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Eastern and southeastern areas of South Dakota were settled and farming well established (at the start of this report) in 1900. Western South Dakota was in the development or transition stage from wide open range in the west river district to partly settled in the central portions of the state. Black Hills communities were settled due to mining and lumbering activities within that portion of the west river area. The west river district consisting of nearly 25 million acres in total area had only 4800 farms or ranches in 1900. Ranch headquarters were usually located at sources of water either near streams or springs. Irrigation along the streams dates back to about 1880 and was largely used to raise forage crops to winter the stock pastured on the open range. The range land of west river South Dakota was opened to homesteading and in 1907 and 1908 there were a great many entries filed. At that time homesteads were limited to 160 acres and tar paper shacks of homesteaders appeared on a great majority of the westriver quarter sections. There was little information available regarding climatic conditions and farming possibilities within this sub-humid area and congressmen based their decisions as to limitation on size on experience in farming in the more humid states within the central Mississippi valley. It was not realized until later that a farm of 160 acres in the semi-arid west was wholly inadequate to provide a farm family with a living. The census of 1910 caught homesteading at its height with an increase in Area I over 1900 of more than 17,000 farms (see page 4 for location of areas). The size of homestead entries was later increased to 320 acres but even that acreage was not sufficient on which to make a living. Following the limited rainfall of 1911 when few crops were raised in the west river area homesteaders departed in large numbers.

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South Dakota State College


Agricultural Economics