Friday, August 28, 2009

Farming and the Homestead Act

“The Homestead Act of 1862 has been called one of the most important pieces of Legislation in the history of the United States,” according to an online passage from About the Homestead Act last updated on May 30, 2008.

By Lindsey Katz
Southeast Community College

When I was a freshman in high school, a class that I was enrolled in took a trip to the Homestead National Monument. I never knew that there could be such valuable history so close to home. Today I am going to talk about the Homestead Act.

I will start off by telling you about the Homestead Act of 1862. Then I will discuss to how it gave people the opportunity to own land. Finally I will be talking about how the Homestead Act still affects farming today.

In 1862, the Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln (Homestead, 2008).According to the book, Homestead: National Monument of America by Rose Houk, on May 20, 1862 the Homestead Act would change the lives of Americans forever. The Homestead Act affected the majority of the United States. 30 out of the 50 states were changed because of it. Settlers were each allowed up to 160 acres of land according to online article The Homestead Act, last revised May 7, 2007.

Not just anyone was handed land. There were some requirements. Homesteaders that were able to claim land had to be the head of a household, or at least twenty-one years of age. Those who were immigrants weren’t just handed land, they had to file for citizenship. The settlers had to live on the land for 5 years, or live on the land six months out of the year (Homestead, 2008).

Daniel Freeman had the first claim under the act on January 1, 1863. Freeman’s homestead is now known as the Homestead National Monument. In 1936, the United States Congress identified Freeman’s homestead as the “first homestead” in the US (The Library, 2007).

The Homestead Act provided many opportunities for settlers. Without the Homestead Act, many may not have had the chance to own land (The Library, 2007). The goal of the Homestead Act was to give the less fortunate like immigrants and underprivileged Americans a chance (Houk, 2000).

Farmers and their children were the majority of people who claimed the land. The farmers and their families had the expertise to improve the conditions of the land and make use out of it. After certain requirements had been met, the homesteader was able to pay a $10 filing fee to claim the land. A $2 commission fee was also required for the land agent (Homestead, 2008). With this payment homesteaders were able to take ownership of their new purchase.

Each person who purchased land needed to find two people to give their word that all of your intentions for the land were true. They had to sign the “proof” document for certainty that they would follow through with their intentions (Homestead, 2008).

Farming in the 1800s has sure changed from farming today. There were many different types of farming techniques and inventions along the way. In a discussion with Jim Katz, on February 7, 2009 about farming then and now he stated, “Tractors, combines and custom harvesters weren’t available to the homesteaders, but I’m sure they would have made life much simpler.”

A way of farming during the time when the Homestead Act was passed was called the dry farming method. During my discussion with Katz (2009), I asked him if he knew of this farming technique. “The dry farming method was used in the Great Plains. This required planting seeds deep into sod where there would be enough moisture for the crop to start growing.” Being a third generation farmer himself, Katz was always eager to know how things work. He would analyze things now, and ask his father and grandfather how things were then and make comparisons.

As time went by, many different farming inventions were created. I asked Katz if he knew about any of the machinery that was used back then. He told me how the seed drill was a machine that would drill small holes into the ground then cover them up. This eliminated planting seeds by hand. Today, there is such a wide variety of equipment. Close to the seed drill is the planter that is used today. Technology has come a long way, and is helping improve agriculture all over the United States.

Now that I have told you a little bit about the Homestead and how it has affected farming, let’s review. Today I told you about the Homestead Act and farming. I first told you about the Homestead Act. Then I discussed how it gave people the opportunity to own land. Finally I talked about how the Homestead Act still affects farming today.

History is all around us. There is so much to learn. I never thought that one of the most important pieces of history in the United States would be only a few miles away.


Homestead National Monument of America. (2008, May). About the Homestead Act. Retrieved February 2, 2009, from

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

J. Katz (personal communication, February 7, 2009)

The Library of Congress. (2007, May 7). The Homestead Act. Retrieved February 2, 2009, from

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Story of the Homestead Commemorative Stamp

Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

John and Marget Bakken would have been lost to history if it were not for a picture taken in 1898. It shows the couple outside their sod house in Walsh County, North Dakota, with their two young children and the family dog.

John Bakken was born in Benson, Minnesota, in 1871. His parents were from Telemarken. After a sojourn in Minnesota, they moved their large family to homestead in North Dakota in 1881. There John married Marget Axvig, who also came from a big Norwegian family. She was born in Telemarken in 1867.

The photographer was John McCarthy. He later sold his business to Fred Hultstrand including the original plate of the Bakken picture. Hulstrand’s assistants, the Wick sisters Thelma and Sylvia, colorized a print with oil paints.

The colorized photograph then made its way into a book called “The Pageant of America,” a 15-volume series commemorating the nation’s sesquicentennial in 1926. Charles R. Chickering, an artist for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, discovered the photograph in the book and based on this image designed the 1962 Homestead Act centennial stamp but with a few changes.

Chickering made some subtle changes in the composition but the most noticeable change is the removal of the two children, Tilda and Eddie, and the dog. This was allegedly done, according to Tom Isern, a history professor at North Dakota State University, to avoid depicting living persons. However, John Bakken, still living in North Dakota, recognized himself and his old soddie.

The Homestead Act stamp was given a general coloring of bluish-gray to represent a late evening and emphasize the bleakness of the plains, according to a 1962 broadside advertising its release. The 4-cent Homestead Act commemorative stamp was issued in Beatrice, Nebraska, on May 20, 1962, on the centennial anniversary of the signing of the act by President Abraham Lincoln.

The image was again used in 1975 by Norway to commemorate immigration to America but this time it is red. This artist’s adaptation of the same photo restores the children. “Indeed, the postures of John and Marget make the children central to this postal image—rightly so, given the attitudes of immigrant settler,” said Isern.

Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.
A copy of the original photograph, the Homestead Act stamp and the Norwegian stamp can be viewed at the American Memory website of the Library of Congress as part of the Fred Hulstrand collection.

Isern, T. (2003, April 10). Plains folk: Bakken Homestead. North Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture Communication.Retrieved July 5, 2009, from:

Sunwall, C. (2008, August 8). Homestead Act stamp. Dakota Datebook. North Dakota Public Radio. Retrieved July 5, 2009, from:

Photographs retrieved July 5, 2009, from American Memory Home Web site:

The 4-cent Homestead Act commemorative stamp was issued in Beatrice, Nebraska, on May 20, 1962, on the centennial anniversary of the signing of the act by President Abraham Lincoln.

Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

Designed by Charles R. Chickering, the stamp features an image of a sod hut, typical of the early homestead dwellings. A man and woman stand in the illuminated walkway. The stamp's bluish-gray color represents a late evening scene and emphasizes the austerity of the plains.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Home on the Range a Homesteader's Song

Home on the Range is a Classic Cowboy song, right? Well………..YES and NO. YES, because today we consider it a Classic Cowboy Song and it has been and is performed by many Western Music groups and artists. On the other hand NO, because the original words were actually written in 1872 by a homesteader, Brewster M. Higley.

Brewster Higley wrote a poem he called The Western Home and it was published under the title Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam in the Smith County Pioneer in December of 1873. A neighbor, Trube Reese, visited Higley and convinced him the poem should be set to music.

Together they visited Daniel E. Kelley who was a fidler and had experience as a musical performer. Kelley created the music for the song. Some sources say both Reese and Kelley were homesteaders too, other sources say Reese was a “local” and Kelley lived in Gaylord in Smith County, Kansas and made his living as a carpenter, moonlighting as a violinist with the “Harlan Brothers Orchestra.”

Nevertheless, it is well documented that in 1871 Brewster Higley filed a claim under the Homestead of 1862. Therefore, the original words were written by a homesteader, not by a cowboy.

However, the song was adopted and modified by settlers, cowboys, and others and spread across the United States in various forms. Some of the modifications became the version we know today with a more “cowboy flavor.” This version was published in the early 20th century by John Avery Lomax, a pioneering musicologist and folklorist. The words, "home on the range" never appear in Higley's original lyrics. [See below for Higley’s Version and Lomax’s Version]

When Texan turned New York City recording and radio artist Vernon Dalhardt made the first commercial recording of “Home on the Range” in the 1920’s it was a hit. During the Presidential Campaign of 1932 Franklin Roosevelt even declared it his favorite song. By 1935, Home on the Range was well known all across America and today is considered “an anthem of the American West.” The Kansas legislature voted to make Home on the Range the official state song on April 8, 1947.

Be sure to listen to Home on the Range recorded by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers for RCA on December 1, 1947. For more information visit this National Public Raio web page:

Also see:

Green, Douglas B. 2002. Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy. Nashville: Vanderbilt Press.

Griffis, Ken. 1986. Hear My Song: The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneeers. Camarillo, CA: Norken.

Brewster Higley’s Original Version

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not cloudy all day.

A home! A home!
Where the Deer and the Antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not clouded all day.

Oh! give me a land where the bright diamond sand
Throws its light from the glittering streams,
Where glideth along the graceful white swan,
Like the maid in her heavenly dreams.


Oh! give me a gale of the Solomon vale,
Where the life streams with buoyancy flow;
On the banks of the Beaver, where seldom if ever,
Any poisonous herbage doth grow.


How often at night, when the heavens were bright,
With the light of the twinkling stars
Have I stood here amazed, and asked as I gazed,
If their glory exceed that of ours.


I love the wild flowers in this bright land of ours,
I love the wild curlew's shrill scream;
The bluffs and white rocks, and antelope flocks
That graze on the mountains so green.


The air is so pure and the breezes so fine,
The zephyrs so balmy and light,
That I would not exchange my home here to range
Forever in azures so bright.

John A. Lomax’s Version (1910)

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Where the air is so pure, the zephyrs so free,
The breezes so balmy and light,
That I would not exchange my home on the range
For all of the cities so bright.


The red man was pressed from this part of the West
He's likely no more to return,
To the banks of Red River where seldom if ever
Their flickering camp-fires burn.


How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light from the glittering stars
Have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.


Oh, I love these wild prairies where I roam
The curlew I love to hear scream,
And I love the white rocks and the antelope flocks
That graze on the mountain-tops green.


Oh, give me a land where the bright diamond sand
Flows leisurely down the stream;
Where the graceful white swan goes gliding along
Like a maid in a heavenly dream.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Homestead Warmth: Log Cabin Quilts

A log cabin quilt on display at the Education Center

Log cabins were often the first homes on the prairie for early homesteaders. Along with these log cabins came a quilt pattern by the same name. The design— representing the hand-hewn log cabin—was believed to convey conceptually the spirit and perseverance of American pioneers.

We Americans have long considered this pattern the quintessential American design,” said author and quilt teacher Jane Hall. “The heyday of the log cabin in this country was in the third and fourth quarters of the nineteenth century, corresponding to the widespread trek westward after the Civil War, so the ‘little-house-on-the-Prairie’ figure fits nicely,” said Hall.

It is not known when the Log Cabin quilt pattern first appeared in America but Log Cabin quilts were receiving commendations as early as 1863 at the Ohio State Fair. “Other fairs in the 1870s and 80s added premiums specifically for Log Cabin quilts, indicating their popularity was increasing,” according to the International Quilt Study Center website.

The design is built around a small square which was often red or yellow, a practice thought to reflect the hearth or the light within the log cabin. The traditional design continues by sewing strips in sequence around the sides of the square varying between light and dark material.

This quilt is often tied as opposed to being quilted. “These foundations were often waste fabrics of different weights, perhaps recycled, and in the days before sewing machines were widely available, would be almost impossible to quilt through by hand,” said Hall.

Log Cabin designs were also used to raise money during the Civil War. Historians have discovered that the design was used for quilts that were raffled off. “It is said President Abraham Lincoln who grew up in a log cabin might have regarded the pattern as a symbol of loyalty, as head of the Union,” according to the Quilt Ethnic website.

The pattern is a universal design construct that is found in ancient Roman tile work, Egyptian animal mummy wrappings, and seventeenth-century perfume bags. The British Quilt Heritage project found extant Log Cabin quilts made as early as the second quarter of the nineteenth century. In Great Britain, a square perfume bag (sachet) worked in lattice silks in the pattern is shown in a 1926 book, according to Hall.

But the design itself was found much earlier. “In the early part of the nineteenth century, when the tombs in Egypt were opened, the British found thousands of small animal mummies, put there as funerary objects of respect for the departed royalty. Some of these are housed in the British Museum and a person can easily see the Log Cabin patterning in the way the strips of linen are wound around the cat or ibex. Some of the mummies are even colored, with some sort of dye, in light and dark areas on the diagonals, exactly like the contemporary Log Cabin blocks,” said Hall.

Although the design has been around for centuries it has only been executed in fabric for less than 200 years. And for most of those years it has been a reminder of the pioneer family and their first home on the prairie…a log cabin.

Primary Pattern: Log Cabin; Alternate Pattern: Barn Raising setting. Date: Circa 1880-1900. International Quilt Study Center and Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1997.007.0005

Design dynamics log cabin quilts from the Jonathan Holstein collection. (2009). International Quilt Study Center []. Retrieved June 25, 2009, from:

Hall, J. (2004). Log cabin quilts-Inspirations from the past. Retrieved June 25, 2009 from

Log cabin quilt. (1999-2008). Quilt Ethnic. Retrieved June 25, 2009 from: