IDAHO HISTORY: Boise Valley farmers bought a lot of machinery in the 1870s

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANDecember 8, 2013 

Boise Valley farmers had a ready market for their crops in Boise Basin and Owyhee mining towns after gold-seekers swarmed in and took up residence there. Supplying farmers with the tools they needed was an opportunity for businessmen, and B.M. DuRell & Co. was among the first to fill the need.

Benjamin M. Durell and partner Christopher W. Moore would become founders of the First National Bank of Idaho in 1867, but in February 1865, they advertised in the Tri-weekly Statesman, “Attention Farmers. Just received and for sale. 10 large Peoria Breaking Plows, 10 Small Two Horse Plows, 10 Hinge Harrows, Complete, 10 Doz. Garden Hoes, 10 Doz. Garden Spades, long and short handles. All of which will be sold cheap for CASH.”

Ada County agricultural statistics for the year 1869, published in March 1870, revealed that there were seven threshing machines that had processed 232,784 bushels of wheat, oats, barley and rye, and added this prophetic comment: “Potatoes averaged 125 bushels per acre. You can see that if potato raising was made a specialty of this territory, with a reasonable market, or even cheap freighting facilities, it would be very remunerative.”

George H. Twichell was one of the first merchants in the valley to import and sell farm machinery. In May 1871, he advertised that he was the agent for the Buckeye reaper and mower and the New York combined reaper and mower.

In June that year, the Statesman reported, “Mr. Twichell had a number of workmen engaged yesterday in putting together reapers and mowers. Farmers no longer find it necessary to send to Oregon or the East after machines and entrust the purchase to agents, but can buy here in Boise at less than it would cost there, freight included, to send for them.” Ten days later the paper observed, “Advertising Pays. Mr. George H. Twichell has disposed of his entire outfit of reapers and mowers, with the exception of a single machine.”

The Buckeye Mower and Reaper Co. of Akron, Ohio, had been founded in 1863 and by 1877 was producing 2,000 machines a year. Other leading manufacturers of reapers at the time were Cyrus McCormick, the pioneer in the field, and John Henry Manny. McCormick sued Manny for patent infringement in 1855, and even though the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was Manny who prevailed, and it was Manny machines that made their way to Idaho in the summer of 1871. James H. Twogood’s shipment of 15 reapers and mowers came by Union Pacific railroad to Kelton, Utah, and the rest of the way by freight wagon. The Statesman was of the opinion that the Manny reaper was superior to “McCormick’s man-killers.”

The paper also expressed its opinion on threshing machines: “Among all the threshers that are bidding for the farmers’ custom this year, we know of none that can be more heartily recommended than the machine made by Russell in Massillon, Ohio.” The reporter said that he knew what he was talking about because he had fed the machine for a short run. “It is under the control of a good set of orderly hands.”

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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