Saturday, May 30, 2009

From the first to the last: Famous Homesteaders

Did you know that you could put the following people in the same category, Virgil Earp, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Daniel Freeman, and Kenneth Deardorff?

You might be asking how these people could be grouped together and the answer is that they are all homesteaders. Without the conveniences we have today could you see yourself building your own home while planting crops and taking care of your livestock just so you could have a roof over your head and food on your table?

by Stacy Kristek
Southeast Community College

I would like to share with you some very interesting information that I have learned about some of the United States homesteaders ranging from the first to the last and even some famous ones. I will talk to you today about some homesteaders including the very first homesteader, Daniel Freeman and the very last homesteader Kenneth Deardorff. I will also talk about some famous homesteaders, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Virgil Earp.

First I would like to talk about the very first and the very last of the homesteaders. Even with a span of 123 years the hardships faced by both Daniel and Kenneth are things that we could never imagine living without. No running water, extreme weather without the benefit of heaters and air conditioners, and dealing with the wildlife roaming freely in their front yard.

Daniel Freeman was the very first homesteader to file a claim. According to the National Park Service Website, Daniel Freeman was the first to file a claim for land just ten minutes after the Homestead Law went into effect on January 1, 1863. He filed his claim 10 minutes after midnight at the Brownville, Nebraska land office (National, 2009b).

Daniel came from Illinois alone and later got engaged through the mail to his deceased brother’s fiancĂ©. The first home was a small log cabin with the traditional outbuildings for farming. Then as their finances became better a two-story brick home was built (National, 2009b).

The brick home burned down in 1916 and now the site is the Homestead National Monument of America. Daniel was known as a farmer, soldier, doctor, coroner, sheriff, and the very first homesteader. Daniel and his wife raised 8 children and some of them even built their own homes on the homesteaded land. Daniel passed away in 1908 (National, 2009b).

The very last person to file a homesteader claim was Kenneth Deardorff. In 1974 Kenneth filed a claim for 80 acres in southwestern Alaska. Kenneth left California to go to Alaska to look for work as he had recently graduated with a degree in geography (National, 2009c).

Kenneth and his family lived and worked on the claim for the next ten years. They built all of the buildings from the white spruce trees that grew on the land. While homesteading, Kenneth opened a general store for people traveling through Stony River and he also hunted and trapped furs (National, 2009c).

Deardorff exhibit at Homestead National Monument

Kenneth fulfilled all of the requirements of the Homestead Act in 1979 but for some reason the title to his land didn’t get to him until May 1988. Kenneth was known as a farmer, business owner, carpenter, fur trapper, Vietnam veteran, and the last homesteader. Kenneth no longer lives on the land that he homesteaded but the home still stands today (National, 2009c).

Land Patent: All right, title, and interst in the above land is relinquished by the United States to Kenneth Deardorff

Now I would like to talk about someone that just about everyone knows. I would like to talk about a very well known homesteader, Laura Ingalls Wilder. No matter your age everyone has heard of Laura Ingalls Wilder and even seen some of the Little House on the Prairie episodes on television.

In Gwenda Blair’s 1981 book titled Laura Ingalls Wilder, Blair describes Laura grew up as a pioneer girl and her family was generally the first to move into a new area (pg. 11). Laura’s family moved many times. They lived in Wisconsin, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota. They homesteaded in De Smet, South Dakota on 160 acres of land. During their homesteading days in De Smet they spent one winter cut off from the rest of the area by continuous blizzards (National, 2009a). As Laura grew older she met and married Almanzo Wilder. They had two children but only one survived, a daughter named Rose (Laura, n.d.).

Like her family while she was growing up, Laura and Almanzo moved a lot and lived in South Dakota, Minnesota, Florida, and then finally Missouri (National, 2009a). Rose went on to become an author and she is the one who got Laura to write her stories as a way to preserve her way of life as a pioneer. Laura was 65 years old before she wrote her first book. Laura’s books were about the pioneer days and were based on her life. The titles to her books were about places and periods of her life. Laura was known as a school teacher, an editor, an author and the daughter of homesteaders (Laura, n.d.).

Now I would like to talk to you about another famous person, Virgil Earp. Virgil Earp may be better known for his part in the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona but he is also known as one of the homesteaders. You may not remember Virgil but he is the older brother of Wyatt Earp and if you have ever seen the movie, Tombstone, he was played by the actor Sam Elliott.

After his escapades in Tombstone, Arizona, Virgil decided to try his hand at homesteading. Even with the loss of use of his right arm from the ambush in Tombstone; Virgil went to homestead near Prescott, Arizona. In 1898, Virgil claimed 160 acres of land (National, 2009d).

Due to the fact that Virgil served in the Union Army during the civil war he only had to spend two years to earn the title to his land. Virgil earned the title to his land in 1900 only to pass away in 1905. Virgil was known as a soldier, peace officer, and a homesteader (National, 2009d). So even though Virgil’s little brother Wyatt was more well know, Virgil left his mark on history too.

So, that is what I had to share with you about these amazing homesteaders from the very first to the very last with a couple of well known homesteaders too. After hearing about these homesteaders do you think that you could endure what they did to have a roof over their heads and food on their tables?


Laura Ingalls Wilder. (n.d.). Current Biography. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from Biographies Plus Illustrated database.

National Park Service. (2009a). Laura Ingalls Wilder. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from,pdf,WilderBio,b.pdf

National Park Service. (2009b). The first homesteader. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from

National Park Service. (2009c). The last homesteader. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from

National Park Service. (2009d). Virgil Earp. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from,pdf,EarpBio,b.pdf

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Lantern in Her Hand, a novel by Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881-1954) about the early days of Nebraska, has been announced as the One Book, One Nebraska 2009 selection. Aldrich modeled the protagonist, Abbie Deal, on her own mother who traveled by covered wagon to Nebraska in 1854.

First published in 1928, A Lantern in Her Hand has outlasted literary fashions to touch generations of readers, according to the University of Nebraska Press website. In A Lantern in Her Hand, Abbie accompanies her family to the soon-to-be-state of Nebraska. There, in 1865, she marries and settles into her own sod house.

The novel describes Abbie's years of child-raising, of making a frontier home able to withstand every adversity. A disciplined writer knowledgeable about true stories of pioneer days in Nebraska, Aldrich conveys the strength of everyday things, the surprise of familiar faces, and the look of the unspoiled landscape during different seasons. Refusing to be broken by hard experience, Abbie sets a joyful example for her family--and for her readers.

Roger Miller in the Milwaukee Journal praised the book. “The language is good and sturdy and dotted with imaginative metaphors and similes such as “Silence, so deep, that it roared in its vast vacuum.” If the book tries to crowd too much life into 300 pages, well, there was a lot of life: “We old pioneers,” Abbie says at the end, “we dreamed dreams into the country.”

One Book, One Nebraska 2009 is sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book, Nebraska Humanities Council, Nebraska Library Association, Nebraska Library Commission, and the University of Nebraska Press. This is the fifth year for the project. Activities are planned throughout the year to explore this book.

A Lantern in Her Hand is just one of many books which explore the pioneer experience that can be purchased at Homestead National Monument of America. In addition visitors can explore all aspects of the pioneer experience at the Heritage Center through the interactive exhibits, visit a cabin built in 1867 and tour a one room schoolhouse much like Abbie’s children might have experienced in A Lantern in Her Hand.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nebraska Homesteading

1862: The Homestead Act gave people an opportunity to own 160 acres of land. Nebraska is one of the 30 states where homesteaded land is located. According to Homestead National Monument records, there were 104,260 successful homesteading claims in Nebraska, responsible for developing 45 percent of the state’s land.

The cutout in this map of Nebraska represents the percentage of land homesteaded in Nebraska.

1867: Nebraska obtains statehood.

1869: Farmers and ranchers begin squabbling over fence-free pasture land and fenced-in farm acreage.

1879: Railroad records indicate that seven coaches of land seekers arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska. In the first three months of that year 600 carloads of household goods arrived for the newly migrated Nebraskans.

1886: Solomon Butcher begins his iconic documentation of homesteading across Nebraska.

1904: The Kincaid Act expands the homestead acreage grant from 160 to 640, a boom for farmers but not ranchers. Ranchers do benefit though as the efforts of the Kinkaiders to farm arid land fails and the ranchers purchase the defunct farms.

The Friends of Homestead National Monument extends congratulations to the Monument for the latest award, the 2009 Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Award, for the film Land of Dreams: Homesteading America, which tells the American homesteading story. The film was selected as being outstanding documentary from a field of 600. This recognition follows winning the prestigious CINE Golden Eagle Award.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Prairie Fire Fiddles Homestead Style

“I’ve come a long way to file claim to a parcel of land. If you could see your way clear to help me…” He explained his plight.

“You halft’ talk with Jim Bedford, he’s the assistant. Jamisons outta town. He’s the registrar.”

Where do I find this Jim Bedford?”

Strains of “Turkey in the Straw” yanked from the resilient gut of the bango strings competed with the zee-zwa-ing of the two fiddles to be heard.

-Daniel and Agnes Freeman
Homesteaders by Beverly S. Kaplan

Finding ways to introduce the world of the homesteaders to today’s society is a goal of Homestead National Monument of America. One way it does this is by hosting the Monumental Fiddling Championship and Acoustic Band Contest. The competition is geared for all ability levels. The day starts with a free workshop taught by Fiddling Champion Deborah Greenblatt.

Greenblatt is the first woman to win the Nebraska State Fiddling Championship, the first woman to win the Mid-America Fiddle Championship and is a member of the Mid-America Old-Time Fiddler’s Hall of Fame. She especially enjoys the jam sessions. “They inspire and entertain each other on stage and play nicely together in the many jam sessions that erupt all over the landscape,” said Greenblatt. The event is held outside the Homestead Education Center next to the tall grass prairie so musicians can play in an environment similar to that experienced by the first fiddlers in Nebraska.

One of last year’s judges was professional musician and director of bands at Beatrice High School Nathan LeFeber. As a classically trained musician he found the event unique. “Most unique were those fiddlers that were classically trained musicians that have recently gotten involved in fiddling. They had great technique but were working to acquire the right style,” said LeFeber.

The workshop and competition portions of the event are free to the fiddlers. “Fiddlers can get their score sheets with comments after they play which can help them focus their practice,” said Greenblatt. Last year’s event drew fiddlers with under a year of experience to those with many years of playing.

It also attracts families that enjoy fiddling together. Last year Carl Cook from Independence, Missouri, won the Senior Division and his daughter, Cecelia Cook, placed third in the Junior Division.

Following the morning workshop participants will break for lunch and prepare for the competition in the afternoon. It is also free for both participants and spectators. The one rule which makes this competition unique is that all songs must have been written between 1863, when the first homestead was filed, and 1936, when Homestead National Monument of America was established.

Why was fiddling popular with homesteaders? Some say the violin is for singing and the fiddle is for dancing, according to Greenblatt, and the best outlet for performing was probably for dances. For these occasions, simple folk and fiddle tunes work the best.

One definition of fiddling comes from left-handed fiddler Wilbur Foss and he offers another explanation for fiddling popularity among pioneers, “A violin is culture and a fiddle is agriculture.” Participants and spectators also enjoy the link with our country’s past--a tradition rooted in the simple, honest, hardworking lives of the first homesteaders.

The day ends with the announcement of winners. Trophies are given to the top three finishers in the Junior and Senior Division and an Acoustic Band Contest. The winner of a Tune Writing Competition which is held in conjunction with the Nebraska Chapter of the American String Teachers Association is also announced. And the best left-handed fiddler and the youngest fiddler are recognized.

Greenblatt finds the atmosphere at the Monumental Fiddling Championship and Acoustic Band Contest to be inviting and nurturing for all levels of musicians. LeFeber found it refreshing to see the wide variety of music that is made in this country.

It is a day for fiddlers of all ages and experience levels to come together much like they did when the first pioneers arrived in the 1800’s and began settling the prairie. The sounds of fiddlers were often heard whenever homesteaders got together and those same sounds will be heard on May 23, 2009, at the eleventh annual Monumental Fiddling Championship and Acoustic Band Contest.

Doris Martin is a part-time park ranger at Homestead National Monument of America and teaches a course on entertainment journalism at Beatrice High School. She is also the mother of a fiddler.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Golden Inspiration: Pocahontas, Sacagawea, and Esther

“Nothing in the story of American history has been more puzzled with stereotypes and falsehoods than the lives of American Indians and the very essential role that they played in our nations past.”

-Moulton (2001) in Everyday Life among the American Indians
by Shaina Peters
Southeast Community College

There are three Native American women that come to mind easily for changing the world in many different aspects. The world would not be the same if it wasn’t for their contributions. I've always thought of Pocahontas and Sacagawea as positive role models, and now it’s time for others to see what they had brought to our nation so many years ago. I'd like to recognize Pocahontas, Sacagawea, and her great granddaughter for their influence on our nation.

First, I will show why Pocahontas should be admired for the important role that she had in what became the first English settlement. Then, I will honor Sacagawea’s adventures across America. Finally, I will praise Esther Horne for her contributions to the American culture.

Because Pocahontas shared her friendship with the English settlers it helped ensure the success of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement of America. According to Pocahontas (2000) in the year of 1607, a few English settlers made their way on to Native American territory and were they were taken into captivity. Pocahontas’ father sentenced Smith, who was the captain of the exploration, to death for trespassing in his territory. With Indians hovering over him readying to take his life, Pocahontas forced her way through her own people, placing her life before Smith’s.

Pocahontas’s father respected her wishes and spared Smith’s life. In result, as a part of the mock execution and salvation ritual, Smith and Pocahontas were now friends, and her father had taken him in as his own. Positive relations between the Indians and the settlers continued through the years. While some say Pocahontas’ willingness to give her life to save another is a legend there is no doubt that her friendship with the early settlers benefited the existence of Jamestown (Pocahontas, 2000).

The remembrance of Sacagawea and her adventure may be imprecise but the facts we do know are remarkable. Sacagawea traveled through America, her son attached to her back, leading Lewis and Clark on their adventures. She was hired to help Lewis and Clark travel their expedition because she could speak several Indian languages, and as a Shoshone, she could contact her own people for trade (Sacagawea, 1999).

Sacagawea helped Lewis and Clark acquire the crucial necessities that were needed for the success of their mission. She provided the knowledge that was needed to survive through the rugged country of North America. She taught the explorers how to find edible roots and plants that were beneficial to their health. Most importantly, Sacagawea and her baby functioned as a “white flag” of peace for the Lewis and Clark expedition (Sacagawea, 1999).

As the Lewis and Clark party entered what could be hostile territory and because women and infants never accompanied a war party, the Indian response was interest rather than violence. Instead of hostilities all would make conversation first, and Sacagawea would serve as a translator (Sacagawea, 1999).

At the age of 14, Sacagawea led Lewis and Clark on a once in a life time adventure, and now is known as the golden inspiration and is honored on the dollar coin (Sacagawea, 1999). Finally, I will show what the great granddaughter of Sacagawea brought to the world of education.

Esther Horne was known for her commitment to the education of American Indians. She was an inspiration as an educator and as an advocate for the Indian people. Horne received many honors in her time including a Master Teacher for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. With the experience of being both a student and a teacher she helped inspire the dreams of many young Indian children. If it wasn’t for these accomplishments, she would not have been able to portray the complexity of the Indian experience at the Indian boarding schools (Esther Burnett Horne, 2006).

Esther’s life enlightens us of the ongoing struggle of the Native teachers and students. She helped retain her and her student’s cultural identities although government systems were trying to prevent the teaching of Indian heritage. She helps us understand the complex meaning of boarding school education and its impact on Indian students’ lives (Esther Burnett Horne, 2006). Esther Horne’s should receive honor for what she had brought to the teaching of and about the American Indian people.

I hope my words have helped you to consider how we should recognize and acknowledge Pocahontas, Sacagawea, and her great granddaughter, Esther Horne, for their contributions as they have had an impact on shaping our nation to be what it is today. We saw why Pocahontas should be admired for the important role that she had played in what became the United States of America. Then, we honored Sacagawea’s adventure across America. And finally, we gave praise to Esther Horne for the contributions she made on behalf of American Indians to the American culture.

These histories of these three Native American women may be “puzzled with [some] stereotypes and falsehoods” but there is no doubt that the “very essential role[s] that they played in our nations past” deserves our admiration.


Esther Burnett Horne. (2006). Read North Dakota. Retrieved February 24,
2009 from

Moulton, C. (2001). Everyday life among the American Indians. Cincinnati, OH: Writers Digest Books.

Pocahontas. (2000, 1997). The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.
Retrieved February 22, 2009 from

Sacagawea: The early years. (1999). Defense Link. Retrieved February 22, 2009 from