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Presidential Bonanza


United States President Rutherford B. Hayes visited Red River Valley bonanza farms near Casselton on this date in 1887. The President spent most of his time on the Dalrymple wheat farm, admiring the size and efficiency of the highly mechanized operation run by Oliver Dalrymple.

Dalrymple had come to Dakota Territory in 1874 at the request of General George Cass, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Cass, along with railroad director Benjamin Cheney, had just purchased over 10,000 acres of land twenty miles west of Fargo, and hoped that Dalrymple would sign on to manage the pair’s farming operations. Cass and Cheney knew of Dalrymple’s reputation as Minnesota’s “Wheat King,” which he had earned from his large and successful wheat farm near Cottage Grove, Minnesota. In 1874, however, Dalrymple’s poor speculations in grain futures cost him his fortune, and his farm. Despite this, Cass knew Dalrymple to be an excellent farmer and an avid enthusiast of the newest and most advanced farming techniques. Dalrymple soon signed on as manager to the Cass and Cheney Farm, with the added incentive of gaining land ownership each year. In this way, Dalrymple was able to start his own bonanza operation in the 1880s.

By the time President Hayes visited Dalrymple’s operation in 1887, he had nearly 50,000 acres of land under cultivation. The main crop in the Red River Valley at the time was “No. 1 Hard Wheat,” and in 1888 it was said that “the United States exceeds any country in the world in the amount of wheat growing; Dakota any state or territory in the Union, and Cass any county in the Territory.” The huge profits and short-term investments of bonanza farms created sensational, and often exaggerated, stories in newspapers back east. These reports encouraged many eastern farmers and settlers to move west, leading to a rapid influx of new immigrants to the Territory. It later became known as the Dakota Land Boom.

By the time Cass and Dalrymple finally dissolved their partnership in 1896, Dalrymple’s farm consisted of nearly 100,000 acres of land. Although sharply declining wheat prices and higher labor costs had forced the closing and selling-off of most of the Dakota bonanza farms by the turn of the century, Dalrymple’s sons continued to operate the large farm until 1917, when they began selling off parcels of their father’s original behemoth.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job

Hoheisel, Tim and Andrew R. Nielsen. 2007 Cass County. Arcadia Publishing: Chicago.