Bonanza Farms

Seeding on a Red River Valley bonanza farm. Location no. SA4.3 r1Bonanza farms, huge acreages created from the sale of land by the Northern Pacific Railroad to its investors to cover its debts, covered thousands of acres and produced large wheat crops. The absentee landowners hired local managers to run the farms. Through the creation of bonanza farms, Minnesota and North Dakota — and the Red River Valley in particular — became one of the country's largest wheat producing areas. Between 1875 and 1890, bonanza farms became highly profitable through the use of new machinery and huge crews of cheap hired labor. Over time the land was exhausted and the great farms were no longer profitable. The investors sold or rented the land to smaller farmers until, by the 1920s, the last remnants of the bonanza period faded away.


  • "The Business of a Wheat Farm," by William Allen White.
    In Scribner's Magazine, vol. 22, no. 5 (Nov. 1897): pp. 538-548.
    MHS call number: AP2 .S43.
  • The Challenge of the Prairie: Life and Times of Red River Pioneers, by Hiram M. Drache.
    Fargo, N.D.: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1970.
    MHS call number: F614.R36 D7.
  • The Checkered Years: A Bonanza Farm Diary, 1884-88, by Mary Dodge Woodward, edited by Mary Boynton Cowdrey, with a new introduction by Elizabeth Jameson.
    St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1989.
    MHS call number: F636 .W66 1989.
  • The Day of the Bonanza: A History of Bonanza Farming in the Red River Valley of the North, by Hiram M. Drache.
    Fargo, N.D.: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1964.
    MHS call number: S451.N9 D7.
  • "Indispensable Outcasts: Harvest Laborers in the Wheat Belt of the Middle West, 1890-1925," by Toby Higbie.
    In Labor History, vol. 38, no. 4 (fall 1997): pp. 393-412.
    MHS call number: Microfiche 19.
  • "Industrial History of the Valley of the Red River of the North," by John Lee Coulter.
    In Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, vol. 3 (1910): pp. 529-672.
    This article has several subsections dealing with various aspects of the Red River Valley like the climate, agriculture, and population. Of particular interest for this topic are the subsections on "Bonanza Farms and the One Crop System of Agriculture," pp. 569-596, and "Cost of Producing Wheat in the Red River Valley," pp. 597-612.
    MHS call number: F631 .N86.
  • Oliver Dalrymple: The Story of a Bonanza Farmer, by John Stewart Dalrymple.
    Minneapolis, Minn.: ["privately published"], 1960.
    MHS call number: S451.N8 D2.


  • Fred S. Rutledge and Family Papers.
    Rutledge's handwritten memoirs (201 pages and 439 pages) and articles on his life as a homesteader on a farm in the Red River Valley (1880s-1900s) and as an employee (1907-1931) of the Minneapolis (Minn.) Bedding Company, describing schools, weather, lumbering, agricultural machinery, railroads, steam boating, and other aspects of life in the Red River Valley and vicinity.
    MHS call number: A/.R981f; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 2 boxes of material).
  • Horace Goodhue and Family Papers.
    Diary and letters of Goodhue, a Carleton College professor, concerning agriculture and travel in Minnesota and North Dakota, with a description of the Oliver Dalrymple bonanza farm in the Red River Valley. Included also are speeches and other items of his son, Ralph B., relating to agriculture and dairying in west-central Minnesota.
    MHS call number: P1018; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there are only 2 folders of material).
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.