Benton County, Arkansas Farming

Benton County has been mainly an agricultural county, other industries not having been, until recently, introduced. While the soil is not as rich as it is in some counties, it produces well, although but little scientific farming has ever been applied to it. The farm areas and farm values of the county, as ascertained by the census of 1880, were as follows: Number of farms, 2,725; acres of improved lands, 121,874; value of farms, including land, fences and buildings, $2,256,424; value of farming implements and machinery, $112,193; value of live stock, $580,425; cost of building and repairing fences, $30,621; cost of fertilizers purchased, $1,272; estimated value of all farm productions (sold, consumed or on hand) for 1879, $509,458. From the same census it is found that the principal vegetable productions of the county for the year 1879 were as follows: Barley, 200 bushels; buckwheat, 183 bushels; Indian corn, 1,119,834 bushels; oats, 245,382 bushels; rye, 1,300 bushels; wheat, 156,087 bushels; value of orchard products, $4,265; tons of hay, 2,376; cotton, 126 bales; Irish potatoes, 28,165 bushels; sweet potatoes, 14,058 bushels; tobacco, 395,982 pounds. Also from the census of 1880 the “live stock and its productions” of Benton County are found to have been as follows: Number of animals–Horses, 5,864; mules and asses, 2,233; working oxen, 69; milch cows, 5,397; other cattle, 6,307; sheep, 12,919; swine, 46,516; pounds of wool, 36,764; pounds of butter, 298,346; pounds of cheese, 700.

By comparing these statistics with like statistics of all other counties in the State, it is found that according to the census of 1880 Benton stood first in the production of oats, Irish potatoes, tobacco and butter, and second in the production of Indian corn and wheat (Washington being first), and in the number of horses, sheep and swine, and in the production of wool. Where Benton County stands second Washington generally stands first, and where Benton stands first Washington is second. Benton was pre-eminently first in the production of tobacco, as she produced more than ten times as much as any other county in the State. Boone was the next best tobacco producing county, and its product was 34,089 pounds. White with 28,184 pounds was next, and Washington with 26,357 pounds next. Benton County’s large production of tobacco accounts for its being second in some other things.

The following quotations from the pen of Col. M. L. DeMalher, who has recently written up the resources of Benton County, show the increase and decrease of products since 1880: “Number of bushels of corn produced in 1887, 1,679,751; increase over the production of 1879, 559,917 bushels. Bushels of oats produced in 1887, 378,093; increase over 1879, 122,691. Bushels of wheat produced in 1887, 234,130; increase over 1879, 78,143. Bushels of rye produced in 1887, 2,040: increase over 1879, 680. Value of orchard products in 1887, $500,000; increase over value of orchard products in 1879, $496,735; number of tons of hay mown in 1887, 3,519; increase over 1879, 1,173 tons; pounds of tobacco raised in 1887, 400,000; pounds of wool clipped in 1887, 31,480; bushels of potatoes produced in 1887, 42,247; dozens of eggs marketed in 1887, 485,000, valued at $52,000.”

The value of live stock in the county assessed for taxes is $639,065, divided as follows: Number of horses 7,774, value $298,854; number of mules 3,184, value $151,072; number of cattle 18,123, value $144,290; number of sheep 10,732, value $6,806; number of hogs 31,653, value $29,043. The abstract of the tax books also brings out the fact that the number of wagons in use in the county is 3,333.


“Intimately related to the mixed farm pursuits and to the present and prospective total production, argued in the fact of the subdivision of its territory into small farms, is the production of tobacco. It is both the chief tobacco county of the State, and one of the few districts in which, together with other varieties, the famous White Burley attains perfection. But at the same time this is established, its agricultural conditions being flexible, and the farmer left free to avoid the pressure of the tobacco market, it transpires that from 1880 until the improvement last year in price, Benton County had almost lapsed in the production of tobacco. The industry was not killed, but so long as the farmer had to work against his interest, and recourse was had in other profitable crops, its production was lessened until the price of tobacco had improved, and indeed, that in its adaptable agriculture, which applies to tobacco, may be said to apply to every other production of the county. If, upon economic grounds, the production of one kind of crop does not pay, the pressure can be overcome by the production of another kind, for nothing is truer of Benton than its agricultural conditions, affording the farmer perfect freedom to adopt his methods, and his productions to varying states of the market.

“Of the area of the county it is accepted that 200,000 acres are adapted to the profitable growth of tobacco. The varieties grown are notably the White Burley, Virginia Golden Leaf, Yellow Pryor and Orinoco. The production of 1877 was the same as in 1880, approximately, 400,000 pounds. The relative proportion of types was as follows: Dark shipping leaf, 15 per cent; fillers, 25 per cent; bright wrappers, 10 per cent; nondescript, 35 per cent.

“In this connection it should be added that instead of going wholly abroad, much of the crop, the best at least, finds a market at home, the Arkansas Tobacco Company, of Bentonville, being large consumers of the superior product of the county. The company, dating from October, 1887, is a successor of Trotter & Wilkes, who had for the first time in the history of the county worked up the tobacco manufacture to the advantage offered in the superior production of the region. Flowing out of the experience of the old firm, and the acquisition of good manipulators and a superior equipment, they have already carried the business of the present year to twice the volume of 1887, with a prospect of a like result following during the remainder of the year. It is an incorporated stock company, backed with capital sufficient to the purchase of the production of the county, and hereafter in turn may be expected to control the tobacco crop of Benton County.

“The secretary and general manager of the company is J. W. Trotter, formerly of the firm of Trotter & Wilkes. Their superintendent has had a life-long experience in handling tobacco, acquired in Virginia. The president is W. B. Deming, a local capitalist, formerly of Abilene, Kan.”

Fruit Growing

Fruit growing has recently become one of the leading industries of Benton County, and the prospects are that with one or two more railroads to give sufficient transportation, it will become the leading industry, and will bring the greatest income. The completion of the “Frisco” Railroad through the county, giving it an outlet north and south, gave a great impetus to the business of growing fruit. A great surplus of fruit has long been grown in the county, but, until the completion of this railroad, there was substantially no way of getting it to market. Since an outlet has thus been obtained men have set out and are still setting out large orchards of various kinds of fruit, such as apples, peaches, pears, plums, etc. Many have also gone into the cultivation of small fruits, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Fruits grow here to great perfection, and the crop is always certain. The young apple orchards that have been set out consist of trees that have been grafted into the best varieties suitable for growing in this climate, and the same may be said of the peach orchards that have recently been set out by professional or skillful fruit growers. It seems, however, that before the fruit growing interest was opened up but little attention was paid to raising a good quality, especially of peaches. One will observe in passing through the county, that the great bulk of bearing peach trees are only seedlings, and many of them occupy the fence corners along the highways. At this writing (August), they are loaded with small and inferior fruit. It will soon be discovered that budded peach trees produce a superior and more profitable fruit than seedlings, and will take the place of the latter.

The climate and natural conditions are so superior for the production of fruit that this is destined to be a great fruit center. It is estimated that if all the orchards in Benton County now in cultivation were consolidated into one, it would cover a tract of land equal in size to a congressional township–six miles square. At the rate that new orchards are now being planted and established, the area now devoted to the raising of fruit will soon be doubled and tripled. Now is the time to purchase the lands and establish the orchards, so that they will come into bearing by the time the greater facilities for transportation are obtained. Certainly there can be no place found in the States where fruit trees grow more thrifty, or with cleaner bark, or where a greater quantity can be grown, that in Northwestern Arkansas. In consequence of the large amount of fruit already produced, a number of evaporators, or drying factories, have been erected, and more are contemplated. A canning factory is also in full and successful operation, and more are projected. It is believed that enough of these factories will soon be established to dry or can all the surplus fruit that cannot be shipped to market in the natural state. The factories already running have established a home market for the fruits, and given employment to a large number of men and women. These factories will be mentioned individually in connection with the history of the towns where they are located.

Another important industry of Benton County is its fruit tree nurseries, the largest of which is located near Bentonville, and of which G. C. Davis is the proprietor. There is no need of sending abroad for trees, as all kinds best adapted to the place can be purchased at the home nurseries.

Benton County Horticultural, Agricultural and Mechanical Fair

This fair association was organized in the summer of 1888 at Rogers, where its exhibitions will be held. The officers of the association are J. Huffman, president; W. R. Felker, treasurer; W. J. Todd, secretary. The directors, aside from the officers, are Charles Warbritton, W. A. Miller, J. A. C. Blackburn, J. S. Miser, J. W. Scroggs and G. F. Kennon. The association has secured several acres of land at Rogers for a fair ground, and have fitted it up with a race track and appropriate buildings, and have published their catalogues announcing premiums offered, and the dates of October 10, 11, 12 and 13, 1888, for the first annual fair. Very liberal premiums are offered.

The financial condition of Benton County is so good that but little pertaining to it has to be said. The following is the recapitulation of the taxable property of the county for the year 1887: Number of acres of land assessed, 349,940; assessed value of the lands, including town lots, $1,780,018; assessed value of personal property, $1,672,568; total value of real and personal property, $3,452,586. This is the assessed value of the property for the purpose of taxation, but by no means the true value. Property is not usually assessed for taxation at half of its real value; so in order to ascertain the true value of the taxable property of Benton County its assessed value must at least be multiplied by two. This would make the approximate real value stand at about $7,000,000 in round numbers.

The amount of revenue collected in 1887 for both State and county purposes was $37,733.30. To this should be added $10,279.93, special school tax collected, making the total amount collected $48,013.23. These taxes were divided as follows: State tax, $6,905.17; State sinking fund, $3,452.58; State school tax, $6,905.17; county tax, $15,191.37; poll tax, $5,279; special school tax, $10,279.93.

Benton County has no bonded indebtedness whatever. It has, however, a small indebtedness in the way of outstanding county scrip, which, according to the report for the last fiscal year ending June 30, 1888, amounted to $1,693.30. It may, therefore, be said to be substantially out of debt.

Harmonial Vegetarian Society

This society was organized in 1860, and on the 29th day of October, in that year, J. E. Spencer and Martha, his wife, for the consideration of $6,000, conveyed by warranty deed to A. D. Tenney, John Murphy and Milton Vale, trustees of the society, the following parcels or tracts of land, to-wit: The southwest quarter and the west half of the southeast quarter of Section 12, the northeast quarter and the east half of the northwest quarter of Section 13, Township 20 north, Range 34 west and the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 23, Township 21 north, Range 34 west, containing in all 520 acres more or less. These lands were conveyed, as expressed in the deed, “for the following uses and purposes, or trusts, and for no other purposes:

“First, in trust, to hold the same for the sole use and benefit of the said Harmonial Vegetarian Society, composed of the following named persons, to-wit: A. D. Tenney, Rachel S. Tenney, William Tenney, J. D. Potter, Irena Potter, John Murphy, Milton Vale, Mercy G. Vale, John M. Adams, Henry E. Dewey, Sarah J. Dewey, Benjamin F. Stites, Charles G. Foster, Ada M. Foster, Deborah Brackett, Phebe A. Rodgers and Angeline A. Dunn.

“Second, in trust for the use and occupancy of the said society, for agricultural, mechanical, mercantile and manufacturing purposes.

“Third, in trust, to convey said lands and premises in fee simple absolute, to such person or persons, and upon such terms, as the members of said society, or a majority of them, shall direct.”

According to the rules of this society, “they had all things in common,” and all married persons joining it had to renounce their marriage contracts, and contribute to the society all their property, so that there was no individual ownership thereof–all property being owned in common. While marriage was not recognized in the society, the members were allowed to choose or select their “mates,” by lot, and it was intended that the children born of members were to be considered the offspring of the society rather than that of the parents. No meats or greasy substances therefrom were allowed to be used for food–the diet was strictly vegetable, as it was believed that a purely vegetable diet would prolong life.

Immediately after purchasing the lands the society took possession, and as soon as possible erected a large three-story building, containing from eighty to ninety rooms, for a home and hospital, a large bath house, machine shop, a spring house over the spring, a saw and grist-mill, blacksmith shop, and a building for a general store, also a printing office, and opened up and cultivated the large farm, and made everything prosperous. For about one year they published a paper called the Theacrat, in which they advocated the theory of living in societies, with all things in common, and upon a purely vegetable diet.

They lived exclusively to themselves in a social way. and had but little to do with the outside world except in a commercial capacity. They had their own physicians and teachers. and while marriage was not recognized, strict order and strict rules were enforced for their government. The society was in operation about four years, during which time they were not known to have a death. In case of sickness they would admit “outsiders” into the hospital, where they would treat them for a consideration. Water was pumped from the spring by means of a hydraulic ram, to every room in the home and hospital During the civil war the buildings of this society were used part of the time by the armies, and about the close of the war they were all burned. Soon thereafter the property was sold and the proceeds divided among the members, all of whom left the county except Henry E. Dewey, who remained and ran a grist mill for a few years on Honey Creek. The male members of the society dressed in the Quaker style, and the females wore “bloomers.” They were all active and industrious and had no drones.

Back to: Benton County, Arkansas History

Source: History of Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas. Chicago, IL, USA: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.


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