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

No comments: