Thursday, June 25, 2009

Homesteaders' fences: Barb Wire & Osage Oranges

With no trees for fences and no stones to build walls, the homesteaders needed more practical ways to contain their livestock and fence their property. Some planted hedgerows, stock-proof living walls of thorny trees and bushes, such as the

Osage orange hedgerow planted by Daniel Freeman in the early 1870’s, which demarcates Homestead National Monument of America’s southern boundary.

However, prior to 1874, most homesteaders simply allowed their cattle and sheep to freely graze on the open prairie, sharing pasture and water resources with other settlers. These were the days of the “open range,” when cowboys drove cattle long distances to eastern markets, when nomadic Plains Indian tribes followed the vast buffalo herds, and when thousands of pioneers bound for the far western territories set out on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails.

Many historians believe, according to the Devil’s Rope Museum website, one of the defining moments in the history of the West came when a small bunch of wild longhorn steers stopped and backed away from eight slender strands of twisted wire equipped with sharp barbs. This event happened in 1876 when John W. ("Bet-a-Million") Gates erected an enclosure on the Plaza in San Antonio, Texas to demonstrate to gathered ranchers, that newly-invented barbed wire could securely contain wild livestock. From that moment on, the West would never be the same again.

Visitors to Homestead National Monument of America can visit the barb wire display at the Heritage Center. Request your free copy of the brochure Fencing the Great Plains: The History of Barbed Wire by emailing

Collage is compliments of Devil's Rope Museum. Barb wire is so named because when livestock encountered barbed wire for the first time, it was usually a painful experience. The injuries provided sufficient reason for the public to protest its use. Religious groups called it "the work of the devil," or "The Devil's Rope" and demanded removal.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Homestead Sky: Is the Nightscape Disappearing? promote and regulate the use of the...national parks...which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.

National Park Service Organic Act, 16 U.S.C.1.

Protecting and preserving America’s national treasures for current and future generations is the mission of the National Park Service. When considering our nation’s treasures what come to mind first?

Perhaps the wilderness of Yellowstone or the preservation of our nation’s leaders birthplaces or the areas where historic battles were fought. Each National Park is as unique and individual as American citizens themselves. Yet, there is at least one commonality that every park possesses whether you are in California, Nebraska, Alaska, or even Guam. A resource overlooked, even when looking at it.

A disappearing night sky.

The night sky is being threatened with light pollution. The National Park Service Night Sky Program was initiated to investigate the influence of artificial lights upon the nocturnal lightscape. The Night Sky Program (NSP) has developed instrumentation to inventory night sky quality which has been used at over 60 individual parks including Homestead National Monument of America and the results are in.

Teresa Jiles, a Night Sky Technician with the NPS Night Sky Program conducted the study of Homestead’s night sky visibility in August 2008. Ideal weather for accurate readings would be a dry cool night. The Charged-Coupled Device (CCD) camera that generates an image of the entire celestial hemisphere and generates a panoramic map of precise sky brightness values, is best used when placed above obstructions to the horizon.

In the case of Homestead National Monument of America, placing the camera on the roof of the Heritage Center would have been ideal, but was not feasible at the time of the monitoring. In addition to the camera being lower than desired the atmosphere was moisture rich as well.

The results, although telling of the apparent light pollution sources, would need to be compared with results from an ideal monitoring night for a good baseline. Results compiled by the NSP monitoring are below:

The results are showing are source points of light pollution. In the image above the camera is in the center and it took many pictures, spinning around to get a 360 degree light source image. Imagine it like a dome, 360 degrees starting from the horizon then the camera tips up a little and goes around again, it keeps doing so until it is pointing straight up, the whole process took hours. The red indicates where the light pollution is coming from.

The second image is facing toward the north-eastern horizon, the Heritage Center is the middle shadow. The layered color pattern is due to stray scattering in the moisture rising from the prairie and surrounding farms on a hot summer night. The light pollution is stemming from the town of Beatrice (pop. 12,000+) and other area sources. Again the red is indicating sources of light pollution, bear in mind these images were compiled from nightfall till after midnight, which hopefully will get the community thinking about how we can better manage our light sources so it will not have such a negative impact on the night sky.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Planting Corn: Then as a Homesteader, Now as a 21st Century Farmer

By Jarred Thimm
Southeast Community College

The year was 1862 and the words “Free Land, Free Land” echoed from east to west and “the Homestead Act of 1862 opened millions of acres across the nation to settlement and cultivation” according to the pamphlet “Homestead” from the Homestead National Monument of America.

The Homestead National Monument is just a few miles west of Beatrice off Highway 4 and it is something most of us around here take for granted. I have walked the paths of the Homestead National Monument and stood up on the hill looking over the land settled by Daniel Freeman. But, it wasn’t until I planted fields of corn myself that I could really imagine the challenges he faced taming the land with its dense grass cover. I will compare planting corn as the early homesteaders did with corn planting today and challenges of both. I will describe the equipment used to prepare the soil for planting, planting itself as well as the challenges of producing corn then and now.

Corn was one of the crops that early homesteaders brought with them according to Nicoll’s 1967 book, Nebraska a Pictorial History. The first step in planting corn is to prepare the soil for planting. Try to imagine yourself cutting through a thick mat of dense grass with an underground root system that is anchored deep in the soil. According to an undated pamphlet printed by Homestead National Monument of America, “tough steel plows were needed to cut through the deep tangled roots of prairie sod” and as stated in Homesteading in the 19th Century and it was pulled by a strong team of oxen, guided by the farmer. The plow would take a 9 inch swath and the farmer would have to walk 10 miles to plow an acre of land according to the 2008 video demonstration Plowing and Planting from the Homestead National Monument of America website. An acre, according to my calculations, is 43,560 square feet about the size of a football field.

Today, most farmers I am familiar with practice no-till which means the soil is not disturbed before planting. I know from my personal experience that no-till farming benefits the soil because it leaves residue on the soil surface and prevents erosion. Most farmers today I am familiar with spray herbicides, which are chemicals, to control weeds.

There is a big difference in how the soil was prepared by the homesteaders which involved grueling hours and days spent behind a plow to carefully calculating chemical rates to control weeds today. There is also a big difference in how corn is planted.

Corn and corn planting equipment have changed greatly over the years. Today’s ear of corn is much different from the corn produced by the homesteader. Homesteaders saved corn from one year’s harvest for the next year’s seed and was planted with a “hand operated mechanism
that dropped the seed into the furrow” as demonstrated on the 2008 planting video from the Homestead Monument website.

Today, farmers do not plant corn from last year’s crop. Instead I have the choice to plant conventional seed, seed that has not been genetically modified, or seed which has been modified to resist certain insects or herbicides. Farmers, such as myself, also use larger equipment to increase efficiency.

In our area, most corn is planted with 8 to 24 row planters. I plant with a 12 row planter pulled by a 100 horsepower tractor. I have a monitor in the cab that will alert me if one of the rows is not dropping seeds at the rate I have set. The planter precisely places the seed at a depth I have selected. I can plant approximately 10 acres an hour.

Advancements in corn planting have been made in the last 150 years. One thing that both, homesteaders of the past and farmers of today, have in common is the challenge of working with nature.

Producing corn has been a challenge and continues to be a challenge often because of things outside of farmers’ control. Weather…too much rain…too little rain. The price a farmer receives for the crop doesn’t always cover the cost of production. Weather and other natural disasters were factors for early homesteaders. Homesteaders contended with dust storms, hail storms” and the list goes on as described in Homestead National Monument of America 2000 publication by Houk. Farmers today are not only affected by natural disasters but are also influenced by global conditions. Last summer I noticed drop in corn prices which was a direct result of decrease in oil prices which brought down the demand for corn in ethanol plants.

Comparing the practice of corn planting by homesteaders of the 19th century and farmers of the 21st century has been an interesting journey. Farmers have made advancements to make production more efficient but still face many challenges.

I compared corn planting “Then” as a homesteader and “Now” a as 21st century farmer including some challenges. I described how the soil is prepared before planting, the planting process and finally a few challenges homesteaders and farmers face. Next time you see a planter in the field, stop and remember the first tillers of the soil, the homesteaders. To learn more about them and to appreciate their legacy, visit the Homestead National Monument.


Homestead. (n.d.). Homestead National Monument of America. National Park Service.

Homesteading in the 19th Century. (n.d.). Homestead National Monument of America. National Park Service.

Houk, R. (2000). Homestead National Monument of America. Fort Washington, PA: Eastern National.

Nicoll, B. (Eds). (1967). Nebraska a pictorial history. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Plowing and planting. (Last updated 2008, November 28). Video demonstration. Homestead National Monument of America. Retrieved April 28,2009, from

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Dream of Many

The journey to a new homeland for the first homesteaders included the ability to persevere. Southeast Community College Christopher Newman discusses the difficulties, the joys, and the perseverance needed to obtain U.S. citizenship by modern homesteaders.

By Christopher Newman
Southeast Community College
What if your country was in complete devastation? Planes flying above, bombs exploding, gun shots throughout the night. Can you imagine the state of emotion you would be in? How about if your country was ruled by a communist government and you had to dress or think a certain way? Would you feel safe, or want to remain in that country if you had a difference in opinion?

Most of us have live here in the United States of America our entire lives and have not had to experience what it is like to live inside of a country with communism or active war. Many times a great land to escape to is here the United States, popular throughout the world for its freedoms. Through research and study I have learned it is not all that easy to move to the U.S.

Many requirements and procedures have to take place not only to enter the U.S. but much more is to be done in order to become a full citizen, people everyday travel to America, the land of the free, to seek opportunity and freedom. The process can be a daunting task. It is not as easy as purchasing a plane ticket, and moving into the U.S.

Entering the United States of America is not very easy, much is to be done. When you are born here in the United States you are a natural born citizen of the U.S. and issued a social security card. We are issued a social security number for efficiency when we are born, but the constitution does not define a “natural born citizen.” The fourteenth amendment in the United States Constitution states that birth in the U.S. entitles one to citizenship. Historians believe the way natural born citizen came to be was from a letter written from John Jay to George Washington in 1787 (Heard, 1987, p. 123).

A Social Security cards does not mean you are a U.S. citizen. The Social Security Administration began issuing social security numbers in 1936. The reason social security cards began to issue was in turn of the 1935 social security act. The act was established to create unemployment benefits, aid to states for various health, and welfare programs. According to The Social Security Administration social security cards are not only given to natural born citizens but temporary workers as well. After entering the U.S. an immigrant is issued a status, and depending on the status can be given a variety of documents.

Learning the history of the United States of America, the cost of becoming a citizen, physical examination, and educational training can be exhausting. Most of us learn this great nation’s history through the education process beginning at a young age. What if you had to learn the history of the U.S. in English in a small amount of time? Although the United States has no official language immigrants are required to be able to speak, read, write, and hold conversation in English in order to become a permanent resident.

When entering the U.S. you must undergo a physical, and be present in the U.S. for one year then apply for permanent residence. According to U.S. Immigration service’s (2008) if you are a refugee, you are required by law to apply for permanent resident status 1 year after being admitted to the United States. If you are an asylee, you are not required to apply for permanent resident status after being granted asylum for 1 year, but are encouraged to do so (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, 2008, p. 1)

Undergoing a physical is required to protect America as a country. Often other countries have disease and health issues that are communicable, but not a hazard in the U.S. In order to keep everyone safe immigrants, or visitors entering the U.S. are mandated to undergo a large amount of screening, including blood draws, and lab work, and questions about family medical history.

The cost of becoming a resident, visitor or citizen can vary depending on what you want to do. According to the United States Immigration Services fee chart (2008), the cost of application to work or stay in the U.S. cost total in cost anywhere from $320 to $1500 (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, 2007). Many services are offered for free. Classes and training on how to adapt to American life are a few of the free services provided.

After immigrants go through the process of entering the U.S. by saving money, learning required knowledge and examinations, they have to learn how to adapt to the U.S. Adapting to the U.S., along with fulfilling dreams to secure a better future for all can be cleansing. Many refugees and immigrants come to the U.S. not only for freedom but to fulfill their dreams of becoming successful. How well immigrants are adjusting to U.S. life is not very well known (Allen, 2006). Many immigrants advance in the economy by opening businesses, which provides success for all in the economy. The average length of time for complete successful adjustment is 10 to 20 years (Lewis, 2007, p. 1).

Fulfilling dreams in the U.S. are not only possible but proven: 350 of every 100,000 immigrants started businesses, compared to only 280 native-born Americans (Lewis, 2007, p. 1). Many immigrants come to the U.S. not only to secure better futures for their selves, but for generations to come as well.

A long journey has to take place in order to become a U.S. citizen. Many requirements and procedures had to take place not only to enter the U.S. but much more had to be done in order to become a full citizen. A participating immigrant must save money, work hard, and learn a great deal of information. Upon entering the U.S. you are granted freedom. Freedom from prosecution for belief, and free to become whatever your dreams may hold. No more worries of prosecution for your beliefs, no more mandatory opinions or punishment for otherwise.


Allen, J P. (2006). Yearbook of the association of Pacific coast geographers. University of Hawaii Press.

Heard, A. (1987). Presidential selection. Durham: Duke University Press.

Lewis, M. (2007 September). Six secrets of a successful immigrant. MSN Money. Retrieved February 2, 2009, from

Social Security Online. (n.d.) History and chronology. Retrieved February 1, 2009, from Social Security Online Web site:

Social Security Online. (n.d.) Social security numbers for non immigrants. Retrieved February 1, 2009, from Social Security Online Web site:

The Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 1, Clause 1.

United States Customs and Immigration Services. (2008, October 30). Forms fee schedule. Retrieved February 1, 2009, from

United States Government. (2008, August). I am a refugee or asylee. Retrieved February 1, 2009, from