Towns like Bement began to appear on the Illinois Prairie because of improved means of tilling the soil and the building of the Great Western Railroad to improve transportation. By 1856 the lands under cultivation around Bement were increasing significantly. However, it was necessary to plan ahead for the slow and prodigious task of turning over the stubborn virgin prairie sod. It should be noted that the prairie grass was at a height of six to eight feet. In February 1856 Lewis Bodman wrote to his brother Luther, back east, “We bought [Nye’s] oxen, 1 pair, yesterday at $70. They were well broke. Joseph says worth that. I think we better run 6 teams of oxen at breaking sod. And a 4 pair of horses on our 2nd. sod. This requires about 12 men, and will , give us a team to cot [cut] the wheat. The men and teams can be put to fencing after corn and wheat are out of the way."
The Bodman brothers ordered four plows from Bloomington; Joseph made a trip there in April to be sure they would be shipped. He wrote, “I was a little afraid there might be some slip about the [sod] breaking plows- I paid for the four you ordered and they agreed to ship them next Thursday, also the old ones with new shires. Bought 4 Peoria plows for horses. They are taking new orders.”
The soil did get planted, but what about the harvest? The early farmers encountered some interesting problems. Joseph Bodman pointed out one: “Our sod corn was mostly destroyed by geese, cranes & etc., perhaps luckily. For it would have interfered a good deal to have it husked and brought not much money.”
Luther Bodman remained a Massachusetts banker, but when he visited Bement, he got into the thick of the farming operation. He wrote back to his wife on June 23, 1856, “Wil1 tell you what I have been about today. Came down here in the cars this morning, about 20 miles from Decatur. Went immediately to work on the reapers to fix them up for business today. We finally got the reapers to work. Four horses pull them; thus making eight horses pulling two reapers. We will probably have 15 men in the field to take care of the grain as fast as it is cut. These machines may cut 20 acres in a day. They cut the grain and lay it all in piles for binding up.”
Mr. James A. Force, the blacksmith, planted 100 acres of wheat on the land just south of Wing Street in the fall of 1856, “and v harvested an abundant crop in 1857.” The rich prairie soil was beginning to produce results, and Bement was on its way to becoming a stable community.
From Bement Sesquicentennial book - used with permission