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.

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