This letter, written in 1889, was from representatives of the Jewish community in Minneapolis, who ultimately came to the rescue of Jewish farmers in Devils Lake.
Minneapolis, Minn Sept 17, 1889
A committee consisting of J. Kantrowitz, R. Rees and myself have just returned from a visit to the Jewish Colony near Devils Lake, North Dakota, whither we went to examine into their condition. We remained in the colony five days and thoroughly examined everything pertaining to their present standing and future prospects.
While very fair crops have been raised in the new State, a few counties have made almost total failures, among which we are sorry to enumerate Ramsey Co., in which our farmers abide. Yet while the majority have succeeded in raising almost enough to sustain them and furnish them seed for next year. The cause of the failure this season was lack of rain in May and June. Forty of our farmers have succeed in raising a partial crop and the remainder nothing. Those who have not raised anything have mostly left the colony to try their luck elsewhere and the others will leave us soon as we assist them with transportation. The farmers who will remain are in a fair condition but for the fact that they have chattel mortgages on all they possess including their crops. The creditors will take the crops first and the other chattels in the spring after the farmers do their plowing and feed the stock through the winter. They are then at the mercy of their creditors who compel them to give new notes and mortgages on the coming crop for sums which are often double the amount of their indebtedness. There is no use refusing their demands, and so the debt grows beyond the poser of the men to pay it. They would have to slave for these people all their lives without the least chance of ever owning anything for their labor. I will give you a few instances how things are done up there.
An old man over sixty years of age, planted his crop last spring and did not realize anything at all. His creditors thought the old man would not remain in the colony although there was no foundations for such conclusion, so he took all his stock and farming implements by swearing that he was about to leave the territory. The old man being left without anything in the world became almost crazy. He followed us everywhere begging for transportation to Chicago, where he might beg a living among his brethren. he had worn out the clothes and shows we had furnished him last fall and he was a pitiful sight with tears running down his withered cheeks.
Another farmer, a Norwegian but not a Jew, bought a pair of horses and mortgaged almost everything to secure a dealer who haliled from Owatonna, Minn. After paying exorbitant interest for several years and failing to raise a crop this year, the creditor foreclosed his mortgage and took all the man had including the horses and what crops he had raised on his farm. This so preyed in the poor mans mind that he drove a spike into his head with a mallet. But it is useless to enumerate.
The farmers have but one real foe to contend with and that is the money lender. Once they make a loan and they are slaves the balance of their lives. Frost and drought are bad but they will not completely ruin him, he wil still have something left and with a little assistance can get along until better times, but once in the clutches of the money-lender he is indeed a lost man. The farmers who are: anxious to remain would be able to do so if their mortgages were held by human beings with the least feeling for their kind and could pay them with six to eight percent interest. Those are the men whom we are anxious to assist. They have cultivated this season nearly 3500 acres of land of which 2650 acres are planted in wheat, 300 acres in oats and the remainder in barley, potatoes, etc. They have gone twenty miles north of the government lands for hay as they had none on their own lands. This proves that they are as industrious as any farmers in the world. They expect to get about 125000 bushels of wheat and sufficient oats and potatoes for home consumption, provided their creditors do not take it from them, but unless we buy up the mortgages everything will be taken. We could buy up all the chattel mortgages for $8000 to $10,000. Their creditors are pressed for cash and will sell for less than the face value of the notes. Let some our benevolent, rich men advance the money and I honestly believe that most of it will be paid back with interest in a reasonable time. But what is to be done must be done at once for it will not do to let the creditors take the crops, for then the contending expenses usually exhaust the entire sum and the original debt remains. It is a comparative small sum, but we have no means here whatever to raise it. We are willing to work with the best of our ability to add what money we can. i lack words to express the great urgency of the cause. if we can get the assistance required, we will have forty sturdy farmers who will not only get along but will assist others and advise them, thus preventing such failures from occurring again. These men know about farming when they come to this country but have learned since and will instruct others.
I have no doubt but a general appeal to our brethren would meet with a general response, but time required for this would be too long and would partially defeat four plans. I have no more to add and only beg you to assist us to realize the funds for the parties stated.