Friday, January 30, 2009

Interesting Similarities between President Abraham Lincoln and President Barack Obama


By the Homestead Congress

President Barack Obama has many times publicly expressed his admiration for President Abraham Lincoln, whose 200th birthday will be on February 12, 2009. Since Lincoln is the President who signed the Homestead Act into law on May 20, 1862 and the Homestead Congress exists to support the work of Homestead National Monument of America, we thought it might be fun to look at some of the similarities between the two leaders.



  • Neither Lincoln nor Obama actually came from Illinois, but rather moved there later in life and eventually became top political leaders in the state.

  • Both men were elected to the presidency at relatively young ages. Lincoln was elected at age 51, Obama at 47.

  • The two presidents were both raised by women other than their birth mothers. President Lincoln was raised primarily by his stepmother. President Obama spent a great deal of his youth living with his grandmother.

  • President Lincoln was considered tall for the age in which he lived, standing six feet, four inches. President Obama is also taller than average, standing six feet, one inch.

  • Both men named political rivals to their cabinets after winning election to the presidency. Lincoln placed all three of the other major Republican candidates for the presidential nomination in 1860 into his cabinet: William H. Seward as Secretary of State; Salmon P. Chase as Secretary of the Treasury; and Edwin Bates as Attorney General. In President Obama’s case, he named his major rival for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, as his Secretary of State. Another who sought the Democratic nomination, Senator Joseph Biden, was tapped as Vice President. Interestingly, both Seward and Clinton were Senators from New York before becoming Secretary of State.

  • President Obama was sworn into office with his hand on the same Bible on which President Lincoln took the presidential oath.

  • President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law; President Obama referenced the Homestead Act several times during his campaign for the presidency.

    Do you know of any other similarities between Presidents Lincoln and Obama? If so, post a comment let us know!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pawnee Homesteader's and the 1888 Blizzard

by Doris Martin


“The blizzard literally froze a single day in time,” David Laskin writes in the Prologue to his book, The Children’s Blizzard. The blizzard on Jan. 12, 1888, was so named because of the many school children dying as they tried to get home from school.


“Thousands of impoverished Northern European immigrants were promised that the prairie offered “land, freedom, and hope.” The disastrous blizzard revealed that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by the natural forces they neither understood nor controlled, and America’s heartland would never be the same,” according to the author of The Children’s Blizzard.

Keith C. Heidorn, PhD described the impact on Nebraska in an online Weather Doctor article.

“When the blizzard struck the many small communities around the region, schools were still in session. Some teachers panicked at the raging storm and dismissed their classes, often relying on the children to find their way home in the blizzard. In other cases, such as in the school of Seymour H. Dopp in Pawnee City, Nebraska, they stayed in the small schoolhouses until the storm abated. Rather than send the seventeen children home, Dopp kept them overnight in the country schoolhouse, Stockpiled fuel kept the building warm during the frigid night. The following morning, worried parents negotiated the snow-drifted roads toward the schoolhouse seeking their children. Relieved, they found all safe, but hungry at the school.

That afternoon, Dopp returned to his home in Table Rock to find the teacher at the school in that community had made a different decision. His 11-year-old daughter Avis and her classmates had been released from school. She, and undoubtedly others, suffered frostbite from the cold exposure on her one-block trek home.

What made the storm so deadly was the timing (during work and school hours), the suddenness, and the brief spell of balmy weather that preceded it. People ventured from the safety of their homes to do chores, go to town, attend school, or simply enjoy the relative warmth of the day. As a result, thousands of people – including a significant number of schoolchildren – got caught in the blizzard. Approximately 500 people died of hypothermia.”

Harper Collins proposed the following reading guide question for your consideration:

“The biggest natural disaster of recent years is Hurricane Katrina, and there are some striking parallels between Katrina and The Children's Blizzard.
  • Both affected large geographical areas;
  • Both were forecast well in advance but nonetheless caught residents unprepared;
  • Both provoked a huge response in the media.

Do you think The Children's Blizzard was the Hurricane Katrina of its day?

What, if anything, have we as a nation learned since 1888 about how to cope with natural disaster?”

The Children’s Blizzard tells the complete story in all its fascinating and harrowing detail. It is a vital addition to the lore of Western immigrant pioneering. Perhaps you have a story about blizzards or other natural disasters you would share.





Kruxo paper real photo postcard stamp box 1908-1910

Caption: Results of blizzard on N.P.R.R. (probably in North Dakota)


Related links

An interview with David Laskin: What exactly was the children's blizzard and why is it still remembered today?

THIS WEEK Jacob Anderson Tells of the early days on the "Cook Ranch" and big blizzard of 1880...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Alaska Homesteading

" Why would anybody want 160 acres of Alaska?" wrote a worried mother to her Alaskan daughter.

"Because we’re land hungry," the daughter wrote back.

Jim and Sharon Bashore and their sons Randy and Ricky. They left Ohio in 1971 without any money. They homesteaded by the Holitna River in 1973. This picture was taken in 1978.


Between 1908, when homesteading began in Alaska and 1986, when it ended, more than a half a million acres of Alaska land were deeded to homesteaders. About 5,100 titles were granted to homesteaders beginning with the first one in 1908. Approximately 593,217 acres passed into the public sector. The average homestead was about 121 acres.

The history of homesteading in Alaska is filled with stories of hardship and shortage, stories of laughter and love. Some 6,800 people filled for homesteads but were never able to meet patent requirements after doing varying degrees of work on the land. Land was a big part of “why” they came to Alaska. But there are other factors.

Anchorage resident Connie Thompson says her homestead years were “the most peaceful” of her life. Other homesteaders claim it is a “great experience,” one full of toil and hardship. But one balanced with achievement, self-confidence and closeness to nature.

And it helps to have a sense of humor, Ms. Thompson says, adding that the hardest thing about homesteading is “getting inside the outhouse with your snowshoes on.”

Excerpt from an article published in the Anchorage Times, on April 12, 1978.

Related Links

"Homesteading in Alaska, the pamphlets will tell you, is finished. Gone. And it's true, in the sense..."

"That's called Urban Homesteading, a pale imitation of what still exists in but one state - Alaska..."

"As such, they were among the last of America's homesteaders, joining a tradition of pioneers..."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Kinkaid Act of 1904

by Todd Arrington, Historian
Homestead National Monument of America

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed any qualified individual to claim up to 160 acres (a quarter-section) of free public land from the U.S. government for the purposes of settlement and cultivation. Many seeking homes and farms jumped at the chance to acquire land under the Act, and unfortunately many were also misled regarding the quality of much of the land the government made available to homesteaders. Land speculators, railroad companies, and even the government itself produced advertisements promising “the land of milk and honey” and soil of “a rich, black, loam.” Nebraska was billed as the “garden state of the West.” Many prospective homesteaders’ dreams were crushed upon arriving in the West and finding land of such poor quality that farming it was nearly impossible. This certainly partially accounts for the failure rate of approximately 60 percent among homesteaders.

In an attempt to give settlers in his state a better chance at success, Republican Congressional Representative Moses P. Kinkaid of Nebraska proposed a new bill in 1904. The Kinkaid Act, as it came to be known, allowed settlers in 37 counties of western Nebraska—known as the “Sandhills”—to claim up to 640 acres (a full section) rather than the standard 160. Providing so much additional land in an area of the state with a harsh climate and lower-quality soil would, Kinkaid believed, give those settlers a much better chance at completing all of the government’s requirements and eventually taking title to the property.

The Kinkaid’s Act legal provisions were nearly identical to those of the Homestead Act. Claimants had to be at least 21 years old (or 18 if the head of a family); be either a U.S. citizen or eligible to become one; and stay on and improve the land for five years. Lands that were deemed irrigable, however, were exempted from the law since the government believed that settlers would willingly pay for them. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Kinkaid Act into law on April 28, 1904, and “Kinkaiders” began taking up claims in western Nebraska soon after.

However, even with a full section, farming in the Sandhills was very difficult.

On the other hand, ranching with only 640 acres was nearly impossible as well. This made the Kinkaid Act something of a mixed bag: it opened up millions of acres to agriculture where farming wasn’t likely to succeed, and it prevented those lands from being effectively ranched by handing them out in parcels much too small.

Like the original Homestead Act, the success rate was much less than the government or individual settlers hoped for. In all, about 14,000 claims were made under the Kinkaid Act, and over 9,000,000 acres distributed. Most Kinkaid claims did not succeed, however, and when Kinkaiders left their lands were often bought up by ranchers looking to expand their operations. In this manner, the overall failure of the Kinkaid Act led to the rise of western Nebraska’s cattle and ranch culture.

Most historians view the Kinkaid Act as a failure, but not everyone agrees. “The Kinkaid Act,” writes one, “was an avenue for bringing progress to what had been considered an undesirable region of western Nebraska.” The law undoubtedly spurred settlement to the Sandhills, and though most claims did not succeed, there can be little debate about the Kinkaid Act’s value to those who took advantage of it or to the many descendants still living on ancestral Kinkaid claims in modern western Nebraska.
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