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September 23, 1871 pages 897- 898 (Illustrated Article)
People who have never visited the great West, and in whose eyes a farm of two or three hundred acres is large, have very little conception of the magnificent scale on which farming operations are carried on in the regions of the prairie country. For their enlightenment we give in this number of the Weekly a series of sketches, some of which will be found on pages 900 and 901, of Burr Oak, the great farm of Illinois, and probably without a rival in the world. Located in Ford and Livingston counties, it lies, in a direct line to St. Louis, a distance of 100 miles from Chicago.
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Twenty years since, its owner, M. L. Sullivant, entered this and other lands from government at an average price of $1.25 per acre. His determination seemed to be to keep himself "land poor," as the Western phrase is, until the disposal of surplus acres at a great and natural profit should give him the necessary funds to operate successfully a large farm.
In 1868, just previous to his location on Burr Oak, Mr. Sullivant visited his native place, in the vicinity of Columbus, Ohio. In response to inquiry after his welfare and prospects he said that he had run down from nearly 100,000 to 40,000, mentioning in a joking way, as one of his losses, the Broadlands farm of 20,000 acres, which he had sold to Mr. Alexander for a quarter of a million dollars. (Broadlands is today valued at more than $600,000.) In 1868 Mr. Sullivant commenced work on Burr Oak with 1000 acres of corn. In the following year 5000 were put in; in 1870, 9000 acres. At the present writing he has upward of 11,000 acres of corn, which promise an average of fully forty-five bushels to the acre. Besides this there are quite 5000 acres of other crops under cultivation.
These statements in figures give but a vague idea of the vast green oceans of growing grain under the bright prairie skies; but fancy a continuous crib of twelve feet in width, filled with ears of corn to the height of eight feet, nearly if not quite five miles in length, and you will then have the dimensions of Mr. Sullivant’s corn crop for the present year.
But this is a comparatively small part of the work done at Burr Oak during the past four years. The estate embraces exactly sixty-five square miles—over 40,000 acres. The land, which is rolling, in some places quite broken, is in the form of a square, and has been crossed and recrossed by wide avenues hedged on either side with the Osage orange. Three hundred miles of hedge have been set out, six miles of board fence built for cattle and stock, and 150 miles of ditching (the ditches are seven feet wide, and average nearly two feet in depth) have been done to drain the wet places; numerous corn cribs, farm buildings, shops for various work; and a vast amount of work of all descriptions, in which a new place abounds.
Besides this, Mr. Sullivant has been an earnest worker for the advancement of Illinois, in which he takes considerable pride. Numerous railroad enterprises have been advanced by means of his sturdy support, and no actual settler has been refused counsel and advice in the selection of land, and oftentimes aid of a different description has been extended. In his great knowledge of land—both as to its lay, and the quality of the earth for the growth of different crops—Mr. Sullivant has it in his power to render a positive and needed aid to the farmer, who may be almost ruined by the loss of a single crop. He believes persistent labor, directed by fair judgment, will enable any man to follow out Horace Greeley’s advice—i. e., move West and prosper.
His farm-work is perfectly systematized. Burr Oak is a bee-hive, with no drones, and the accounts show where each day’s work has been done, whether it is by man or beast. His purchases are invariably made in large quantities. For instance, fifty plows, fifty cultivators, etc. This enables him to make terms of the most favorable character. The hands, mostly Swedes and Germans, are engaged about the 1st of April, and are expected to stay until the 1st of January. Two hundred and fifty men are required at present to work the farm. These, with the exception of a few who bring their own teams and work by contract, are assigned to the different farms and gangs. Mr. Sullivant is the commander-in-chief, Mr. J. M. Miner his brigadier; next twelve captains, each with three lieutenants, each lieutenant having charge of a squad of men, and immediately responsible to the captain or head of the farm for their work.
Besides the organized farm gangs, there is a considerable force constantly employed in carpenter and mason work; a regular blacksmith’s shop, with its four or five smiths; men constantly busy in the repair of machinery; the harness-shop, wagon-shop, painters. In the fall of the year Mr. Sullivant finds it necessary to detail a certain number of men as gunners to kill or drive away the innumerable flocks of wild geese and ducks which would otherwise destroy thousands of bushels of grain. In speaking of this, he says: "I tried at first to equalize the thing by planting a few hundred more acres, but my feathered boarders forced me to drain some of the lakes and ponds before I could get them to come in more reasonable force." To return to the work of the farm.
The captains report each evening to Mr. Sullivant, and deliver their pass-books to Mr. Taylor, the book-keeper and paymaster, who takes the record and returns the books. Meanwhile the captains are gathered about Mr. Sullivant, answering questions and receiving his order.
It may be well to state here that there is no field of Burr Oak with the condition of which Mr. Sullivant does not seem to be perfectly familiar, and generally from personal observation; and he has an able second in Mr. Miner, a bright-eyed, sun-bronzed Ohioan of not more than thirty-two years. He detects a defect in a piece of harness, in a bolt of cultivator, or a half-done piece of work, the instant his eye falls upon it. With his light buggy and quick-stepping pair of mules he travels many miles each day, visiting such pints as his chief directs—Mr. Sullivant, meanwhile, taking observations in an opposite quarter.

Thus it will be seen that the captains’ reports at evening to Mr. Sullivant, in Miner’s presence, are not made to parties uninformed.

Mr. Sullivant has, however, selected his men with care, and the evening report seems to a stranger more a friendly chat than any thing else.

The work required from the men is ten hours per day; a noon-time of two hours gives a mid-day rest to the men and stock.

At the close of the day the hands from the different farms assemble at the dancing-floor in the fine grove of burr and oaks from which the farm is named. The fiddlers and accordion players furnish the music, and a right merry time is enjoyed by men who, as Mr. Sullivant suggests, might find themselves in mischief with trifling exertion. The Swedish girls of Burr Oak are dancers of no mean rank, if endurance may be taken into consideration. Mr. Sullivant and his family are frequent and thoroughly welcome spectators of the dance. The social condition of Burr Oak is capital. Fighting, drunkenness, and other nuisances are of too seldom occurrence to mention.

There is not space to give a complete monthly report, but a synopsis, and a few of the leading items, will serve to explain the system.

Men Horses Oxen
May, 1871 4979 ¾ 7060 1987
Men Horses
Overseeing generally 45 90
Errands and chores 31 58
Harness-shop 8
Water hauling 27 ¼ 27 ¼
Stables 191 160
Blacksmith’s shop 114
Kitchens 273
Implements and machinery 82 1
Nursery 79 ½ 18
Hedges 383 ¾ 214 ½
This is but a fragment of the list, but it will be easily seen that with such a system Mr. Sullivant is able to keep himself thoroughly posted as to the condition of his farm and situation of his affairs.
Mr. Sullivant has a pet theory that what he is doing may be done by any company of earnest working-men who may combine capital and labor for mutual advantage. He is not a man of grasping disposition, but great-hearted and broad in his views, as his great work shows one very hand. On his return from a trip away from his farm the men gather about at evening to await his arrival, and welcome him in a genuine and earnest way that tells of more than usual feeling, and shows a pleasing relation of a man and his men.
The regular farm-work of Burr Oak, which is essentially a corn farm, is the breaking of raw prairie, planting, cultivating, and harvesting. Oxen are principally used in breaking, and with the breaking-plow a furrow twenty inches in width is cut. This appears to be merely a turning of the sod, for the furrow is but two and a half to three inches in depth. This work is done during spring, summer, and fall, and the land, if plowed sufficiently early (any time before the 20th of June), may be at once planted with corn, which is not cultivated or worked in any way until it is harvested. The yield will average twenty bushels to the acre, which will pay an interest on the land at Illinois Central Railroad prices, the expense of work, and a profit besides. This estimate is made after a fair investigation, and rating the breaking at $2.75 per acre, which is full price, and the planting and seed at twenty-five cents per acre. A bushel of corn will fully plant eight acres of land. A man and team will plant twelve and a half acres, and run the furrows to a guiding stake. A heavier crop may be taken from land on which the breaking-plow is followed by a stirring-plow, and a furrow four inches deep is cut, the earth being thrown over the sod-plowing. This is summer or fall work. In the spring following this land is harrowed, planted, and cultivated in the same manner as old land. The crop abundantly repays the outlay. Old ground is plowed from the 1st of April until the 10th of June. With a steel plow and horses or mules, two and a quarter acres is a fair day’s work. A man and four yoke of oxen will harrow, with gang-harrows, from twenty-five to thirty acres per diem. The cultivation is done entirely by machinery, and very completely, the number of times the crop is gone over depending on the condition of the ground—generally from three to four. Some idea of this cultivation of corn by machinery may be gathered from the mention that in one single field the writer saw no less than 124 cultivators, each worked by one man and two mules or horses. Scattered about at convenient points were boys with low trucks or wagons, on which were casks filled with water, to be used for drinking purposes by the workers. Burr Oak is a temperance farm—whisky being used only for snake bites; even then its owner is doubtful whether the whisky will not injure the man more than the snake bite. The work of cultivation finished, the crop is said to be laid up, and breaking, ditching, and other farm-work is in order until the harvest, at which time the men are told off in squads composed of two gangs of six to a gang. A boss, two wagons, and four horses are allotted to each squad. A gang takes five rows of corn, and an average of fifty bushels of corn is cribbed for every man’s day’s work. The cribs are long wooden sheds of sixty-four feet length, twelve feet width, and twelve feet height, with the roof slooping four feet. They are set in couples at favorable points, and crib three thousand bushels each. When a shipment of grain is to be made, power shellers are set to work between the cribs. Trains are contracted for through to New York thus avoiding two or three commissions, as well as elevator risks and charges—in all a saving of nearly the cost of producing the grain. The corn is bright yellow, and brings in the market a good price.
The machinery in use at Burr Oak would handsomely stock tow or three agricultural implement stores: 150 steel plow, of different styles; 75 breaking-plows; 142 cultivators, of several descriptions; 45 corn-planters; 25 gang-harrows, etc. The ditching-plow, a huge affair of eighteen feet in length, with a share of eleven feet by two feet ten inches, is worked by sixty-eight oxen and eight men. These finish from three to three and a half miles of excellent ditch each day of work. The oldest hedges (Osage orange) are but three years’ growth, but now stand full seven feet high, and much of it is pig-tight. Even here machinery is called in, and the rows are clipped by a sort of an upright mower. The nursery for young trees and plants is well stocked, and many years will not elapse before Burr Oak has other groves than the one from which it derives its name. It is proposed to presently sink artesian wells, which will generally strike the water-vein at the depth of 140 or 150 feet.
The stock of Burr Oak is at present 350 mules, fifty horses, and fifty yoke of cattle. There may be 1000 or 1200 hogs, and a magnificent herd of milch cows, mostly Durhams, and very valuable.
An entire section of land is devoted to raising produce for feeding stock and hands. There are 2500 acres of tame grass, which will cut an average of a ton and a half to the acre; besides this much wild grass is cut.
Mr. Sullivant’s present home, an exceedingly comfortable though rambling structure, was built piecemeal, and is considered as only temporary by the owner, who is purposing to build a comfortable rather than a pretentious house on rising ground in a bout the geographical center of the farm.
September 23, 1871 pages 897- 898 (Illustrated Article)

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