Friday, September 25, 2009

Department of Interior

On March 3, 1849, Abraham Lincoln on the last day of his one and only term as a U. S. Congressman voted with the majority to create the Department of Interior. A little over thirteen years later on May 20, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act of 1862. The General Land Office which had been selling public land since 1812 was transferred from the Department of Treasury to the Department of Interior when the latter was created in 1849. The General Land Office would continue to sell public land, but was also set up to transfer land to homesteaders beginning the first day the Homestead Act went into effect. Daniel Freeman was one of the first to file for a homestead on that first day, January 1, 1863.

On March 19, 1936 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Public Law No. 480 which created Homestead National Monument of America on Daniel Freeman’s homestead. Homestead National Monument is administered by the National Park Service an agency in the Department of the Interior.

The Department of Interior has often been called the “department of everything-else.” The Department of the Interior (DOI) is the nation's principal conservation agency. It’s mission is to protect America's treasures for future generations, provide access to the nation's natural and cultural heritage, offer recreation opportunities, honor trust responsibilities to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and island communities, conduct scientific research, provide wise stewardship of energy and mineral resources, foster sound use of land and water resources, and conserve and protect fish and wildlife. The work that DOI does affects the lives of millions of people; from the family taking a vacation in national parks to the children studying in Indian schools.

The Department of Interior has over 67,000 employees and 280,000 volunteers located at approximately 2,400 operating locations across the United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. territories, and freely associated states. DOI has a $16.8 billion total annual budget. DOI raises more than $18.2 billion in revenues collected from energy, mineral, grazing, timber, recreation, land sales, and other revenue producing activities.

DOI manages 500 million acres of surface land, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States, including:
-256 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management
-96.2 million acres managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service
-84.6 million acres managed by the National Park Service
-8.7 million acres managed by the Bureau of Reclamation associated with reclamation projects
-66 million acres managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs
-Over 200,000 acres of abandoned coal mine sites have been reclaimed through the Office of Surface Mining's Abandoned Mine Land Program
-Other agencies in the Department of Interior are the Minerals Management Service and the U. S. Geological Survey.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In their own words: Homestead Books from the Homestead Period

The list of books below describes homesteading as written by settlers in their own words.

Books written by settlers during the Homesteading Period

Letters of a Woman Homesteader
By Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Foreword copyright 1988 by Houghton Mifflin Company

In 1909, Elinore Pruitt Stewart and her young daughter set out for a ranch in Burnt Fork, Wyoming, where an acre can be had for $1.25 and a bit of determination. Stewart’s letters create a colorful account of her new life on the prairie, the eccentric characters who inhabit it, and the community they built together. It was first published in 1914 and inspired the movie Heartland.

Covered Wagon Women, Vol. 11
Diaries & Letters From the
Western Trails, 1879-1903
Edited and compiled by Kenneth L. Holmes
First Bison Books printing: 2000

In this concluding volume of the Covered Wagon Women series, we see the final animal-powered overland migrations that were even then yielding to railroad travel and, in a few short years, to the automobile. The diaries and letters resonate with the vigor and spirit that made possible the settling and community-building of the American West.

Staking Her Claim
Women Homesteading the West
By Marcia Meredith Hensley
Copyright 2008 Marcia Meredith Hensley

Instead of talking about women’s rights, these frontier women grabbed the opportunity to become landowners by homesteading in the still wild west of the early 1900s. They tell their stories in their own words, through letters and articles of the time-of adventure, independence, foolhardiness, failure, success, and freedom.

Bachelor Bess
The Homesteading Letters of Elizabeth Corey, 1909-1919
Edited by Philip L. Gerber
Copyright 1990 by University of Iowa Press

In July 1909 twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth Corey left her Iowa farm to stake her claim to a South Dakota homestead. Over the next ten years, as she continued her school teaching career and carved out a home for herself in this inhospitable territory, she sent a steady stream of letters to her family back in Iowa. Irrepressible, independent-minded, and evidently fearless, the self-styled Bachelor Bess gives us a firsthand, almost daily account of her homesteading adventures in these 180 letters.

Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey
Edited by Lillian Schlissel
Foreword copyright 2004 by Mary Clearman Blew

Through the diaries, letters, and reminiscences of women who participated in this migration, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey gives us primary source material on the lives of these women, who kept campfires burning with buffalo chips and dried weeds, gave birth to and cared for children along primitive and dangerous roads, drove teams of oxen, picked berries, milked cows, and cooked meals in the middle of a wilderness that was a far cry from the homes they had left back east. Still (and often under the disapproving eyes of their husbands) they found time to write brave letters home or to jot a few weary lines at night into the diaries that continue to enthrall us.

(Each book summary is from the back of the book jacket)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Effie Lantz's story: The first white child born in Sioux County, Iowa

Lantz Post Cemetery in Ireton, Iowa named after Effie's dad, Henry Lantz, the first Civil War veteran buried there.

I have attached a letter from a relative of mine (husband's side). This letter was written in 1957 by this ancestor, then 87 years old, at the request of a cousin ours who wanted to know more about pioneer times for a class project in grade school. The Korslund family kept this letter and last year we even drove to Iowa to see the family grave. Have a good summer.

Not all homesteaders were successful in their claim. What at first seems a failure, today, several generations later, is an uncontestable victory. Our life of plenty has been built on the hardships and tenacity faced by our homesteading ancestors.

Here are excerpts of a letter written in 1957 by Effie Lantz, the first white child born in Sioux County, in Northwest Iowa. She mentioned her solitary childhood and her parents’ toil. Her father’s premature death forced the family to abandon the homestead. Effie before the age of twelve had seen the death of her father, two brothers and one sister. Today her many descendants, scattered all over the USA, have been spared of such hardships and enjoy a very comfortable life.

I, Effie Maud Lantz (Granger), was born in a small town, Calliope (now called Hawarden), Sioux County, in northwest Iowa. I was the first while child born in Sioux County. My parents came in a covered wagon across the state from southern Iowa. My father was a Civil War soldier, and the Government was giving homesteads of 160 acres of land to the soldiers. Of course they had to build a house and live on it. They brought a few things they would need with them, and a few animals, one team of horses, a cow and chickens. I was born three weeks after my parents arrived in Sioux County. They were 60 miles from a doctor and had to drive with a team to Sioux City, Iowa, for any kind of medical help. I was born August 31, 1869. I have lived a long time. I am now 87 years old.

My parents lived in Calliope in a sod house. The first winter and in the spring my father, with the help of some neighbor settlers, built a two room house on the homestead farm and some sheds for the stock and we moved there in the spring of 1870. It would seem bleak to the young people of this day. All you could see as far as one could see was prairie grass, which grew very tall and waved in the wind. The wind blew very hard much of the time and in winter the blizzards were terrible. The snowdrifts would be as high as the house many times. The men had to tie a rope around them and fasten it to the house when they went to the barn so they could find their way back to the house. The storms sometimes lasted two or three days or more. Once two of my uncles, then young boys, were lost in a blizzard all night, they just let the horses go and the horses found their way home. The boys were in sled and had some blankets. One of the boys had his feet and hands frozen. I remember how my mother walked the floor most all night fearing they were lost.

In the summer there were terrible electrical storms and tornadoes, and there were always a fear of the Indians. They, the Sioux Indians, used to come to Sioux Falls, a town near us to get granite rock that was there, to make pipes and things of, and the pioneers were afraid they might come and molest them. When my parents would hear they were coming they could take bedding and go to my grandfather’s, a mile from us, to stay all night. But the Indians never did come there. Then there were the prairie fires. This tall grass would get on fire and burn everything. The men would have to fight the fire so hard to keep it from burning their houses.

When I was about nine years old there was a big circus and animal show came to Le Mars and we went to see it. This is one of the outstanding events in my life. I still remember all about it. I was so happy and excited to got to go to a river called the “Rock River” where trees grew along its banks, and gathered plums and grapes and hops (to make yeast with) which grew there and were very nice. We took a picnic dinner and were gone all day. We had a wonderful time; we thought and looked forward all year. This was just about all the recreation we had. Sometimes, some of the settlers would have a party and invite all the neighbors.

We children were happy to have some stick candy, an apple and sometimes a small doll or toy of some kind in our stockings for Christmas.

My father worked very hard to get the land in shape to plant grain and corn. About four or five years after we moved there, just as my father was harvesting a very good crop of wheat, millions of grasshoppers came down and just devoured everything. There was not a thing left of the crop or garden. I don’t know how we lived through the winter, but we did and he managed to get seed and planted again in the spring, and the same thing happened again. The grasshoppers came again. This was too much. My father took his family, there were three children then, and went to Sioux City and got a job in a packinghouse, “Swifts.” We lived there through the winter and went back to the farm in the spring and started over again. The grasshoppers did not come again. In the spring my little sister died.

My father took a terrible cold while working in the packinghouse, from which he never fully recovered, and in October 1830, he died. He could not stand the hard work and hardships they had.

I was eleven years old then. My mother lived on the farm a year. Then she sold it and we moved back to Calliope where I lived until I was married to Thomas E. Granger on October 17, 1888. My father died during a terrible blizzard, on in History I think, for it was on October 16, 1880. My father was only 40 years old. I had one sister, Pearl, and one brother living. One sister and one brother had died and the next year the other brother died, one year old, leaving Mother and my sister and I alone.

My father was the first soldier buried in the cemetery there (in Ireton). The C.A. R. Post is named for him, “Lantz Post.” The snow was so deep we could hardly get to the cemetery to bury my father. The winter after my father died we had to burn corn in the stoves to deep warm. They could not get enough coal shipped in to supply the settlers that were there then. It was a very long, cold winter, 1880 and 1881.

After we moved back to Calliope to live, my mother had a hard time making a living for us. I went to school and started taking music lessons when I was thirteen on an organ, the old kind you had to pump with your feet. Then later I took lessons and practiced at least four hours a day and more at times. When I was 17 I started teaching music and used to go on the train to Bearsford and Centerville, South Dakota, to teach music twice a week. I had large classes; I did this until I was married when I was 19 years old.

I have written some of the most important things of the pioneer days, but the younger people of today could not have any idea of what the pioneers really did go through with. What I have written about my family and myself is just about the same all of the pioneers went through. Many of them died and some of them abandoned their farms and went back where they came from. The ones that kept well and stayed got wealthy for that country is a very rich farming country. Some of them got small pox and other diseases and died for want of care.

Gracie Lantz's grave. Gracie was Effie's little sister and she died at the age of 5. Her grave is located in Lantz Post Cemetery in Ireton, Iowa, named after her dad who was the first Civil War veteran buried there.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Homestead Act as one of America’s Best Idea and The National Parks

The Homestead Act of 1862 is considered by many to be President Abraham Lincoln’s best idea but America’s best idea is her national parks according to award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns in his new documentary “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

The 12-hour, six-park documentary series, directed by Burns and co-produced with his longtime colleague, Dayton Duncan, who also wrote the script, is the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. As such, it follows in the tradition of Burns' exploration of other American inventions, such as baseball and jazz.

“I’ve always been interested in how my country works; all of my films have asked the deceptively simple question, “Who are we?” I think our landscape, that is the physical geography of our country has been most revealing of our character, good and bad, to my mind the National Parks represents our best selves, a place, at least for this filmmaker, where we can come the closest to deepening that simple question,” said Burns.

Burns has been making documentary films for more than 30 years. Since the Academy Award-nominated “Brooklyn Bridge” in 1981, he has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made. The late historian Stephan Ambrose said, “More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source.”

The history of the National Park Service begins in the mid-1800’s and the film follows its evolution for nearly 150 years. Using archival photographs, first-person accounts of historical characters, personal memories and analysis from more than 40 interviews, and what Burns believes is the most stunning cinematography in Florentine Films’ history, the series chronicles the steady addition of new parks through the stories of the people who helped create them and save them from destruction. It is simultaneously a biography of compelling characters and a biography of the American landscape.

The compelling characters include people from every conceivable background- rich and poor; famous and unknown; soldiers and scientists; natives and newcomers; idealists, artists and entrepreneurs; people who were willing to devote themselves to saving some precious portion of the land they loved, and in doing so reminded their fellow citizens of the full meaning of democracy.

His co-producer Dayton Duncan said these characters helped to tell the story of an idea-the uniquely American idea or invention, called national parks. “We wanted to tell the stories of the people who came up with the idea, who broadened it by adding new parks and new notions of what a park could be,” said Duncan, “our goal was to weave an interconnected narrative.”

Duncan also wrote the script for the documentary and came up with the idea of making a film about national parks during a cross country vacation in 1998. The project was eight years in the making.

“Making this film was one of the greatest joys of my life,” said Duncan, who has visited all but one of America’s 58 national parks. “Each park is unique and has its own fascinating historical story. But they are all connected by the transformative idea that they belong to each of us, providing a shared place that lives in the memory of every individual and every family that has visited them over the years. And they are connected by the notion that individual Americans in the best possible example of democracy, worked to make sure that future generations could enjoy them,” said Duncan.

The series will begin airing on Public Broadcasting stations on Sept. 27, 2009.


Archived Chat Ken Burns, Documentary Filmmaker. (2009, July 10). PBS Engage. Retrieved August 15, 2009, from

Archived Chat Dayton Duncan, Co-Producer and Writer of "The National Parks: America's Best Idea". (2009, July 10). PBS Engage. Retrieved August 16, 2009, from

Ken Burns. (n.d.). Florentine Films. Retrieved August 8, 2009 from