A Hard Row to Hoe — Homesteading at Shiloh

If you ever have a chance to visit the Shiloh Museum in Springdale, I encourage you to take the time to look at their archive of photographs about agriculture in the Ozarks. One of the photographs displays a man behind a plow who is trying to plow land on a hillside that is so steep that it is hard to believe the farmer would even attempt to plant corn amid the stumps. While what was happening in the Ouachita Mountains was probably a little different than what happened in the Boston Mountains 100 miles north of Waldron, I think that we are talking about a comparable degree of difficulty.

We know that Eliza and her son Thomas both established homestead claims for land in the vicinity of Shiloh Church. What we don’t know is what kind of effort they had to put forth in order to scratch out a living from the land they were homesteading.  My sense is that while the specifics may have varied from year to year, the end result was the same — meager results for maximum effort. Or to invoke the old saying, “it was a hard row to hoe.”

The first public record that I know about is the information found in the 1880 agricultural census which display limited progress that Eliza and her family had made during the previous decade.

“E. [Elizabeth Hope Dane] Cartwright owned 12 acres of improved land and 140 acres of woodland valued at $275. [Sh]e had $3 worth of farm implements and $150 worth of livestock. Estimated farm production for the previous year was $40. [Sh]e had 2 horses, 4 cows which had dropped 2 calves and 8 other cattle. [Sh]e had sold 2 head of cattle and butter production was 100 pounds. [Sh]e had 20 swine, 15 barnyard poultry and 20 other poultry which had produced 100 dozen eggs. 6 acres of Indian Corn produced 100 bushels and 9 acres of cotton produced 5 bales.”

“T.B. [Thomas Baskin] Cartwright owned 17 acres of improved land and 140 acres of woodland worth $170. He had $2 worth of farm tools and $42 worth of livestock. Estimated farm production was $132. He owned 1 horse, 1 cow which had calved and 1 other cattle. He had sold 1 head of cattle and the family had churned 40 pounds of butter. He had 12 barnyard poultry and 60 other poultry which had provided 12 dozen eggs.”

I am not sure I know enough to be able to interpret this information. If these figures are accurate, then how do we explain the differences in income?  Did Thomas help his mother out? By 1880, Eliza would have been 57 years old, etc. Or did Thomas and Eliza “lowball” the values of income in order to avoid paying any more taxes than necessary?

Please Note:  Although I have not been able to get permission from the Shiloh Museum to show the exact photograph, the following URL displays a similar image from the early 1900s of a farmer plowing land with stumps in it.

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About mcartwright1957

I am a member of the senior administrative team at the University of Indianapolis where I have served since 1996. I am married to Mary Wilder Cartwright. We are the parents of four children: Hannah, Erin, James, and Bethany. I currently live in Nashville, IN.
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8 Responses to A Hard Row to Hoe — Homesteading at Shiloh

  1. Paul Cartwright says:

    Michael. Joan was able to get photos from Joan Cartwright in Jonesboro that are agricultural perhaps I can try taking the image with my phone and post? What are your thoughts.


  2. Loved this post! That’s one impressive homestead Eliza ran! I wonder what she would have thought of my year of farming. Perhaps I get my agricultural tendencies from her? 🙂


    • Michael G. Cartwright says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. Inheritances are strange things. Sometimes they skip several generations and then find a better reception in a newer generation. I am glad you sense a kinship with Eliza. She was an amazing person.


  3. P.S. Do any Cartwright relatives still own land on Shiloh?


    • Michael G. Cartwright says:

      As far as I know, no one from our extended family still owns land in Scott County, Arkansas. I suspect, but do not know for sure, that Thomas Baskin Cartwright (Eliza’s son) sold the land at some point. It may also be the case that they abandoned the homestead at some point in the early years of the 20th century when land became available in the “bottoms” along Petit Jean River.


  4. Paul Cartwright says:

    Erin or Michael….No none of our lines that I am aware of own and property in Scott, Logan, or Polk counties. Many of them were deeded through Homestead purchase 40 or more acres in some cases. I have many of the deeds thanks to the ladies at the scott county geneaological society,


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