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High Plains Horticulture

A History

By John F. Freeman

Publication Year: 2008

"John Freeman tells a story of hope and resilience as the military, early settlers, and eventually land grant university Extension agencies developed the means for growing both ornamental and esculent plants in lands with limited precipitation." —Keith Crotz, The American Gardener

"John F. Freeman's well-researched book is refreshing and implicity optimistic, as were the botanists and horticulturalists who adopted the High Plains as their laboratory in the early twentieth century. I found High Plains Horticulture both educational and entertaining." —Robert Parson, Western Historical Quarterly

High Plains Horticulture explores the significant, civilizing role that horticulture has played in the development of farmsteads and rural and urban communities on the High Plains portions of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming, drawing on both the science and the application of science practiced since 1840. Freeman explores early efforts to supplement native and imported foodstuffs, state and local encouragement to plant trees, the practice of horticulture at the Union Colony of Greeley, the pioneering activities of economic botanists Charles Bessey (in Nebraska) and Aven Nelson (in Wyoming), and the shift from food production to community beautification as the High Plains were permanently settled and became more urbanized. In approaching the history of horticulture from the perspective of local and unofficial history, Freeman pays tribute to the tempered idealism, learned pragmatism, and perseverance of individuals from all walks of life seeking to create livable places out of the vast, seemingly inhospitable High Plains. He also suggests that, slowly but surely, those that inhabit them have been learning to adjust to the limits of that fragile land. High Plains Horticulture will appeal to not only scientists and professionals but also gardening enthusiasts interested in the history of their hobby on the High Plains.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

The civilizing role of horticulture is part of the settlement story of the High Plains that has yet to be a subject of special consideration. The significance of this topic may be most readily explained by telling how it originated and developed in my own mind. ...

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pp. xi-xii

A s the notes and bibliography illustrate, my research was based primarily on regional sources. Thus, I am most grateful for the assistance of archival and library staff members at the Colorado State University, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, South Dakota State University, and University of Wyoming. In particular, I wish to recognize Dee M. Salo, interlibrary loan librarian at Wyoming. ...

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pp. 1-5

The story of horticulture on the High Plains began very inauspiciously. In 1806, Zebulon Pike, the first known American explorer to cross this region, reported on “barren soil, parched and dryed up for eight months in the year that, in time, would become as famous as the sandy desarts of Africa.” In 1820, Major Stephen Long and his fellow explorer, botanist Edwin James, reported that the region was “almost wholly unfit for cultivation” and “an unfit residence for any but a nomad population.” ...

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1: Horticultural Beginnings

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pp. 7-18

Vegetable gardens and ornamental flowers provide the setting for some of the most poignant episodes in Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! Although fictional, they may well be the most widely read depiction of early settler life on the High Plains. Take, for example, John Bergson addressing his children from his deathbed: “[D]on’t grudge your mother a little time for plowing her garden and setting out fruit trees, even if it comes in a busy season. ...

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2: Trees for the High Plains

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pp. 19-32

Nebraskans take their trees very seriously. By an act of 1873, the state legislature provided that any person who willfully and maliciously injured or destroyed any trees, valued at thirty-five dollars or more, on the property of another was subject to imprisonment in the penitentiary, hard labor for no less than one year or more than ten years, and liable for double damages to the injured party. ...

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3: Horticulture for Home and Community

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pp. 33-50

Among the very first purchases for the Union Colony of Colorado, ordered by its founder, Nathan C. Meeker (1817–1879), in April 1870, was a railroad car full of shade and fruit trees from the Bloomington Nurseries. Since irrigation water was not yet available at the Greeley town site, the trees were temporarily heeled into trenches, with roots well covered, close to the Cache la Poudre River. ...

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4: Toward “A New Phase of Civilization”

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pp. 51-61

John Wesley Powell (1824–1902) is best known for his exploration of the canyons of the Colorado River. For the settlement of the West, however, his fame rests on his Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States (1878). Although the book includes lands beyond our geographic area, his analysis and recommendations provide the frame of reference for the use and conservation of water, without which there could be no horticulture of any kind on the High Plains. ...

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5: Science and Its Application to Horticulture

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pp. 63-84

The year 1887 marked a watershed in the history of horticulture on the High Plains. By then, the idea that horticulture contributes to better living had supporters both on the homestead and in the community. Legislation promoting horticulture, including the establishment of state horticultural societies, had passed in Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado. New laws and regulations concerning water and land, thus horticulture, had been decreed in these states as well as in Dakota and Wyoming territories. ...

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6: Creating Home on the Range

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pp. 85-105

Wyoming is like no place else on earth. On the one hand, it holds a fateful attraction that creates an almost mystical commitment; on the other hand, it engenders a tedious annoyance that creates feebleness and tempts departure. Adhering to the former and avoiding the latter has been the key to thriving in Wyoming. ...

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7: Limits of Dry-Land Horticulture

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pp. 107-128

As a result of Secretary James Wilson’s action to compel adherence to the research provision of the Hatch Act, Colorado Agricultural College closed its Cheyenne Wells substation, which had operated as a demonstration farm from 1894 through early 1900. The college reassigned James E. Payne, substation superintendent, to survey the fruits, vegetables, trees, and forage crops that grew on the homesteads of eastern Colorado. ...

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8: Forging New Paths in Ornamental Horticulture

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pp. 129-150

In a year-end essay in 1906, their twentieth year in business, the publishers of Field and Farm editorialized on “a gradual change coming over the customs of our agricultural people so that their surroundings take on the aspect of eastern environments.” By this they meant not only better-built homes and well-maintained yards and gardens but also the amenities of a “higher civilization” such as rural mail service, neighborhood telephone systems, Grange and lyceum associations, women’s clubs, and farmers’ institutes—all helping to reduce the drudgery of rural life as it had long been known. ...

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9: Collecting and Creating Hardy Plants

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pp. 151-169

Readers of Aven Nelson’s “Horticultural Column” in the December 1912 Wyoming Farm Bulletin might have seen the notice about Niels Hansen, secretary of the South Dakota Horticultural Society, as well as professor and horticulturist at the agricultural experiment station in Brookings. “As is well known,” Nelson wrote, Hansen “has succeeded in developing some remarkably promising fruits.” ...

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10: Federal Engagement in Horticulture

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pp. 171-194

With scarcity of water the most fundamental fact about the High Plains, it is not surprising that, as the region developed, larger, more complex, and far more expensive irrigation works were required. John Wesley Powell had foreseen that need in 1878. While he had recommended new laws and regulations for the arid West, he could not possibly have imagined the forthcoming massive federal financial and technical assistance, beginning with the Reclamation Act of 1902 and continuing to this day. ...

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11: The Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station

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pp. 195-226

On Sunday, October 11, 1936, President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt paid a short visit to the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station. As it was an unusually warm and wind-free day, they arrived in a touring car with the top down and were greeted by Superintendent Aubrey C. Hildreth. The presidential party then proceeded to Roundtop, a landmark knoll on the station grounds, to greet Civilian Conservation Corps members at their campsite...

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12: Horticulture and Community

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pp. 227-241

The Lower Downtown Development District, affectionately known as LoDo, is a vital, attractive, and trendy part of contemporary Denver. Created in the late 1980s, the district has spurred a highly successful voluntary effort to balance economic growth and historic preservation. Amid the district’s chic restaurants, sports bars, elegant boutiques, and loft apartments, the Rocky Mountain Seed Company building looks pretty much as it did when founded in 1920. ...

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pp. 243-248

The development of horticulture on the High Plains fits into Jefferson’s theme of the “march of civilization,” making “barren” land more amenable to human settlement; it also suggests some lessons for those more rural communities that have yet to embrace the economics of beautification. At the beginning of our story, when soldiers at Fort Laramie were growing vegetables for their physical sustenance, Andrew Jackson Downing, dean of American landscape architecture, was discoursing to his landed eastern readers on the connection between citizenship and horticulture. ...


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pp. 249-259


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pp. 261-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780870819834
E-ISBN-10: 0870819836
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870819278
Print-ISBN-10: 0870819275

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 62 b&w photographs, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2008