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The State Farm – the Gregg’s early years at Coteau Farm

We have begun learning about the Coteau Farm, also well-known as the State Farm, founded west of Lynd by Oren C. and Charlotte Gregg in the late 1800’s. The farm has been operated by members of the Banks family since Will and Kathryn Banks bought it from the Gregg’s in 1909.

A.P. Rose, in his 1912 “History of Lyon County, Minnesota” was generous in his praise of Gregg.

“Oren C. Gregg was one of Lyon County’s earliest settlers and is today one of its most widely-known citizens. His work as Superintendent of State Farm Institutes took him all over the state and gave him a wide acquaintance.”

Rose further explained that Gregg’s work in the years following his sale of the Coteau Farm, excepting a comfortable cottage homestead, involved lecturing widely at farm institutes sponsored by the agricultural colleges of North Dakota Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah.

O.C. Gregg was born in November 1845 to a Methodist minister who later sent him to private academies in upstate New York for his education. During the Civil War, Gregg took a clerkship in the enrollment (draft) office of the Provost Marshal’s office in Plattsburgh, New York.

At war’s end in 1865 Gregg resigned his clerkship and moved to Mower County, Minnesota where he taught in a rural school and served as a lay minister for rural congregations in Chatfield, High Forest, and Eyota. He returned to Plattsburg in the spring of 1868 where he married Charlotte I. Carter. The newlyweds returned to Mower County for another two years.

Intent on pursuing farm ownership, the Gregg’s moved to Lyon County in 1870. They selected a homestead in Lynd Township, west of the tiny village of Lynd. Lyon County in 1870 consisted of mostly unbroken prairie, few neighbors, and but a few tiny communities.

The Gregg’s began developing their homestead, naming it the Coteau Farm from the uplands to their west that stretched into northeast South Dakota and which were labeled the Coteau des Prairies on early regional maps. While establishing their fields and livestock they also built up their farm place and added adjacent lands from Lynd and Island Lake Townships, increasing their farm over time to four hundred acres.

O.C. Gregg found time for public service outside operating his farm. A.P. Rose wrote of Gregg’s continued commitment to serving the religious needs of his new rural community as he had in Mower County.

“At that time no clergymen had ventured into the field, excepting traveling missionaries. The community, however, was earnestly desirous of having church services and Mr. Gregg, who was naturally a fluent speaker and well-trained in the scripture on account of his environment as a boy, modestly offered his help and ably conducted worship in the villages several years, never asking any remuneration for his work.”

O.C. Gregg was becoming well-known in his rural community, but his public service during his early years in Lyon County extended beyond the west county townships where he farmed and preached. Rose wrote how Gregg served in the elective position of County Auditor for twelve years and during that period also served on the Marshall Village Council and the Board of Education.

R.L. Cartwright, writing in the Minnesota Historical Society’s MNopedia, prepared a brief biography of O.C. Gregg in 2012 (citation at the end of the column) that explained how Gregg established a reputation beyond the region by pioneering winter dairying in Minnesota.

Dairy farming in Minnesota at that time, was hampered by the difficulty farmers had keeping their cows producing milk through the winter months. After pastures dried with winter’s onset, dairy cows went dry, producing again only when the spring restored their pastures.

Wheat was the go-to cash crop of the county at the time as it was reasonably easy to produce; had ready markets; and, unlike dairying, required limited capital investment. O.C. and Charlotte, though, entered dairy farming, hoping to avoid problems like soil depletion that accompanied reliance on a single cash crop.

Gregg, remembering how his grandfather had successfully operated a Vermont dairy farm, experimented with methods for a year-round dairy operation. He studied the selection and improvement of dairy stock and applied those lessons to specifically breed cows for dairy production. He also developed dairy feed mixes of grain, corn, and hay that enabled his dairy herd to continue producing through the winter.

Rose summed up the outcome of Gregg’s successful dairy innovations, “He was one of the first winter dairymen in the state in the days before the cream separator and the silo.”

Finally, the Gregg’s developed a butter processing method that produced their “Solid Gold” brand, which won prizes in local fairs. Marquita Banks showed me a device her family recovered from the Coteau Farm that appeared to be a butter press. We smiled at the thought that we were likely handling a piece of equipment used by O.C. and Charlotte Gregg to block and package their award-winning butter.

Gregg’s innovative methods and proven success caught the attention of other dairymen and businesses. Farmers visited the Gregg’s Coteau Farm to learn about their operations. When he began receiving requests in the early 1880’s to explain his methods to farmers at dairy conventions and county fairs, he accepted and a Lyon County dairyman began exporting his progressive farming methods to a much larger region.

Source: Cartwright, R. L.. “Gregg, Oren Cornelius (1845-1926).” MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. http://www.mnopedia.org/person/gregg-oren-cornelius-1845-1926 (accessed October 18, 2021).

I welcome your participation in and ideas about our exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieview pressllc@gmail.com.

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