Saturday, April 26, 2008

Public Education

The idea of public education has always been strong in the United States of America. From the very beginning the Founding Fathers placed an emphasis on education. Congress under the Articles of Confederation, the first “constitution” for the United States, on May 20, 1785 passed an “Ordinance for the Western Territory.”

This Ordinance is usually referred to in history books as the Ordinance of 1785. And should not be confused with the Northwest Ordinance that was passed on July 13, 1787 which established how the Territory Northwest of the Ohio River would be governed and the conditions under which the territories would become states. The Ordinance of 1785 established the surveying and dividing of the land into ranges, townships, and square miles. It also had a clause concerning education: There shall be reserved the lot N 16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools, within the said township…..

Therefore, section 16 in each township was set aside to finance public education. The township government could sell the land and set aside the money to finance public schools, or could, as was usually the case, rent the land to farmers and use the proceeds to finance public schools.

Sixty-nine years later on May 30, 1854 Congress passed “An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas.” Then the law was usually called “the Nebraska Bill,” today we know it as the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It made an even stronger commitment to public education:

And be it further enacted, That when the lands in the said Territory shall be surveyed under the direction of the government of the United States, preparatory to bringing the same into market, section; numbered sixteen and thirty-six in each township in said Territory shall be, and the same are hereby, reserved for the purpose of being applied to schools in said Territory, and in the States and Territories hereafter to be erected out of the same.

So township governments under the Kansas-Nebraska Act had two sections [2 square miles] to use to finance public schools; again, the usual practice was to rent the land and use the proceeds to finance public schools.

So throughout much of the land in the United States Congress provided a way to finance public education [There were 20 states where the United States government never owned land, and therefore, never sold land or offered land free to homesteaders and therefore, could not set aside specific sections of the “public domain” to finance public education. See the map labeled “Principal Meridians and Baselines.”].

This led to one room “country schools” dotting the landscape of much of America. These schools in some locations were log cabins, in others sod buildings. But as time passed most became wooden buildings. One of the schools in Blakely Township, Gage County, Nebraska was built of red bricks. It was often called the “red brick school” and sometimes called the “Freeman School” because two families that had children attending the school were named Freeman. This school was built in 1872 and stayed in operation until 1967. It is preserved by Homestead National Monument of America.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Homesteaders’ Humor

We went up to the foot of the Nipple Mountains. An old man and his bachelor son had a means of grinding corn into cornmeal. They invited us to stay for dinner. They had a fairly nice place compared to most homesteads.

We got there in the morning and were invited to stay for dinner after we had our corn ground. The son had prepared a roasted chicken. My daddy commented on how good the chicken was.

The man’s son said: “ Yeah, this old hen acted like she was about to die, so we thought we just go ahead and kill her and bake her before she did die.”

The above is an excerpt from Manuel Hastings’s memoirs. His parents homesteaded near Pie Town, New Mexico in the 1930s. His father was James Monroe Hastings (born in 1899). The family received title to the homestead land (640 acres) in May 1946.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Land Rushes

During the Civil War some members of the Creek and Seminole tribes supported the Confederate States of America. As a result the entire Creek and Seminole tribes had their land in “Indian Territory” [Oklahoma] reduced by the United States Government. This area eventually became known as the “unassigned lands” [look for the “unassigned lands” in the middle of the map].

Some Cherokee also supported the Confederate States of America and as a result the Cherokee Tribe lost control of the Cherokee Outlet [which is often mistakenly called the Cherokee Strip]. The Cherokee Outlet had been established by Congress in about 1832 as a “hunting reserve” for the Cherokee next to the lands is eastern Oklahoma that they were moved to from Georgia and North Carolina. After the Cherokee lost control of the Cherokee Outlet some of it was assigned to the Osage, Kaw, Tonkawa, Ponca, Ponca, Pawnee, and Otoe-Missouri who were removed from Kansas, Texas, and Nebraska. The rest was leased to cattlemen [see the top of the map].

“Boomers” in Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas advocated that the “unassigned lands” and the remainder of the Cherokee Outlet be opened up to homesteaders. They were able to convince Congress to pass an amendment with the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889 which provided for the opening of homesteading settlements in the “unassigned lands.” President Benjamin Harrison announced that the “unassigned lands” would be opened on April 22 via a land rush. The land rush was to be held at noon and was open to all people who were at least 21 years of age.

The largest land rush in Oklahoma was for the Cherokee Outlet which occurred on September 17, 1893. There were at least five other land rushes in Oklahoma. Most of these occurred after various Native Tribes were assigned individual allotments under the Dawes Act and the “surplus” land was opened to homesteaders through a “land rush.”

Friday, April 4, 2008

Jumping-Off Places

In grade school we all learned that the Oregon Trail began at Independence, Missouri. However, that is an incomplete explanation.

The Independence/Westport, Missouri area is where the Santa Fe Trail began so it was quite natural when the first immigrants decided to go to Oregon that they would start from the Independence/Westport area.

This especially became true after John C. Freemont’s report was published in 1842. Fremont’s route west through “South Pass” began at Independence/Westport. But soon businessmen in Weston, Missouri [which was across the Missouri River from Fort Leavenworth] and Joseph Robidoux of Saint Joseph, Missouri were competing to be “outfitting locations” or as they were often called, “Jumping-off Places.”

North of St. Joseph were Oregon Crossing and Harney’s Landing; they to were used by some immigrants and freighters as “Jumping-off Places.” After the President Franklin Pierce signed the “Nebraska Bill” [Kansas-Nebraska Act] on May 30, 1854; Atchison and Leavenworth, Kansas as well as St. Deroin, Brownsville, Nebraska City, Plattsmouth, and Omaha City, Nebraska promoted themselves as the best “Jumping-off Places.”

Some of these places became significant “Jumping-off Places” for immigrants and freighters. Others were primarily starting points for independent freighters. Brownsville and St. Deroin, Nebraska fall into the latter category. The trails from Brownsville and St. Deroin joined together near present-day Beatrice, Nebraska and joined the main trunk of the Oregon Trail a little north of present-day Fairbury, Nebraska.

These “feeder” and freight trails often moved locations as shorter routes or better stream crossings were established. Possibly the routes changed as land was settled and farmers refused to allow the immigrant and freight wagons to go through their land.

On the other hand, some settlers liked being near the trails. The trails offered companionship from passersby and a market for farm products. One of the first to file under the regulations of the Homestead Act of 1862 was Daniel Freeman. He said he choose his location west of Beatrice, Nebraska partly because a freight trail went through the property [the St. Deroin/Brownsville Trail at one time went through what is currently Homestead National Monument of America].


Houk, Rose. Homestead National Monument of America. Fort Washington, PA: Eastern National.

Lass, William E. From the Missouri to the Great Salt Lake: An Accounting of Overland Freighting. Lincoln: The Nebraska State Historical Society.

Lavender, David Sievert. The Overland Migrations: Settlers to Oregon, California, and Utah. Washington D. C: National Park Service.

Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Utley, Robert M. Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848-1865. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc.