Central Wisconsin homesteaders struggle in the 1930s

Kris Leonhardt

Central Wisconsin homesteaders struggle in the 1930s

3 min
February 21, 2022

By Kris Leonhardt

With no land left to homestead in their native countries,many pioneering farmers left their home country with the hopes of finding prosperous lands in which to provide for their families.

Spending up to seven weeks at sea, while fighting overcrowding and sickness, they arrived to the ports of America filled with hope for the future. Once reaching New York or Quebec, many emigrants traveled on by lake steamer, train, covered wagon, and occasionally on foot until they reached their destination in the “big woods” of Wisconsin.

After staking their claim between acres of cutover lands,created by the booming lumber companies, many set out to find jobs in lumber camps or larger cities to earn money to pay for the land.

Area pioneers labored their days away clearing the land of stumps and rocks and burning brush to make it suitable for plowing. Once thesod was broke, the soil was then smoothed over by pulling logs across the field.

Many found the farmland fertile and soon began to create a prosperous homestead for themselves; however, the pioneers would soon be confronted with more difficulties.

Following the stock market crash of 1929, manufacturing plummeted, unemployment skyrocketed, and farmers struggled for better milk prices. From 1930 to 1932 farm income fell from $350 million to $199 million,according to the Wisconsin State Historical Society.

In addition, drought had hit the area in the early 1930s,with 1934 the most severe ever to hit the state of Wisconsin. National magazines and newspapers came to the area to report on the oppressed conditions of the area.

Farmers struggled to find a way to provide for their cattle.Many resorted to “driving” cattle to areas where they could find water and crops for their yearning livestock.

Desperate from the drought and falling prices, farmers banded together to make a change. During the 1933 milk strike, Wisconsin farmers dumped an estimated $10 million worth of milk.

The resilient pioneers fought their way through the economic struggles and weather conditions only to be faced with another hardship –grasshoppers.

Farmers watched in horror as clouds of grasshoppers descended on their robust corn and grain fields and depart after devouring the bulk of their crops.

July was marked by the hatching of egg beds along roadsides,fences, and untamed land. Crews worked hard to provide farmers with the much needed poison bait to destroy the destructive insects in its tracks. One poison bait recipe consisted of: 25 pounds of bran, one pound of white arsenic, two quarts of black-strap molasses, and two or three gallons of water.

According to a 1931 edition of The Owen Enterprise, one local farmer, John Achter, discovered an alternate way to control his grasshopper infestation, by turning 260 chickens loose from a portable pen into his field to devour the insects. The newspaper then stated the Achter would be “sorry to see the hoppers go. It means that he must resume feeding (thechickens) from his corn crib.”

Regardless of the hardships the farmers faced, these pioneers did not succumb to the afflictions they were confronted with. They faced each one with the hope of a prosperous homestead that they had come to America to find.

This article was orginally reported by
Kris Leonhardt

Kris Leonhardt is a senior editor for Multi Media Channels and serves as general manager for the company's publications in Clark, Portage, and Wood counties.