Saturday, October 8, 2011

James N. Decker of Hinton Township

Here is another letter published published in the Pioneer Magnet (Big Rapids, Mecosta County, Michigan) from Thursday May 9, 1878.

James N. Decker (found on Page 1, Column 5)
I commenced farming twelve years ago next May, on about ten acres of cleared land in the town of Hinton, and now have 135 acres improved.  Have 60 acres in wheat, mostly new land.  My best yield of wheat was 480 bushels from ten acres of ground, or 48 bushels per acre the field through, about five years ago.  Since then I have raised as high as 30 bushels per acre, and my average has been 25 bushels.  Oats, about 35 bushels, and peas 20 bushels per acre.  Potatoes from 150 to 200 bushels.  I practice mixed farming - raising cattle, sheep and swine - not confining myself to any one particular kind.  I find a profit in all, but my principal dependence is wheat.  I have not had very good success with fruit, as my young trees have been considerably damaged by the borer.  The average price I have received for wheat has been about $1.40 per bushel.  Hay, of which I have raised a considerable, has averaged about $16 per ton.  Oats, about 50 cents per bushel.  Wild land is worth from $10 to $12 per acre in this vicinity.  It can be cleared at a cost of from $15 to $20 per acre.  Cleared land is worth from $20 to $40 per acre.
                Dated March 18, 1878 - J. N. Decker

So what can we find out about James Decker?  He seems to be a pretty prosperous farmer to start.  In twelve years he went from 10 acres of cleared land to 135 acres of cleared land.  Think of the hours of back breaking work clearing the acres of stumps left by the logging crews as they cut down the virgin forests. 

I've read that the brush and stumps left behind by the logging crews created fodder for terrible brush fires.  A farmer could lose everything because these fires were terribly unpredictable and very fast moving.  Once the fire was started, the intense heat would create deadly winds of super-heated air.  Everything in the path of these winds would spontaneously burst into flames.  Thinking about the fire risk, I guess I would have been working as hard as James Decker at clearing all that logging debris, too! 

James Decker is still living in the township of Hinton in 1880.  I clipped the image below from the 1880 Federal Census for Hinton, Mecosta County from  This is a great example at not giving up trying to locate a census record when the index doesn't return a hit.  I searched for James Decker in Mecosta County, Michigan with no luck.  Thinking of how hard this guy had worked to clear his land, I figured he was either still on his land or buried under his land.  A page-by-page searched turned up Jas N Decker in town of Hinton.
James and his wife Catherine are raising three grandchildren, Hiram N. Decker (born circa 1869), William Luxon (born circa 1865), and Catherine Luxon (born circa 1868).  I'll bet both of those grandsons knew what the definition of 'hard work' was!  

A quick search reveals James N Decker was a very prosperous Mecosta County farmer.  He also is included in the 1883 Portrait and Biographical Album of Mecosta County, Michigan.  I clipped his portrait, which is listed as Jas A Decker (thought the table of contents does list it as Jas N Decker).
Now we have a face to go with the name...