The well-dressed stranger standing in the driveway certainly had the farmer’s attention. The stranger’s eyes flicked over one of the farmer’s suspenders fastened to faded trousers with a nail as he described his generous proposition. The farmer glanced at the visitor’s handsome buggy – this was a gentleman of means, offering a poor man a shot at paying off the mortgage. After a handshake, the stranger retrieved some papers from his buggy and held out a pen.
In the mid-1880s, one fraudulent scheme snookered thousands of Michigan farmers across the lower half of the lower peninsula, including many in Washtenaw County. As the fraud spread like a storm over sixteen Michigan counties, it left farmers crushed by debt, newspapers issuing shrill warnings, and a rising tide of lawsuits that crested not once but several times in the Michigan Supreme Court.
The miracle product responsible for ruination was the fabled “Bohemian oats,” a variety of oat touted as far more valuable than the regular oats then for sale from 35 to 50 cents a bushel in southeastern Michigan.