Many of them thought at first that they would be able to grow wheat on the prairies, but it turned out that there was too much clay in our soil for that.
The good news was that the land was perfect for rice, and that much of the equipment used in growing wheat could just as easily be turned to rice cultivation.
A part of the story of that exodus to Louisiana was reported in the newspaper in Decatur, Ill., about the turn of the century, and reprinted in the Crowley Signal in August 1901.
"For several years farmers and businessmen of Macon County [Illinois] and vicinity have been investing to a great extent in the rice lands of Louisiana," the newspaper reported.
"A careful estimate shows that over $1,580,000 from this part of [Illinois] has been paid for the purchase of lands in the rice district of Louisiana alone.
"Every once in a while a number of farmers of Central Illinois will make an exodus to some other part of the country. A number of years ago many went to Nebraska to try their fortune.
"About six years ago a number of the Macon county farmers sold ... went to Iowa. ... During the past few years over 150 persons living in this immediate vicinity have bought land in Louisiana and a number have gone to the south to live and look after their interests while others sent men from this state or rented their lands to persons living in the south.
"Never before has any other district of the country attracted so much money and interest as has the rice lands of Louisiana.
"The exodus to Iowa a few years ago was quite a big one but it has been far surpassed by the attraction to the Southern rice lands."
According to the news account, some of the first men to invest in Louisiana were the Naftel brothers of Macon County.
"Dr. Naftel was many years ago a school teacher in Macon County," the Review reported. "He later studied medicine and opened an office in Macon. He happened to be on a train traveling from Decatur to Macon one day when he overheard a man talking to a friend about the rice lands in Louisiana.
"He became interested and made the acquaintance of the Southern man. The doctor was given some printed material in regard to the new lands, thought it was a good thing, and went south, invested, and located. Dr. Naftel interested others in this locality and the result was that in time enormous sums of money from this locality were invested in rice lands."
The clipping notes the rice land was made profitable because of pumping stations "where the water is sent through canals to the different farms and the rice irrigated so that a crop can be secured." Such a scheme, according to the article, was "peculiar to Louisiana" and that "in no other part of the world is rice raised by artificial irrigation."
In the early 1900s some of those rice farmers also found another way to use pumps, and to make more money from their land.
"Since the land has been purchased for the purpose of raising rice oil has been discovered in some sections," the newspaper reported. "This, of course, did not improve the lands so far as raising rice was concerned, but it helped raise the value of the land."
In Louisiana, that would be called a whole lot of lagniappe.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.