On May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law.  This act was designed to grant public land to small famers at low cost.  Any application that was head of the household, at least 21 years of age and willing to settle the land for five years and then pay a small filing fee.  If they wished to obtain title earlier, they could after six months by paying $1.25 an acre.

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The idea of the Homestead Act was proposed much earlier in 1850 but southern congressmen didn’t want small famers to upset the Southern slave system.  After the passage of the Act on May 20, 1862, people raced to file land claims.  By the end of the Civil War, 15,000 land claims had been made.

The Homestead Act, combined with other factors, unleashed a movement of people that lasted into the 20th Century. In this photo, emigrants arrive at the Gates Post Office in Custer County in 1886.   Photo by Solomon Butcher. Wagon trains became the stuff of legends

The Homestead Act, combined with other factors, unleashed a movement of people that lasted into the 20th Century. In this photo, emigrants arrive at the Gates Post Office in Custer County in 1886.
Photo by Solomon Butcher. Wagon trains became the stuff of legends

Most homesteaders were farmers from Europe or the eastern United States with experience who wanted to leave the crowds behind.  By 1900, the claims reached 600,000 and 80 million acres of public land were issued.

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Claims continued to be made into the 20th century; however with the changes to American agriculture in the 1930s and 1940s, the small individual homesteads were replaced with much larger farms.

Bagg Bonanza Farm, ca. 1930s

Bagg Bonanza Farm, ca. 1930s

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5 responses

  1. a gray says:

    The poster appears to be related to the sale of land which the railroads acquired under the Pacific Railroad Acts rather than the acquisition of vacant Federal land by settlers under the Homestead Act.

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  2. Reblogged this on Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained–Books & Writing at Middlemay Farm and commented:
    Yet another example of the slavery issue making things sticky.

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  3. Great post Maryann, so pleased I found this blog of yours. I love history, your reference to the Civil War made me realise my great grand father fought in the war, was injured and later returned to Ireland then married my Great Grandmother before moving to Australia…that’s I got to be here…..

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