Finding Illinois Ancestors wherever their trails led with Genealogy Trails History Group

Livingston County, Illinois
Genealogy and History

Farming, Agriculture, Livestock

This has been and still remains pre-eminently a farming county, very little manufacturing ever having been done here. The citizens send abroad for their clothes, their plows and farm machinery, for their boots, shoes, cheese, many of their wagons, and even in a measure for hams and bacon.

Since the farm lands have come into general cultivation, it has been pre-eminently a corn raising county. It is believed that more corn is now raised and shipped from this than from any county in the country.

In the earlier years, Winter wheat was largely and profitably grown ; cases occurred where the farmer paid for his farm and implements from his single crop of wheat. It soon became an uncertain crop, and was gradually abandoned. The growing of Spring wheat did not long continue after it had been destroyed a few years by the chinch bug,, and flour and wheat have become one of the principal imports into the county. Oats remain a standard crop, and give a fair yield. In the northwestern part of the county, timothy is largely raised for seed, it being in great demand in the Eastern States by reason of its freedom from the foul seeds which are found in that raised in older States. In the southeast, flax is a favorite crop, and its growth is extending. Rye is raised by many farmers, by reason of the certainty of its yield and because its sowing and harvest occur at a time when other work is not pressing, and that it is the best crop to seed with, now that wheat has been abandoned, and oats are apt to grow so rank as to smother the young grass plants.

Corn, however, is the only real staple article of farm production. The county is in the very center of the corn growing belt ; the land is better adapted to its production, the land is not liable to wash, and may be kept annually under plow without deterioration. The perfection of farm machinery has reduced the cost of production of this crop to the minimum. The rapidity with which it makes returns, the security with which it can be stored a year or more, the importance of the hog crop, and the cheapness with which it can be marketed in that shape, are all inducements to raising corn.

Besides these, are reasons found in the needs of the citizens. The population is largely made up of men with small means, who purchased small farms, but had not sufficient capital to fence and stock them for varied agriculture. Under the stimulus of the no-fence law, adopted in 1867, these open prairies were plowed and planted in corn, without a rod of fence on them, for there was no necessity for fencing their farms and dividing into fields. Among the newer settled townships, there are those which have more than four-fifths of all their land annually in corn ; pastures are rare, and herds of cattle are not seen.

Time will change this, however, in a measure ; but the great staple will remain the principal article of production.

In the year 1877, the production of corn, by the report of the State Board of Agriculture, is put down at 10,930,000 bushels. It is believed that na other county in the world raised so much.

Fruits are receiving much attention. Apples, everywhere the staple, are becoming an important product. It will be a long time, however, before they will be found in great abundance on all farms. The borer and the blight make havoc with the young trees ; latterly, the severe Winters have ruined many, old and young, besides which, the system of farming practiced is a great hindrance to growing orchards. With few or no cross fences on the farms, the cattle roam at will among the trees during the Winter and early Spring.

The blight has left but few pear trees growing in the county. Peaches are an uncertain crop.

Grapes produce abundantly-and regularly: indeed, no crop is so certain of producing a fair return. The Concord grape is as easily raised as com, and more sure of a crop.

Small fruits are fast popularizing, where only a few years ago they were only found in the garden or on the plantation of the horticulturist.

The Snyder blackberry, by reason of its ability to stand our severest Winters, and not being injured by Spring frosts, is fast being planted; all other varieties are too uncertain.

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


Of kin to the subject is the organization of Agricultural Societies. The county society, now known as the Livingston County Agricultural Board, was formed in 1855 by a few citizens. It owns a fine fair ground on the bank of the river at Pontiac, which is beautifully shaded with native trees, and has a fine half-mile track on it.

The Fairbury Union Agricultural Society was formed in 1875, as a stock company, and owns a fine ground at Fairbury. These two stimulate a generous rivalry, and are the means of vast good to the cause in the county.

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


The way our fathers performed their farming operations is so little known to the present generation, who depend so much on improved farm machinery and require their horses to do all the work which men, women and children formerly did, that a description of the olden way cannot prove uninteresting.

Banish reapers, mowers, corn planters, sulky plows, wire-tooth horse rakes, double-shoveled plows, horse hay forks, threshing machines, grape-vine cradles, and a conception can be formed of the primitive farming facilities.

Corn was "got in " in this way : After the land had been plowed, it was harrowed and "marked out" both ways, one way with a small, eight-inch mold-board plow, and the other by a marker made of 4x4 scantling, having on it four blocks or pegs, which would mark three rows at a time (if one happened to have so convenient an article, otherwise the land was marked out both ways with the corn plow). This marker had attached to it a pair of shafts, and a bowed sapling for a handle. If the horse was "handy" and tractable, the marking could be done without the aid of a rider ; but horses were so seldom driven single that the boys, who had most of this kind of work to do, could not manage them well enough to perform the work without a rider, so a " low-priced boy " was usually put astride the horse, who rode as long as the sheepskin, which reduced the terrors of bareback riding, and his unwilling seat could be induced to continue an unhappy partnership, when he was exchanged for a new recruit. Ah, the horrors of this ad sternum service! Boys who think riding horse is '"just fun " should try the experiment of a week's experience during marking-out and corn plowing time, and endeavor to ascertain just how much fun can be extracted from it.

After marking, all the children were taken out of school for a week to " drop" corn. The ancient farmer who was so unfortunate as to have no grist 'of children was in a bad row of stumps. This may account for the tendency to large families so common in past years. They had work for the children to do in those days, and Nature is kindly disposed to supply the wants of population.

Corn dropping was done from little tin pails or baskets held in the hand, or buttoned into the clothing in front, or fastened by a belt around the waist. The covering was done with a hoe having an eye into which the handle was put. This was a tedious job compared with our present plan, but '' tending " the growing crop was no less so.

" Plowing out" was all done with one horse, using the small mold-board, or a single-shovel plow, when again the small boy was frequently made to earn his bread by the sweat of hisóbody.

" Changing work " was a common device. While one farmer was getting his land plowed, another would employ his force of small help in getting in a crop, and then return the work.

The harvesting and securing of the small grain crops were even more tedious.

The hay was all cut with a scythe and raked into windrows with a hand rake ; the grain cut with the old straight handled cradle, and raked into bundles with a hand rake. Threshing wheat was done with a flail, and other grains were trod out by keeping a troop of unshod horses circulating over it, each flooring requiring about an hour.

Where grain raising was largely followed, " harvest hands" were scarce, and they often demanded and received two or three times as much for that as for any other kind of farm work. To swing a cradle all day was thought to be as laborious work and calling for as good pay as anything to be done, and he who could " rake and bind " and follow a cradle, keeping up his swath, need not tramp for a living during harvest time at least.

It is not easy to see how, with corn at from six to ten cents per bushel, oats little more, wheat from thirty to sixty cents, and other crops in proportion, the farmer succeeded in getting enough from the proceeds of his crop to pay for the labor he was obliged to hire. It is not difficult to understand why the best land that " ever lay out-doors ' remained for so long without purchasers.

Of course the farmers in those days did not ride in carriages, nor pay heavy taxes, nor buy luxuries, nor pay hotel bills when they traveled, nor dress themselves and families in "store clothes," but some of them lived comfortably.

How did they do it?

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


At one period of the history of the county, sheep were largely raised : and during the war, the high price of wool stimulated the spread of this branch of husbandry unduly. Particularly was this true of the fine-wooled varieties. With the close of rebellious hostilities, prices fell, and disease began to spread among the sheep. Losses were terrible, and sheep husbandry disappeared from the county. There are now only a few of the middle wooled sheep kept, and they seem to be comparatively remunerative.

Late years have shown a decided improvement in horses. The importation of Clydesdale, Belgian and Norman horses into the county has awakened a lively interest in that line. The peculiar nature of corn farming calls more for strength and endurance than for speed and action. The farmer reasons that two horses are better than three to draw a plow, if they can draw it as well. The heavy work with corn raisers is plowing and hauling the corn to market, and both of these require heavy horses.

The importation of Norman horses directly from France is largely due to the active business management of John Virgin, Esq., of Fairbury. In 1870, Virgin, J. C. Morrison and Decatur Veatch formed a partnership for that business. Mr. Virgin was sent out, and brought home the first venture of that kind. That partnership was soon dissolved by the death of Mr. Veatch, but Virgin has continued the business of importation.

The time was when the cattle which roamed over these prairies showed distinctly the dun. black, brindle and yellow colors characteristic of the native cattle. Now the short horns have so changed the general appearance of the herds that these colors are seldom seen. The entire "constitution"' of the horned cattle has been reformedónobody breeds or cares to breed anything else.

The hog crop now cuts so important a figure in the economy of the county, that much care has latterly been taken to secure the very best breeds for profit. The Chester White gradually gave way to the Poland China, and that in turn to the Berkshire, which is now the popular, not to say the fashionable, color.

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


Genealogy Trails History Group
Copyright ©Genealogy Trails