Friday, January 29, 2010

Homestead Choice: Take a Chance and Leave Your Family. Could You Do it?

Leaving their families knowing they might not see them again is what many homesteaders chose to do. Can you imagine what they were feeling as they left? Was it excitement about the new opportunity and challenge or was it terror at what they would face? Was it loneliness or did the thrill of a new adventure overshadow that?

by Park Ranger Susan Cook

Many homesteaders came from Europe. At that time in Europe, the top 1% of the population owned land. Those land barons usually had 60-80 acres and had sharecroppers. Imagine how these new homesteaders felt with 160 acres of land of their own? Also at that time in many European countries, younger sons did not have very many opportunities. The eldest son inherited everything. The second son entered the military. The third son became a pastor or priest. Any other sons either worked for their eldest brother or entered the military. It was many of those sons that took the chance to come to America to get their “free land.”

Can you image what they were feeling when they left knowing they would probably not see their family members again? Who would take care of their parents and grandparents? They would certainly have the mail service, but that took much time. I would think that the chance to own 160 acres must have been enough to entice them and then the thrill of conquering the land made it worthwhile. Knowing that they would be able to provide a better life for their children and grandchildren also had to keep them going. Many times, the homesteaders would come together to provide the sense of family and support. Why do you think there are so many ethnic regions?

Homesteaders also came from the east coast. You might think they would have a better chance of staying connected to those family members since it’s just across the land but in the 1800s and early 1900s, it still was very difficult to travel and many of them didn’t have funds to return. One thing that did make it easier was the arrival of winter barrels.

What is a winter barrel, you ask?

It was a barrel packed with items that were hard to find in the new territories. Packing material was actually material to sew with so it served multiple purposes. Recipients would find fresh fruit, nuts, sugar and flour. What a pleasure it was to have sugar that didn’t have to be made. It would make foods taste as they did at home. Settlers would also find small toys for the children, but the most cherished item in the barrel was letters from home. Although the items in the barrel were simple, they provided the comforts of home that were hard to come by in the new territories.

Think about yourself now. Do you think you had the courage to leave everything and start over?

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