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The Great Wheat Gambler

On this date in 1909 the Golden Valley Chronicle warned that North Dakota farmers should be concerned about the Chicago Board of Trade. The newspaper reported on a conversation overheard in Chicago. Jim Patten, described as “the great wheat gambler,” reportedly declared that the Board had to suppress efforts by farmers to market their crops independently. The idea was to have the Board send out the flattering reports to help hold prices down until farmers gave in. Patten saw any organization on the part of farmers as a threat to the power of the Board.

The Chicago Board of Trade was the first grain futures exchange in the United States. It was organized in Chicago in 1848. It began as an informal association of Chicago grain merchants. By 1858, access to the trading floor was limited to members who had seats on the Board. The Board established a system for inspecting and grading grain to standardize the market.

James J. Hill encouraged farmers to band together. He said that many of his neighbors had rushed their grain to market the previous year. Hill decided to exercise patience. He held his wheat back. When he finally took it to market, he said he made more money than his neighbors. He endorsed the idea of farmers taking a stronger role in marketing their crops. He said they could make more money by cooperating with each other and not being in a rush.

North Dakota produced a bumper crop of spring wheat in 1909. The price of wheat and other grains had already been marked down. Senator McCumber also urged farmers to band together. He said it was in their best interests to join the Society of Equity, which had been established in 1902. The purpose was to organize farmers as a political and economic power, similar to organized labor. It became a force in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. McCumber said the Society was the best organization the farmers ever had, and it would allow them to sell their grain independently. Otherwise, he said, they would be “crushed by the elevator trust.”

The movement eventually gave rise to the Nonpartisan League of North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Golden Valley Chronicle. “Board of Trade Men Determined to Rob the Grain Growers.” Beach, ND. 3 September 1909. Page 4.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Chicago Board of Trade.”  Accessed 22 July 2019.

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