MO Bicentennial Minutes: Crop Farming in 1821
Most farms were subsistence-level at statehood. Larger farms were possible with either a large family or with the labor of the enslaved. Settlement followed valleys at first, or clustered in level or open uplands. Later settlers adapted to hill country by using small corn plots and open-range grazing.
Arriving settlers raised sheds or tents for temporary shelter and then surrounded with a rail fence for protecting vulnerable livestock. Houses were built of local logs, often with the assistance of enslaved workers or neighbors. Floors were of split logs, usually hickory or ash. Chimneys were wood lined with stones on the lower inside and daubed with mud in the upper part. Next, they cleared smaller trees. Girdling killed larger trees, allowing light to reach the ground and crops to be grown.
Most used oxen to plow, less commonly horses. Plows were wood, often with iron points. Corn was better adapted to Missouri than wheat, mainly because wheat varieties came from northern climates.
Farmers planted crops by hand, covering with a hoe. Corn was cultivated once after it was growing. In addition to grain, crops included flax; garden vegetables, especially beans, squash or pumpkins; and rarely cotton. Hemp and tobacco were cash crops on large farms. A vegetable garden was near the cabin, growing peas, beans, lettuce and other greens, cucumbers, melons, and Irish and sweet potatoes, among others. Most farmers planted apples, peaches, and pears for production of cider and brandy.
Farmers harvested grain by hand, then shelled corn or threshed wheat with a flail or trampling by oxen or horses. Grain was ground on the farm or hauled to mill on horseback or wagon.