Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/May 1890/Correspondence

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

IN the February number of The Popular Science Monthly was published an article, by Stuart 0. Henry, entitled Rainfall on the Plains. Mr. Henry claims that the rainfall on our plains has not increased to any appreciable extent since the first settlement; and he says that the general impression that settlement and cultivation traveling westward have been attended by a gradual increase of rainfalls is a "remarkable fallacy." He concludes that agricultural operations can never be successfully carried on west of a line about the ninety-eighth meridian, and that attempts to utilize the regions named for purely agricultural purposes, with-out artificial irrigation, will only result in calamitous failure. Mr. Henry makes the statement that "the reports of the Kansas and Nebraska Boards of Agriculture will show that, in the territory lying west of the ninety-eighth meridian in those States, the acreage of land actually under cultivation, when compared with the whole area of that territory, is almost insignificant." After seventeen years of residence in southwestern Nebraska, near the one hundredth meridian, I am convinced that Mr. Henry is correct as to the absence of an increase of rainfall; but his conclusions are very erroneous, and must have been formed without information as to the great growth in wealth and population in the region west of the ninety-eighth meridian during the last ten years. The statement that the cultivated land west of the ninety-eighth meridian in Kansas and Nebraska is insignificant when compared with the whole area of that territory may have been true ten years ago, but at the present time it is far from the truth. The writer believes that no increase of rainfall has ever been necessary to fit the country named for profitable farming, but that the rainfall has always been sufficient, and that the obstacles to farming that have existed resulted from the newness of the country, rather than from lack of rain, and that these obstacles are gradually disappearing as the country settles up, and will wholly disappear when the country becomes as densely settled as are the States of Iowa and Illinois.

Mr. Henry's gloomy statements seem like an echo of predictions made by sundry scientific gentlemen twenty years ago concerning the plains of Kansas and Nebraska; and he might be aptly compared to a modern Rip Van Winkle, who has just awakened after a twenty years' sleep, ignorant of the wonderful growth that the country west of the ninety-eighth meridian has made. When he penned the lines quoted, was he aware that Jewell County, Kansas, which lies west of the ninety-eighth meridian, is the champion corn-producing county in the Union? Was he aware that nearly one half of the wealth and population of the State of Nebraska is to be found west of the ninety-eighth meridian? The report of the Nebraska Board of Agriculture for the year 1889 has not been issued, but we have the report for 1888. The crops in Nebraska in 1888 were not as good as in 1889, nor was there as much ground in cultivation. I give below some statistics taken from the report for 1888 making a comparative statement of the amount of wheat, corn, and potatoes raised east of the ninety-eighth meridian and west of that meridian in the State of Nebraska. It will be admitted by all that wheat, corn, and potatoes require as much moisture as do any farm products. It must be borne in mind that many of the western counties are very new and their capabilities not developed; but enough is shown to completely disprove Mr. Henry's statements. In the counties of Nebraska that lie west of the ninety-eighth meridian there were raised in 1888 of corn, wheat, and potatoes:

Corn 52,847,469 bushels
Wheat 7,038,688 "
Potatoes 8,626,145 "

In the counties in Nebraska lying east of the ninety-eighth meridian there were raised in 1888:

Corn 93,379,370 bushels
Wheat 4,876,190 "
Potatoes 2,724,996 "

It will thus be seen that the counties west of the ninety-eighth meridian produced about thirty-six per cent of all the corn, about sixty per cent of all the wheat, and about seventy-six per cent of all the potatoes that were raised in 1888 in Nebraska, and as a matter of fact a good portion was raised west of the one hundredth meridian. Reference to the same report shows that in 1888 there were 2,611,337 acres of improved land in the Nebraska counties lying west of the ninety-eighth meridian. These statistics clearly demonstrate that the improvements there made are far from "insignificant," and, could the statistics for 1889 be had, we would, without doubt, have a still more encouraging showing.

A. E. Harvey.
Orleans, Nebraska, March 26, 1890.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Under the above heading Mr. Reece presented some statistics in The Popular Science Monthly for January, apparently showing a high and increasing per cent of crime in those communities where there were the fewest illiterates as compared with those where there were the most. In the succeeding numbers of the Monthly two writers, apparently accepting the statistics without question, have proceeded to draw conclusions from them. Some one has wittily said that "nothing can lie like figures"; and certainly any one who deals much with statistics knows that unless carefully and thoughtfully handled they are capable of giving the most deceptive results. For this reason startling conclusions should not be accepted without careful consideration. There is getting to be too wide a tendency to accept statistics as decisive proof on any subject without regard to how they were prepared or discussed.

In the January Lend a Hand, Mr. David C. Torrey carefully discussed the records of crime in Massachusetts, which was one of the States where Mr. Reece found his highest per cent of criminals, and some of his results seem worthy of quoting, as throwing much light on this subject:

From 1350 to 1835 the total commitments increased from 8,761 to 26,651; in the first-mentioned year, 1 to 113 inhabitants: in the second, 1 to 72 inhabitants. It is found, however, on investigation, that the increase is almost entirely confined to crimes against public order and decency, while the commitments for the more serious crimes against persons and property have not even kept pace with the growth of population. The following statistics for the years since 1865 in which a census has been taken proves this statement. This division by crimes was first made in the returns to the State in 1865, and was not made in 1875:
Persons and
Order and
1865 3,975 5,760
1870 5,097 11,290
1880 3,779 13,274
1885 4,839 21,812
For the more serious crimes in 1865 and 1870, the average commitments were 1 to 301 inhabitants, while in the years 1880 and 1885 they were 1 to 436 inhabitants. The increase in commitments was for less serious crimes exclusively, and there was an actual decrease in commitments for more serious crimes, in proportion to population, of forty-four per cent. The larger portion of the less serious crimes, those for which commitments are increasing, are crimes of intemperance; so Mr. Torrey makes a second division of crimes, separating those of intemperance from all other crimes. The returns to the State permit of this division for a longer period:
YEAR. Commitments
for intem-
for all other
Total com-
1850 3,341 5,420 8,761
1855 8,221 7,811 16,032
1860 3,442 8,322 1,1674
1865 4,302 5,616 9,918
1870 9,350 7,250 16,600
1875 24,548
1880 10,962 6,091 17,053
1885 18,701 7,950 26,651
This division shows that the total increase in all crimes other than intemperance, taken together, has been only fifty per cent (population not considered), but that commitments for intemperance have increased nearly five hundred per cent. The commitments which were not for intemperance are compared with the population of the State with the following results: In 1850, 1 commitment to 183 inhabitants; in 1855, 1 to 144; in 1860, 1 to 147: in 1865, 1 to 225; in 1870, 1 to 201; in 1875, no statistics; in 1880, 1 to 280; in 1885, 1 to 244. From 1350 to 1865 the average commitments for crimes other than intemperance were 1 to 174 inhabitants, while from 1870 to 1835 it was 1 to 241 inhabitants. Thus a decrease of thirty-eight per cent is shown in all crimes other than intemperance during a period of seventeen years. The question of crime in Massachusetts thus resolves itself into a question of intemperance, pure and simple for it is owing to intemperance alone that there is an increase of commitments. Mr. Torrey proceeds to show that the increasing commitments for intemperance do not necessarily prove an increase of intemperance. The public has a different opinion of the crime of intemperance from what it has of other crimes. The commitments for more serious crimes could not increase without an increase of those crimes; but, because so few of the men who drink to excess are committed, there is abundant opportunity for an increase in commitments for intemperance without an actual increase of intemperance. In thirty-five years public sentiment has been aroused against intemperance, and the increased commitments caused by this sentiment and the changes in law which it has brought about are the inadequate grounds which warrant claims that crime is increasing in Massachusetts. The State seems still to have encouragement to continue its schools and its reformatories and its churches, with faith that it can not only take care of the children born to it, but also that it can assimilate to its social order those which it is forced to adopt.—Boston Post.
H. Helm Clayton,
Blue Hill Observatory, Readville, Mass., March 30, 1890.