State Library of Kansas

01/27/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/27/2021 07:59

The Bohemian Oats Scam and American Farmers in 1886

During the late 19th century farmers across the US fell victim to a scam known popularly as the 'Bohemian Oats' scam. The scam was nationwide throughout farming areas.

Journalist Joseph Cress shares the following story of the Bohemian Oats scam in a Cumberland County Sentinel (Pennsylvania) article, February 3, 2017 (https://cumberlink.com/news/local/history/cumberland-county-farmers-fell-prey-to-wonder-grain-oats-scam/article_d998df46-7ca6-5849-b9af-46d94fc0c27f.html). He quotes Larua Bien (YpsiNews.com) who described how the swindle worked:

'Silver-tongued salesmen singled out the area's leading farmers and approached them to extol the merits of the miraculous oat. After securing a signature on a contract, the salesman gave the farmer a supply of Bohemian oat seeds to plant.

'The following fall, the salesman came back to buy, as promised, the farmer's crop of Bohemian oats at the fabulous price of $10 a bushel - minus the salesman's cut. Except that by this time, the farmer's neighbors, perhaps less successful and eyeing the money, clamored to buy the crop as seed for their own lucrative crop of Bohemian oats.

'The salesman agreed. A flurry of fancy contracts, signatures, and the entire crop was sold, doled out in small portions to the farmer's neighbors who anticipated huge profits when the salesman came back next fall. The salesman thanked the new farmer-investors, pocketed his bankroll, and high-tailed it to the nearest depot, to hop on the next train.'

Kansas farmers were not immune to this fraud and in the March 31, 1886 Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture the editor shared a story from the US Department of Agriculture on Bohemian Oats and its variants was well as other frauds occuring at that time.

We've clipped this article, 'Frauds Upon Farmers,' and you can view it online at the State Library of Kansas' KGI Online Library. We deal with so many telephone and online scams nowadays. Sadly, 135 years ago Kansans had their own scams as well.