Using butter to buy coal in 1901

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

Things were booming in western Stutsman County in 1901. Especially when compared to the area's condition just four years earlier.

In September 1901, The Jamestown Alert said the changes in the Medina area would surprise anyone. The article went on to say the 1897 population of the area amounted to four ranches running cattle on the open range. The railroad depot had generated just $500 in revenue from passenger ticket sales and freight charges.

By 1901, things had changed. While there was still land available to homestead, the population of farmers had increased and the community was growing. The business done by the railroad had increased to about $22,000 and a new depot was under construction. The railroad stockyard included space for 1,000 head of cattle for shipment.

A couple of things had changed in those four years. A largely German colony had set up north of Medina and had its own schools and churches. A more varied group, including folks from around North Dakota and the United States, had settled south of Medina. This group had a couple of churches and schools and got its mail at a rural post office named Bloomenfield.

The region's economy seemed to operate without a lot of cash. The farmers around Medina paid for the goods they bought at the stores in Medina with butter. The Alert article said the stores shipped about 6,000 pounds of butter per week to Minneapolis. The bank at Medina worked with banks in Minneapolis to transfer bank drafts back to Medina.


I assume farmers headed for town didn't carry their butter in their pockets like we carry a wallet now.

Flax was another crop that aided the Medina boom. It was said to pay a better return than wheat.

Farmers could plow the sod of the native prairie in the fall and plant flax the next year. Yields came in at up to 15 bushels per acre with a cash price of about $1.50 per bushel.

Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to $40 per bushel or $600 per acre in cash return.

Some farmers were working land acquired through the Homestead Act. Those who bought land likely paid about $3 per acre. Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to $80 per acre in today's dollars.

The Alert article said farmers were paying off their entire debt with the proceeds of their first crop with enough money left over to expand the farm operation.

Another advantage to the Medina area was its access to lignite coal. A ton of coal cost about $2.20 while the stores were giving the farmers about a dime a pound for the butter they brought in.

So, at least in Medina in 1901, you heated the shanty by milking the cows.

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