I did not grow up in Pettis County so I did not know about the Osage Farms Resettlement Properties until I studied the history of the area some years ago. This project existed between 1935-43, and took place at a time when the county’s two most valuable crops, cattle and corn, were at risk.
The Osage Farms were a part of the government’s efforts to reform and rehabilitate the country’s agriculture economy when the country was going through a bad time. Pettis County’s agricultural economy had collapsed. At the time, cattle and corn had declined one-half and two-thirds, respectively.
The whole idea on the part of the Roosevelt administration was to rescue the farmers who were in a disastrous state. The resettlement efforts were established in several of the hardest hit states. The intent was to establish cooperative and collective farms where the tenants would share the labor as well as the profits from their endeavor.
The land for the properties was purchased from insurance companies, banks and large farm owners. By 1937 the first houses, 23 barns and seven wells were under construction. Considerable labor was needed for well drilling, terracing and road building. The WPA was very helpful in this area.
From the beginning, many people saw this project as smacking of Communism; nevertheless, it was a way out of the problem. Resettlement communities were developed in about half a dozen Missouri counties. Demonstration farms were planned for 25 counties. Some individual farmsteads and cooperative farms were developed. High standards were proposed for the settlement projects, but often costs ranged above expectations.
Applicants seeking shelter at the farm were interviewed and screened in Sedalia. For consideration, the applicant had to be an American citizen, married with from one to seven children and 25-45 years of age and could not be heavily in debt. The applicant also had to be white.
Osage Farms was named after the Indian tribe which had once inhabited the territory. It was in the upper echelon of farming communities. The dwellings were wired with electricity and water was available at the kitchen sink. There were no indoor toilets. The dwellings cost about $2,900. Individual farmsteads cost about $11,349. Furniture and appliances were supplied by the tenant.
By 1958, 50 dwellings at the Osage Farms were occupied. Eventually, 69 families would be farming and raising livestock and poultry at the site. The project provided work, shelter and opportunities to become independent for the farmers. And although some tenants were offered more supervision than they desired and some objected to the manner in which the cooperative farms were operated, most considered themselves better off in the end. In spite of the regimentation and supervision, many of the tenants were able to buy government farmsteads.
So maybe the experiment was both good and bad. It flew against Americans’ opinion of themselves as rugged individualists. But it helped them through a bad time.
Sometimes, that’s all a person can ask.