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Continuing on with the family farm

By Staff | Apr 29, 2017

Kami, Shirley and Jim Axtell, from left, are the fifth- and sixth-generation farmers of the Axtell Heritage Farm. The Hardin County farm celebrates 161 years of farming this year.

IOWA FALLS – A heritage farm in Hardin County will continue to thrive and grow thanks to the next generation that has plans to return to the farm.

“There is such a heritage here, and to see something happen to that heritage, to not have a generation to take over, it would be all gone,” said Kami Axtell, who will be the sixth generation to farm and care for the land at Axtell Family Farms.

She assists her parents, Jim and Shirley Axtell, on the Iowa Falls farm when she is available.

Kami Axtell has a full-time job at Ag Leader in its product development department, and she is also a flight instructor at the Iowa Falls Municipal Airport.

In order to help her transition into taking over the farm, Kami Axtell has been building up equity by increasing her own cattle herd to join her parent’s cattle operation.

“We are just tickled Kami is willing to take over the farm,” said Shirley Axtell. “Otherwise it would end right here, with us. She is a talented girl and we are confident in her.”

Jim and Shirley Axtell have another daughter, Myndi Axtell, who is a travelling nurse, and although loves her family farm, has chosen to not return to farm the land.


The Axtell family farm was homesteaded back in 1856 by Sylvester Axtell, Jim Axtell’s great-great grandfather. Sylvester Axtell first came to the area in 1852 and purchased the land, which was originally a Civil War parcel given to a soldier. It is believed that soldier then sold the land to Sylvester Axtell.

Jim Axtell said Sylvester Axtell broke sod on the farm and, even after more than 160 years and several generations later, there is still land on the Axtell family farm that is still in its natural state.

“We still have pasture ground that hasn’t been touched,” said Jim Axtell.

Back in the those days, Axtell has read where people breaking sod would get sick and, in some cases, the illness was so severe it would lead to death.

“We really appreciate a lot of what Sylvester went through,” said Jim Axtell.

The part of the farm was used for the main wagon trail that led north into Iowa Falls and further back south. Even after all of these years, the Axtells believe they can still see the path.

“It’s hard to see, but you can actually still see the indentations of the wagon’s wheel,” said Kami Axtell.

Located on the south fork of the Iowa River, Jim Axtell said after the river would flood, they were still finding buffalo heads not all that long ago.

Kami Axtell added they still find arrowheads and other artifacts, but it has been awhile.

The arrowheads and artifacts are left from the Sac and Fox Indian tribes that crossed the river in that area.

The Axtells have learned a lot about Sylvester Axtell and what he endured by reading information found in the “History of Hardin County 1883.”

Pioneers like Sylvester Axtell had a lot of obstacles to overcome, including issues with snakes, which Jim Axtell said he found very interesting.

According to the literature, in those times, snakes were numerous, including rattlesnakes, vipers, adders and blood-snakes. The information states “if, on meeting one of these, you would retreat, they would chase you very fiercely; but if you would turn and give them battle, they would immediately turn and crawl away with all possible speed, hide in the grass and weeds and wait.”

The history book also gave the history of Sylvester Axtell’s arrival to the area.

“1852 he came to Hardin County, Iowa, locating on section 27, where he still lives,” the book stated. “Since coming to the town he has held the office of Trustee, Road Supervisor and School Director.”

The history further stated that Axtell was married on Oct. 15, 1850 to C.C. Finch, who was born in Troy, New York.

“When eleven years of age her parents came with a colony that found Knox College, at Galesburg, Ill., where she remained until she was married,” the history book stated.

The couple had six children; Phoeba Caroline, Cora Ermina, Mary Elizabeth, Willie Sylvester, Oren Lincoln and Hattie Clarinda.

Putting the farm back together

Oren Lincoln “O.L.” Axtell was Jim Axtell’s great-grandfather, the second generation to own the farm. Succeeding him was his son, Louie Axtell, the third generation.

Jim Axtell’s parents, Harry and Mable Axtell, were next in line to acquire the farm.

Throughout the multiple generations, the farm had been split several times, but Jim and Shirley Axtell pride themselves on being able to put the farm back together.

Although the Axtells were able to keep farming, they spent some time in the southeastern part of the United States running a construction business to help earn the income needed to slowly begin the process of putting the family farm all back together.

“The whole reason we worked so hard to put it back together is because it meant a lot to Jim and his family,” said Shirley Axtell. “It’s been a life long dream to have the family farms put back.”

Jim Axtell agreed.

“It’s been in the family for over 160 years and it will be over 200 years with Kami,” said Jim Axtell. “That many years in the family and it’s hard to get it out of your blood.”

In addition to their family farm and other land, Jim, Shirley and Kami Axtell also have a 4,000-head hog operation, cattle and horses.

They also raise hay, beans and corn.

Jim Axtell said his successes can be attributed to the cooperation and help from landlords.

The Axtells also continue to make improvements on their 161-year-old farm.

“We have done a tremendous amount of clean up over the years and have added buildings and fences,” Jim Axtell said. “It’s been a big job.”

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