Dakota Datebook

Farmers Alliance

 

Basically, it took only a decade to settle the Red River Valley. Fertile land and a strong demand for wheat created an economic whirlwind for growth and development. Millions of bushels of wheat flowed from the rich farmlands of Dakota via the railroads to the mills in Minneapolis and points east.

 

However, in the mid 1880s the millers had formed an association to eliminate competition in the purchasing of grain and gained control of both the rural elevators and the terminal elevators. Farmers in Dakota were at the mercy of these buyers and suddenly the farmers were receiving much less than the actual value of their products. When the farmers turned to the railroads in an attempt to establish farmer-owned elevators, the railroads formed an alliance with the millers, and even offered the millers rebates and special rates, while enforcing new rules that ensured a monopoly for the Minneapolis buyers.

 

On this date in 1887, farmers in Bottineau County met to form a chapter of the Dakota Farmers’ Alliance Company. Local farmers such as Ezra Turner, George Coulthard and William Stewart were attempting to organize area farmers to, not only build their own elevators and ship their own grain, but to support the politicians who could enact laws to regulate the railroads and curtail the monopoly of the Minneapolis buyers. The Farmers Alliance was a corporation based in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory with a board of directors selected from all across the territory.

 

In 1886 there were slightly over two hundred and fifty chapters of the Alliance, but by 1888, the number had swollen to over seven hundred chapters with twenty-eight thousand members. But efforts to organize their own elevators and market their own wheat met with little success. By the time of statehood, there were only forty-two farmer-owned elevators. Often the railroad flatly refused to haul the grain.

 

An attempt to use the Alliance as a central purchasing agent for supplies needed by the farmers also failed – due to a lack of capital to purchase large quantities and no means for distribution.

The railroad opposed building any accommodations on railroad property and even went as far as to tear up side tracks to the warehouses.

 

Although the Dakota Farmers Alliance, such as the Bottineau Chapter, met with some success, it could not break the grip of the railroads and the Minneapolis elevator monopoly. It would take federal regulation of the railroads and a grassroots movement several decades later, in the form of the Nonpartisan League, to finally break the marketing control on North Dakota wheat.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Sources:

The Bottineau Pioneer December 8, 1887; December 15, 1887

History of North Dakota by Elwyn B. Robinson 1976.

 

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