In 1803, the Louisiana
Purchase transferred to the United States government all French claims
to the region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.
With this purchase, the U.S. government claimed the land we now call
Iowa as part of the United States. But it wasn't until the 1830's that
pioneer farmers from the east began crossing the Mississippi River to
settle in Iowa.
Indian groups once freely hunted the buffalo and elk, the pioneer farmer
now plowed the rich prairie soil, planted fields and built homes. Pioneer
farming was very hard work and nearly all of it was done by hand.
The invention of the steel plow helped to make the hard work of pioneer
farming successful. In 1837, John
Deere invented a plow with a shiny steel blade. Pulled by oxen or
horses, it ripped through the dense sod uncovering the thick black soil.
This was still hard work because the thick prairie grasses had long roots
that extended deep into the soil. But the steel plow was superior to the
cast iron plows that were made for New England's sandy soil.
As time went by, farm machinery continued to improve and become more
efficient. Early farmers did most of their work by hand or with simple
pieces of farm equipment. By 1870, horses had become the most important
animal on the farm. They not only pulled wagons and buggies, but also
worked in teams to power corn planters, hay rakes and plows.
1833 and 1870, over one million pioneer settlers moved into the state.
Many of these settlers traveled to Iowa in wagons pulled by horses or
oxen. Others came by steamboat and some by stagecoach. Following the Civil
War (1861-1865) railroads
expanded rapidly replacing the stagecoach.
Many pioneer settlers who immigrated to Iowa between 1833 and 1870 were
born in states to the east of Iowa. They came in large numbers from Ohio,
Indiana, Illinois and New York. Other immigrants came from countries such
Germany, Great Britain and Ireland.
Today, many Iowa communities still celebrate a special ethnic heritage.
For example, Decorah is known for its Norwegian
culture, Elkhorn for the Danes
and Cedar Rapids for its Czech
These are just a few of the many Iowa towns that trace their roots to
immigrants from afar.
We often think that long ago change happened slowly. But Iowa changed
very rapidly between 1833 and 1870. During those 37 years Iowa was transformed
from a pioneer frontier to a major agricultural region.
Take a look at the native
vegetation in Iowa prior to pioneer settlement. Most of the forests
were located along the rivers (area shaded black). The prairie grass covered
the rest of the state.
Because of the changes brought on by the Industrial
Revolution settlers in 1870 had better horse-drawn equipment. They
could farm more land than the early pioneers.
By 1870, all 99 Iowa counties were dotted with
towns and farms. Railroads were beginning to transport Iowa farm products
throughout the United States. These changes made Iowa the important state
it is today.
Introduction to Pioneer Farming Continued...
Photos used by permission from the State Historical Society
of Iowa, Iowa City.