Friday, February 26, 2010

National Monuments

If you watched the PBS Ken Burns documentary about the National Parks you know that presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush have used the Antiquities Act to create National Monuments on land already owned or controlled by the U. S. Government. The purpose of the act was to protect "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" and has been used many times by presidents to create and enlarge National Monuments. Some times after a president had used the Antiquities Act to create a National Monument Congress has acted to name it a National Park.

Today there are 100 National Monuments the vast majority of which are administered by the National Park Service; but others are administered wholly or partly by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U. S. Forest Service, the Armed Services Retirement Home, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, not all National Monuments created by Congress are administered and operated by the Federal Government. Hohokam Pima NM is owned and operated by the Gila Indian Community, and the Poverty Point State LA is owned and operated by the Louisiana Office of State Parks.

Interestingly, of the 100 National Monuments that exist today only 71 were created by a president using the Antiquities Act, the other 29 were created by an Act of Congress. Typically, those created by an act of Congress were on private land that had to be purchased by the government or more often by private individuals who donated the land to the government after purchase.

The oldest to be created by an act of Congress is George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Virginia which was authorized January 23, 1930. The next four created by an act of Congress were all over the map: Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, Ocmulgee in Georgia, Fort Stanwix in the state of New York, and Homestead in Nebraska.

These five and most of the other National Monuments created by acts of Congress had long and difficult journeys involving many local people, Congressmen, and Senators before the legislation was passed. The story of the creation of Homestead National Monument of America is typical.

Below is a list of the 29 National Monuments that were created by an act of Congress:

National Monument
Date of Enabling Legislation

George Washington Birthplace

Jan 1930
National Park Service [NPS]

Canyon de Chelly

Feb 1931


Jun 1934

Fort Stanwix

Aug 1935


Mar 1936

Fort Frederica

May 1936


Aug 1937

Fort McHenry

Aug 1939

George Washington Carver

Jul 1943

Little Bighorn Battlefield

Mar 1946

Castle Clinton

Aug 1946

Fort Sumter

Apr 1948

Fort Union

Jun 1954

Booker T. Washington

Apr 1956

Grand Portage

Sep 1958

Agate Fossil Beds

Jun 1965

Alibates Flint Quarries

Aug 1965

Florissant Fossil Beds

Aug 1969

Hohokam Pima

Oct 1972

Fossil Butte

Oct 1972

John Day Fossil Beds

Oct 1974

El Malpais

Dec 1987

Poverty Point

Oct 1988

Hagerman Fossil Beds

Nov 1988


Jun 1990

Newberry Volcanic

Nov 1990
U. S. Forest Service

Mount St. Helens Volcanic

Aug 1982

Santa Rosa and
San Jacinto Mountains

Oct 2
Bureau of Land Management
[BLM] and USFS

Prehistoric Trackways

Mar 2009

Friday, February 19, 2010

Homestead Gardens

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."-- Thomas Jefferson

Where do you get most of your food? If you are like me, in the winter, I go to the local grocery store and stock up for the week, taking advantage of sales and the fruits and vegetables that are in season at the time. But when May arrives, I am ready to plant my garden in the backyard. Last year I grew tomatoes, green peppers, summer squash, and cucumbers. It’s not difficult, but instead actually very rewarding. To see something start out as a seed or small plant and grow to be so large, bearing fruit so heavy that the plant falls over! What an accomplishment.

In contrast to modern society, homesteaders didn’t have the luxury of frequently visiting a town store just five minutes away. Store-bought items were special and few and far between. Instead, what they grew in the ground was what they had to eat. So they often had large gardens filled with a variety of vegetables. They learned how to preserve them for the winter months, when traveling was arduous and the weather brutal. Do you want a taste of what it would be like to eat from your own garden?

Here’s what to do: If you live near Homestead National Monument, you can take part in a new program – our community garden. Contact the monument for more information! But for the majority of you, who don’t live nearby, you can plant your own garden, either in your backyard or maybe at a community garden in your area (find one in your area by searching here:!

This can be an activity the entire family can participate in! As a child, every spring my parents and I would start our garden in our basement. I grew up in North Dakota and the growing season is so short, so we had to. We’d purchase the seeds we wanted to grow, as well as long shallow plastic planters, dirt and put the planters under lights and water them until it was warm enough outside to transplant the plants into the ground.

Tips to Remember:

*Do your research at your local library and online beforehand to determine what types of plants will be best for your climate and lifestyle.

*Read the seed packets for specific instructions on lighting, water, planting, etc.

*Depending on your location, you start transplanting to the ground at various times in the spring time. Check with a local nursery for more specific guidance.

*If you haven’t had a garden before, start small. Choose something that you will enjoy eating and only as much as your time schedule can handle.

You might say growing a garden is somewhat different today than it was for the homesteaders. However, the reasons behind it are still the same: to grow something yourself, to depend on the land for your food, to get outside, to care for something and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Why don’t you and your family try it this year?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Homesteader Question: What Land Can I Have?

Think of the excitement we have today when shopping for a new house. The opportunities are endless with many styles and a lot of choices. Does it have the right carpet? Does it have enough bedrooms and bathrooms? Are the walls the right color? Is the yard fenced in and does it have three stalls in the garage? We drive all over town and many times communities around the focused town. It seems so normal for us to think of these questions. We even find answers to these questions on our computers through the world wide web. But, what about the homesteaders?

The homesteaders just didn’t have it so easy. Houses weren’t readily available. They were looking for land which there seemed to be an endless amount available. What land was right? Today we look for beauty. The homesteaders needed to make sure their land would provide for their family’s life: good land for crops, water, trees, and even neighbors. What happened if you didn’t get all of these things? The attributes of the land had an affect on your ability to survive. If you had what you needed to survive, in five years that land was yours and the American Dream began.

The Homestead Act gave claimants 160 acres broken down into four 40 acre plots that had to touch. The land could be configured in a square, straight line, zig-zag, L shape or a T shape. Because of these configurations there were times when 160 acres were not available. People were allowed to claim smaller amounts if the land they wanted did not have enough contiguous acres.

So how did a homesteader find land? Was there a real estate agent waiting? In a way there was. The General Land Office had offices in various places. The Land Office for the claim that Homestead National Monument encompasses, filed by Daniel Freeman, was in Brownville, Nebraska. Today, it is a 90 minute drive. Daniel Freeman had the choice of walking or riding a horse and it would have taken him 2-3 days to get there. The Land Office had a map of available land and a brief description of the land. Today, we look one, twice and even three times at a piece of property we want to buy. The homesteaders didn’t have that opportunity. They made a choice based on that brief description and hoped and prayed it had what they needed.

House hunting today is fun and exciting. Land hunting during the time of the homesteaders was not fun, but a challenge. But if you got the right land, what a feeling of accomplishment as you began to live out the American Dream.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Jayhawk Hay Stacker: A Two Dimensional History of Three Dimensional Objects

Homestead National Monument of America’s enabling legislation directs the Monument to collect and preserve “…literature applying to such settlement and agricultural implements used in bringing the western plains to its present high state of civilization…”

by Jason Jurgena, Museum Curator
Homestead National Monument

If you have been to Homestead National Monument of America you have seen that Monument staff is working hard to fulfill this legislation. You may have spent time at the Heritage Center in the museum, walked through the Farm Implement Room in the Education Center, or sat outside in the courtyard looking at the Monument’s collection of farm implements. Maybe you remember seeing similar tools and equipment on your grandparent’s farm, or maybe you used them yourself. You may have also noticed that some of these objects are big . . . really big. Collecting and preserving antique farm equipment takes a lot of space. Because of this, a lot of thought goes into what the Monument accepts into the collection.

Equally important to the collecting of farm implements is the collecting and preservation of brochures, manuals, and advertising of farm implements. “Many museums collect and display agricultural implements, as does Homestead, but we feel that it is also our duty to preserve literature related to this incredibly important aspect of American life before it deteriorates or becomes lost and forgotten,” says Homestead Superintendent Mark Engler. Because many farmers weren't near a big city, or didn't have easy access to a dealer showroom, catalogs and brochures were often the main way farming tool and equipment companies did their marketing. These catalogs and brochures featured specifications and pictures of the implements, testimonials from customers, and descriptions of their uses.

The Monument’s ever growing collection of this type of literature provides valuable information that may not be available through the study of the equipment itself. And the space requirements are considerably less. Homestead National Monument of America collects manuals, brochures and other related literature dating from 1862 through 1952 as this was the period of time when most homestead claims were filed. The availability of this literature has the additional benefit of aiding in the identification, repair and restoration of three dimensional farm implements in the collection.

Recently a Jayhawk Hay Stacker was donated to the monument. This wonderful piece of agriculture history is in pretty good shape considering it has been out in the Kansas weather for the last 80 years or so. Most of the metal is intact, though a few minor repairs will need to be made, but 95% of the wood has rotted away leaving many of the metal components no longer fixed in their designed location. Many are attached to what looks like pieces of rotting wood and others are no longer attached to anything. Fortunately, the donor of the Hay Stacker also donated a 1937 advertising catalog from the Wyatt Manufacturing Co., 1930 “Repair Parts Price List” for Jayhawk Hay Tools, 1941 and 1943 “Dealers Price’s” brochures, and (date unknown) “Instructions for Erecting and Operating the Automatic Jayhawk” including an inventory of what is shipped when a Jayhawk Hay Stacker is shipped.

1937 Wyatt Manufacturing Company catalog.

Thanks to this literature, volunteers at the park will be able to accurately restore this piece of equipment and maybe even demonstrate how it was used. New wooden components can be accurately cut using the descriptions and drawings in the catalog, and the machinery can be reassembled and possibly demonstrated using the “Instructions for Erecting and Operating” manual.

So, the next time you run across a 1891 Norwegian Plow Co trade card, 1903 McCormick Farm Implement Brochure, 1917 Dempster Windmill Parts Manual, 1936 John Deere Model A Tractor Operator’s Manual, 1952 Allis Chalmers Corn Picker Operator’s Manual, or similar literature lying in the bottom of drawer or a trunk in the attic, think twice before throwing it out. Items that are donated to the Monument will be saved for the benefit of future generations so that they might better understand farming practices and the lives of people as related to homesteading.

Wheel and Seeder Manufacturing Company Trade Card.