Friday, March 28, 2008

Homesteader Photographer Evelyn Cameron

Evelyn Cameron and her naturalist husband left a life of privilege in England and found peace and happiness on the eastern Montana prairie. Cameron had an independent spirit true to the American West. When she and her husband were struggling to make ends meet she started her own photography business.

Beginning in the late 1800s Evelyn Cameron took photographs of everything: cowboys, homesteaders, social events, people working, badlands, eagles, coyotes and wolves. She captured the history and spirit of early Montana with over 1800 photographs and 35 volumes of diaries. Her images of the rugged landscape, the cattle and ranching tasks with almost daily written notations preserve a true impression of American frontier life.

In 2001 Evelyn Cameron was inducted into the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth Texas. Donna M. Lucey’s Photographing Montana, 1894-1928: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron is a wonderful collection of her photographs and writings.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nebraska Bill

Nebraska Bill, who was he? No, this is not about some old grizzled veteran of the Plains or some legendary Nebraska political figure. This is not a story about a “he.” This is a story about a “what.”

This is about one of the most important Congressional Acts in the history of United States; the “Nebraska Bill.” As those of you who attended National Park Service Historian Todd Arrington’s presentation at Homestead National Monument of America’s Heritage Center on Sunday, February 17, 2008 on “Lincoln, the early Republicans, and the West” learned; one consequence of this Bill among many consequences was the eventual passage of the Homestead Act of 1862.

The history of the “Nebraska Bill” began in 1844 when Illinois Congressman Stephen Douglas introduced a bill in the House of Representatives “to establish the territory of Nebraska,” which was read twice and referred to the committee on territories from which it was not reported. The boundaries of the territory were very similar to the current states of Kansas and Nebraska combined into one territory and extending to the Continental Divide.

Between 1844 and 1854 a bill “to establish the territory of Nebraska” was introduced five more times. The size of the “Nebraska Territory” to be created by these “Nebraska Bills” varied. The last would have created a “Nebraska Territory” with a southern border near the current southern border of Kansas and a northern border that is the current border with Canada. This “Nebraska Territory” would have reached from the Missouri River on the east to the Continental Divide on the west. This “Nebraska Bill” was introduced on January 4, 1854 by Stephen Douglas, by then a U. S. Senator from Illinois. As stated above, the first “Nebraska Bill” died in committee, but generally the “Nebraska Bills” introduced between Douglas’ first in 1844 and his 1854 “Nebraska Bill” passed in the House of Representatives, but were defeated in the Senate.

This is where the story gets interesting. The bills failed in the Senate because of the Missouri Compromise. Because of the regulations of the Missouri Compromise this “Nebraska Territory” and any states carved out of it would be free, free from slavery. Therefore, Senators from the slave holding states voted against and defeated all these “Nebraska Bills.” Already greatly out numbered in the House of Representatives, the creation of new “Free States” would make the representatives of the slave holding states greatly out numbered in the Senate as well.

Back to the last “Nebraska Bill” introduced by Senator Douglas in 1854, it was hotly debated, but never went to an actual vote. Douglas replaced it on January 23, 1854 with a bill that would create the “Territories of Kansas and Nebraska.”

This new Bill introduced after a meeting among President Franklin Pierce, four Senators from slave holding states, and Douglas would over throw the Missouri Compromise and allow “Popular Sovereignty” to decide the issue of slavery in any resulting states that were created from the two territories.

It was very difficult, but with the support of President Pierce and the four senators from slave holding states, Douglas got this Bill passed by both Houses of Congress. Today, history books call this “Nebraska Bill” “the Kansas-Nebraska Act,” but back then, even though it created two territories, it was still called the “Nebraska Bill.”

The passage of this final “Nebraska Bill” led to a rush of settlers to Kansas who wanted to either “vote slavery up” or “vote slavery down.” This of course, led to open violence in Kansas. The “Nebraska Bill” was the main issue of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates held when Abraham Lincoln tried to take Douglas’ Senate seat away from him in 1858. And this “Nebraska Bill” as it was then called eventually led to Secession and the Civil War.

And as stated by National Park Service Historian Todd Arrington’s in his presentation on “Lincoln, the early Republicans, and the West” it not only led to the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, but with the slave holding Senators and Representatives no longer voting in the U S. Congress it also led to the Morrill or Land Grant College Act which created public supported state universities and to the Pacific Railroad Act that created the Transcontinental Railroad. The Homestead Act, Land Grant College Act, and Pacific Railroad Act, like the “Nebraska Bill” had been defeated in the 1850’s by Senators and Representatives from the slave holding states because these acts would have expanded “the free labor system” and as Abraham Lincoln said, “give everyone a fair chance in the race of life.”


Johannsen, Robert J. 1973. Stephen A. Douglas. New York: Oxford University Press.

Morton, Sterling J. and Watkins, Albert. 1918. History of Nebraska. Lincoln, Nebraska: Western Publishing and Engraving Company. [Revised Edition: Augustus O. Thomas, James A. Beattie, and Arthur C. Wakeley Editors]

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Homestead 72nd Anniversary

Homestead National Monument of America celebrates its 72nd anniversary on March 19, 2008. Seventy-two years earlier on March 19, 1936 with one stroke of the pen President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a new unit in the National Park System on the site of the Daniel Freeman homestead.

The following words were included in the legislation:

"...lay out said land in a suitable and enduring manner so that the same may be maintained as an appropriate monument to retain for posterity a proper memorial emblematical of the hardships and the pioneer life through which the early settlers passed in the settlement, cultivation and civilization of the Great West."

The signing of the bill was the culmination of almost 30 years of effort.

As early as 1909, concerned citizens of Nebraska had urged Congress to create a national park site on the Freeman property, the location of one of the very first land parcels claimed under the Homestead Act on January 1, 1863.

In 1925 that Senator George W. Norris, a powerful congressional leader from Nebraska, joined the fight to see the Freeman land preserved as a national park.

In 1934, the Homestead National Park Association was formed by several prominent Beatrice citizens. Senator Norris had a proposal for the creation of the national park site before the U.S. House of Representatives by August, 1935.

George Norris represented Nebraska in Congress for over forty years, first as a U. S. Congressman [1903-1912] and later as U. S. Senator [1913-1942]. As a Congressman, Norris led the fight to limit the autocratic powers of Speaker Joseph “Boss” Cannon. As a Senator Norris promoted the idea of rural electrification and sponsored the Bill that created Homestead National Monument of America.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Texas Homesteading

Why Weren’t There Any Homestead Lands in Texas?

When Texas was annexed by the United States in July 1845, the Ordinance of Annexation specifically stated that Texas would retain the rights to all vacant and unappropriated land within its borders. Texas became a state just five months later, on December 29, 1845. The provisions of the Ordinance of Annexation remained in effect upon the achievement of statehood.

For more information on Texas' Independence see the website of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Did you know.Homestead Facts

The Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln and was in effect for 123 years, from 1863 to 1986.

Thirty of the 50 states contained public lands available for settlement under the Homestead Act.

The Homestead Act was responsible for the settlement and distribution of 270 million acres of land in the United States.

Women, African Americans, and immigrants from nearly anywhere could claim land under the Homestead Act.

It is estimated that as many as 93 million homesteader descendants may inhabit the world today.

The Homestead Act affected many different aspects of U.S. life, including agriculture, industrialization, American Indians, immigration, and the natural environment.

Homestead National Monument of America is the only site in the country dedicated to exploring the national and international impacts of the Homestead Act.

Congress passed the Homestead Act and created the Department of Agriculture, the transcontinental railroad, and the land grant college system all within two months of each other (May-July 1862).

The Homestead Act became effective on the same day as the Emancipation Proclamation: January 1, 1863.

Homestead National Monument of America is located on the Daniel Freeman homestead, one of the very first homesteads claimed anywhere in America.