real value, the valuation above must be multiplied by three, as the assessed valuation is only one-third of the real value, and in many instances not even that much. The farm dwellings erected during the year ending March 1, 1882, were 39, valued at $5,878. The number of acres sown to winter wheat in 1881, was 34,573; rye, 2,623; spring wheat, 1882, 769; corn, 25,441; oats, 3,724; Irish potatoes, 246; sorghum, 1,689; flax, 163; broom corn, 97; millet and hungarian, 2,637; rice corn, 1,208. Grasses in cultivation and under fence: prairie meadow, 8,036; prairie pasture, 25,062, making a total of 107,264 acres, an increase in acreage of field cops in four years of 86,128 acres. These figures would indicate either an increase in the farming population, or great improvement by those already engaged in that industry. If the farming population has increased, then the loss in population that has taken place in the last two years, as shown by the census of 1880, and the assessors’ returns for 1882, must have occurred in the towns and villages, and the populations of the latter show this must have been the case.
The statistical record further shows that there were out of tame hay in 1881, one thousand two hundred and forty-seven tons, and of prairie hay nine thousand two hundred and sixteen tons. The value of garden products marketed during the year ending March 1, 1882, was $705, and the eggs and poultry sold amounted to $7,911. The cheese reached 133,052 pounds. The county has made some progress in the live stock line, but sheep raising is commencing to receive more attention than either cattle or swine. The live stock in the county in 1882, was:- Horses, 2,364; mules and asses, 411; milch cows, 2,412; other cattle, 6,638; sheep, 22,708; swine, 5,590. The value of animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter during the year was $50,260. The wool clip for the year was 49,224 pounds. But little progress has been made in horticulture, and for some years no attention whatever was paid to it.
The statistical record shows that in 1882, there were only 88 apple trees in bearing, 5 pear trees, 1,822 peach trees, 148 plum trees, and 329 cherry. The number not in bearing was: Apple, 9,858; pear, 378; peach, 17,199; plum, 806, and cherry 2,527. Thus far in the history of the county, attempts at raising the larger kinds of fruit, such as apples, pears, and peaches, have not been very successful, but the smaller fruits have been cultivated with satisfactory success.
Artificial forestry has commanded some little attention, but far from anything like what the timberless prairies demand. The efforts that have been made in this respect are more of an experimental character than anything else, in order to ascertain to what varieties the soil and climate are best adapted. Walnut and ash have been found to do best thus far. Cottonwood grows well for the first four or five years, and after that dies under the ravages of an insect known as “borer.” The total number of acres devoted to artificial forestry in the county in 1882, was 338 as follows: Walnut, 64; maple, 4; honey locust, 2; cottonwood, 136; other varieties, 132. Some of the groves set out are doing remarkably well, while others are not encouragingly promising.
There were in the county in 1882, 48,498 rods of fence constructed of material as follows: Board fence, 1,022 rods; rail, 275; stone, 4,061; hedge, 5,165; and wire, 37,975. This amount of fence would enclose 152 square miles, less a fraction, or an area equal to about one-sixth of the entire county. The agricultural implements in the county were valued at $48,679. While these statistics do not show any wonderful advancement in material growth, they are yet far from discouraging; and when it is borne in mind that only eleven years have elapsed since the first settlement was made in the county, the degree of prosperity that has been attained by the settlers give them good grounds on which to found hopes for a prosperous future.
Source: Russell County, History of the State of Kansas, 1883.