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raising exclusively in these western sections proved to themselves and to me that it was a mistake, and I quit advising farmers to go so far out. Those who acquired the free land and put a little stock on it were delighted and prosperous, and all who have gone since and pursued the same plan have prospered. The raising of vegetables, especially potatoes, proved successful and profitable, but corn, wheat, and general cropping were unprofitable. The “farmers” proper ultimately moved eastward into that section east of about the one hundredth meridian, and they, too, have prospered.
It was the advancing railroad and the
"FREE HOMES FOR THE MILLION”
Advertising which accomplished the result and peopled north Nebraska. This, not only immediately along the line of the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley R. R., but the population spread out to the north boundary of the state on the north, and covered two and more counties to the south of the line of our railroad, and the entire north part of the state is fairly well settled.
NEBRASKA POLITICS AND NEBRASKA RAILROADS..
PRESENTED BY J. H. AGER AT THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE NEBRASKA STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, JANUARY
The subject assigned to me is "Nebraska Politics and Nebraska Railroads." The inference carried by the title would seem to be that the railroads entering Nebraska are more or
1J. H. Ager was born at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1847. He resided in that state until the age of twenty-one, except during his service in Company H, 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery, in the Civil War. He entered railroad service in Kansas and Nebraska in 1867; was in the mercantile and banking business from 1878 to 1887; settled in Lincoln in 1887, and was state railroad commissioner for three years. He entered the service of the Burlington railroad as special agent in 1892 and still occupies this position.
less active in politics, and this inference I readily grant. In discussing the subject, I hope to be able to give you, from the railroad's standpoint, sufficient reasons for their right to take such interest as well as the extent and objects of their participation.
A recital of the history of the railroads of Nebraska would be but the telling of the story of the marvelous growth and development of this rich and fertile state. The railroads of Nebraska pay into the several treasuries of the state nearly one-sixth of all the taxes paid, and, second only to the brain and brawn of the men who conceived and built its cities, and changed its unbroken prairies into productive farms, have been the most potential factor in its development and in multiplying many times the value of its fertile acres. Preceding the commencement of the construction of the two great systems of railroads in Nebraska, the territory which they traverse was popularly supposed to be practically uninhabitable as an agricultural country; but the far-sighted, sanguine men who invaded the territory and risked their capital in railroad construction saw farther than the men whose judgment pronounced the country an arid waste. They found here a fertile soil and a genial climate, that gave promise of a rich field for the agriculturist and stock man.
Simultaneously with railroad construction they began the work of supplying to the people of the eastern states such information as to the country's natural resources as had induced them to send their capital west, and as would bring immigration. Lured by the promises of future rise in values, and the hope of securing homes and a competency, the strong, ambitious, and sanguine first sons of families in other states came to Nebraska and engaged in its development, undergoing the hardships and privations inevitable to pioneer life, and in this work each individual became a partner of the railroads, laboring to the accomplishment of the same end-the utilization of natural conditions to the betterment of themselves and all the people.
The railroads through their agents said to the people of the East, "Out there in Nebraska there is a soil unsurpassed for fertility and ease of tillage, a climate as favorable to agricultural pursuits as any in the world. We are going out there to spend our money in its development, and we want your help. Our railroads can not do the work alone. We want you to go out and cultivate the lands, build cities and factories, raise cattle, horses, hogs, and sheep. Our part of the work shall be to haul your surplus products to market and bring you such things as you may need from other sections of the country.” Upon this proposition hands were joined, and the work of settlement, development, and railroad construction has, with few interruptions, gone continuously forward, and Nebraska has reached a place well toward the head of the procession in the sisterhood of states, the result of cooperation and a community of interests of the railroads and the people.
Take an instance typical of most. A man from the East, equipped with health, industry, and a determination to succeed, homesteaded a quarter-section of government land, or perhaps bought from the railroad at $1.25 per acre, a farm, say in Kearney county, in the central part of the state. Previous to the advent of the railroad his land had but little value, other than the speculative value based upon the coming of a road. True, he and his family might derive from its cultivation the provisions necessary to their existence, and a restricted local market might be found for a limited surplus.
In time the road was built, and a station opened within hauling distance of his farm. A market town sprang up. While the productive value of his land in bushels and pounds was unchanged, its market value was multiplied two, four, or perhaps ten times, because the railroad had created a new value for its products. The gate. which
The gate which heretofore stood closed between the products of his land and the consumers of the East was pushed open by the locomotive, and he then learned that the value of his wheat and corn was affected more by a thirty-mile haul in a farm wagon than by a thousand miles in a freight car. It was as though the manufac
urer of the East, the fruit grower of Florida and the Pacific Coast, the lumberman of Michigan, and the coal men of other states had moved into Kearney county and become his neighbors, in respect to the facility and cheapness with which an exchange of his products for theirs could be effected.
Nebraska is essentially an agricultural state, and upon the occupants of the farms, more than upon any other class, do the railroads depend for business. Crop failures and short crops mean to the railroads idle cars and idle men, with consequent loss of revenue, without a corresponding decrease in the fixed charges which constitute about 80 per cent of the gross outlay of the railroad. The conditions necessary to insure good crops are as anxiously hoped for and their presence hailed with as much satisfaction by the managers of western railroads as by the tillers of western farms.
The state, by reason of its long distance from the grain markets of the East, is naturally somewhat handicapped, but the managers of the railroads have sought to so regulate the rates as to overcome this disadvantage and enable the Nebraska farmer to successfully compete in the marketing of his products with the farmers occupying the high priced lands of Iowa, Illinois, and other eastern states, and complaints have been lodged with the Interstate Commerce Commission by the farmers of the latter named states, charging discrimination by the railroads in grain rates, in favor of Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas. Twenty years ago the average freight rate per ton per mile, received by the Nebraska roads, was a fraction more than three cents. The average rate received for the year ending June 30, 1900, the latest data I could obtain, had fallen to one cent and 11/100 of a mill. Today the wheat of Nebraska is being taken to the Atlantic seaboard for export, for 6.2 mills per ton per mile, and corn for 4.97 mills. At this rate a farmer hauling one and one-half tons per load, thirty miles per day, would receive for the day's work for himself and team 2514 cents for
hauling wheat, and less than 17 cents for hauling corn. It used to cost $10 to get a barrel of flour carried from Buffalo to New York. That amount will now carry a ton of Nebraska wheat from Hastings to New York, a distance of 1,565 miles, and leave thirty cents unexpended. The amount that it took in 1859 to send a letter weighing one ounce, from the Missouri river to San Francisco by Col. Alexander Major's pony express, will send a ton of Nebraska corn 1,006 miles on its journey for export to Europe.
The first passenger tariff issued by the Union Pacific railroad, taking effect July 16, 1860, as far as Kearney, made the rate of ten cents per passenger per mile. The average rate received by the Nebraska railroads, excluding free transportation, for the year ending June 30, 1900, had fallen to 2 33/100 cents per mile. These comparisons are made to show that the railroads have been continually and voluntarily doing their part to assist the people in the work of the development of the state by reducing rates as fast as increasing business would enable them to do so.
It will be remembered by those present that during the almost total failure of crops in western Nebraska, in 1880, and again in 1893 and 1895, the railroads voluntarily came to the relief of the sufferers by furnishing free transportation to thousands of the citizens of the drouth-stricken localities who came to the eastern part of the state, or went to other states in search of employment, and to the numerous agents of different localities who went east to solicit aid from their more fortunate brethren; and in one year, more than a quarter of a million dollars in freight charges was rebated to the people of the western part of this state on seed grain and feed for teams and other stock, and relief goods.
The foregoing has, I believe, established the right of the railroads to an interest in the politics of the state, for in almost every case political issues resolve themselves into mere business issues, in which so great a factor as the railroads of Nebraska are certain to be affected one way or the other.