Smoky Valley Historical Association Lindsborg, KS 67456


(Originally published in the 1991 Svensk Hyllningsfest program booklet.)
by Chester G. Peterson and Erik L. Peterson

Agriculture has always played an important role in the economy and life of people of central Kansas. The first known inhabitants of the Smoky Valley surrounding the Lindsborg area were the Nomadic Plains Indians. These tribes were very capable hunters and gatherers. Living in "buffalo country" as they did, much of their existence revolved around these huge animals. The flesh was used as food and the hide for various needs including clothing and shelter. Buffalo chips were used as fuel in campfires.

The first white settlers who arrived near Lindsborg in the 1850's and early 1860's existed in much the same way as the Indians. They lived by killing large and small game, and also started agricultural activities in the area by raising a few crops in small plots.

The passage of the Homestead Act in 1862 opened the local area to full settlement. Many Civil War veterans came to the Lindsborg area in the 1860's. During the same time period several conditions in Sweden were causing unrest there. Among them were extreme poverty, compulsory military service, and disagreement with the State Church. When news of the additional free lands in the United States reached Sweden, many people chose to immigrate to Kansas and other Midwest areas. A large influx of settlers came to the Lindsborg area in 1869 and the early 1870's.

Two land companies helped facilitate settling the Smoky Valley, establishing an agricultural economy in the Lindsborg area. Both land companies had their origins in Illinois, and both were formed in 1868. Olof Thorstenberg was president of the Galesburg Land Company. He helped arrange the purchase of 22 640-acre-sections of land from the railroad. These 14,080 acres ranged in price from $1.50 to $5.00 per acre. Potential homesteaders were chosen using a lottery drawing. A family could purchase an entire section and divide it amongst themselves in 80 to 160 acre plots. The efforts of this company essentially established the settlements of Freemont and Salemsborg. The Chicago Company operated in much the same manner and established Lindsborg.

These immigrants were unfamiliar with farming – especially farming in Kansas' climatic conditions. They tried to make a living on their "homestead" but soon found outside income was needed to survive. Most of the available jobs were associated with the railroads as new rail lines were built across Kansas. Commonly, the wife and the children stayed home in the dugout and farmed what they could. The husband came home on weekends to help.

In the early years, nearly 100 percent of the rural people in the area would be considered farmers. In addition, the towns that sprang up such as Lindsborg and Marquette were primarily dependent on farm business as no industry was in place. Over time, the rural sector has changed dramatically. To illustrate the change in rural population, census information for the Union township, located just west of Lindsborg, is displayed below. A township is six miles square, or 36 square miles. The area did have a small village in the early days, but has no existing town now. The population figures shown were taken from census data, although most of the percentages of the population actively involved in farming are estimated.

The figures illustrate that the area was vastly over settled in the homestead days. As the early settlers realized their "80" could not support a family, some sold out to neighbors who then had enough acreage to make a living. This trend continues even today in the local Smoky Valley area. Many farmsteads are occupied by non-farming families who drive to jobs in Lindsborg and the surrounding towns for their income. Rural population numbers in the Lindsborg area seem to have stabilized, but the percentage of non-farming rural residents will probably continue to increase.

Near Lindsborg, the Smoky Hills dominate the valley borders. These are composed of Dakota Sandstone which has weathered into permeable sandy clays in the uplands. These hills support a mixed prairie of short and tall grasses on which buffalo and antelope grazed for many years. Presently, the hill pastures are usually only grazed by cattle. If horses are present, they are most likely used for recreation. The upland cultivated areas mainly grow alfalfa, wheat, and sorghum. Terraces and waterways are used here as land treatments to prevent erosion in these areas.

Within the valley, the Smoky Hill River has been important. The river and valley are prominent features on the Kansas landscape. The Smoky Hill flows some 350 miles, beginning in Cheyenne County, Colorado, and ending in Geary County, Kansas as it joins forces with the Republican River near Junction City.

The Smoky Hill River is a typical plains stream. In its sluggish manner, thousands of meanders have been eroded through the river valley, cut off, and subsequently silted closed. This action has created a fairly level fertile floodplain dominated by silty loam soils on the surface. The same crops that are grown in the upland areas may also be found in these cultivated lowlands, with the addition of corn and soybeans. Some areas are irrigated using pumps fixed on the banks of the river. Non-grain crops in the valley surrounding Lindsborg include hay and silage used for winter cattle feed.

The agricultural economy in the Smoky Valley in the Lindsborg area is typical of those found along other river valleys in Kansas. The valleys were settled in the mid to late 1800's, the fertile sod covered soils turned over, and a variety of crops planted. Today, hard red winter wheat is the mainstay of the agricultural economy. Although the number of farmers has substantially decreased in the last 100 years, they still play an important part in the cultural and financial life of the Lindsborg area.

A settler's story can only be imagined when reviewing an abstract for property now located within the city limits of Lindsborg.