Counting Horses

Today is actually the first time that I’ve searched any of the federal non-population census records.

heartlandThis census is actually an agricultural census showing the acres of improved land along with the acres of unimporoved land owned. Besides identifying the land owners (and thus leading to land records), the census gives an idea of the type of farm by counting the cows, horses, sheep, etc and indicating the types of crops raised.

I found my ancestor, Alexander Briles, in the 1870 U.S. Federal Non-Population Schedule. This census happened to list four Briles households together: Sarah Briles, Alexander Briles, Noah Briles, John Briles

1870 US Federal NonPopulation Neosho Coffey Kansas - Briles

This census shows that these Briles families planted mostly spring wheat and sorghum corn. An interesting tidbit from this census is the fact that Sarah Briles had sheep and cattle.

When I first started doing genealogy, my primary access to census records was at the Kansas State Historical Society library. I’m not sure they had the non-population schedules in their collection at that time and I’m fairly certain there weren’t any indexes for them. However, this information (and more) was available on the Kansas Census for 1865, 1875 and 1885. Since almost all of my lines were in Kansas in 1875, I used the Kansas Census to learn about the family farms. By having to ‘roll thru’ other other counties or townships to find my family, I quickly learned that there were agricultural pages after the census enumeration pages for each township. In fact, there are two pages of agricultural data. The names are listed on the first page with the data continuing onto the second page.

1875 Kansas Census Headings Agriculture1875Kansas AgricultureCensusHeadings 2nd page

The Kansas census is more descriptive of the agricultural operation since it indicates how many acres are fenced and has a broader listing of crops and farm animals. The Kansas census records the amount of butter the family made, the number of bees and even counts the dogs.

1875 Kansas Census Neosho Coffey Kansas p11 Alexander Briles Agriculture

By carefully following the columns to the top of the screen to see the headings, one can learn the following about Alexander Briles.

  • 88 acres fenced — with most of it being rail fence
  • 240 acres unfenced
  • planted mostly winter wheat (37 acres) and corn (40 acres)
  • planted both Irish and seed potatoes
  • produced 100 pounds of butter
  • 4 horses
  • 2 mules
  • 7 milk cows
  • 25 other cows
  • 15 sheep
  • 3 hogs
  • 2 dogs
  • 1 acre of orchard
  • 1 acre of vineyard
  • 1 school of bees

Since Alexander Briles arrived in Kansas around 1858, this census record indicates that he was able to establish and improve his homestead over the 17 years elapsing between 1858 and 1875. It wouldn’t have been easy building split rail fence around 88 acres of land but that fence allowed him to raise both cattle and sheep.

Not only would the fence building have been difficult, the the plowing, planting and harvesting of the wheat and corn would have been significantly different than today. Instead of riding in a tractor cab, Alexander was likely walking behind a plow.

With technological advancements from 1850 to 1930, farming began to be big business in Kansas.

Horse-drawn sulky plows appeared and horses and mules powered the threshers that harvested the crops. Kansas farmers were able to work the large, open prairie with these cultivators, binders, and reapers that replaced manual operations. A single farmer could do the work of several men. With three workhorses pulling a one-bottom walking plow, he could break only about two acres in one day. With a two-bottom plow and a four or five horse-drawn sulky, he could plow five to seven acres.

Steam traction engines powered threshing machines in the 1870s and 1880s that enabled farmers to work and harvest larger areas of land.  The internal combustion engines that replaced steam engines in implements during the early 20th century increased efficiency and the number of acres that could be farmed. (Kansas State Historical Society)

These agricultural census records give us numbers, which in turn provide an idea of what our ancestor’s life was like. However, it was only by putting those numbers into historical perspective did I truly realize how dedicated and successful Alexander Briles really was.



  • 1875 Kansas state census, Coffey County, populations schedule, Neosho township, p. 13, dwelling 97, family 97, for Alexander Briles; digital image, ( : accessed 8 August 2015); citing 1875 Kansas State Census. Microfilm ks1875_4.
  • 1875 Kansas state census, Coffey County, agriculture schedule, Neosho township, p. 3, line 24, for Alexander Briles; digital image, ( : accessed 8 August 2015); citing 1875 Kansas State Census. Microfilm ks1875_4.
  • 1870 U.S. census, Coffey County, Kansas, agriculture schedule, p. 2, line 18, Alexander Briles; digital image, ( : accessed 8 August 2015); citing 1870; Census Place: Neosho, Coffey, Kansas from Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880.
  • Corbin, Joyce, “Agriculture in KansasKansapedia : Kansas Historical Society, November 2012, : accessed 8 August 2015).

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