Friday, April 30, 2010

Homestead Dreams and Social Mobility

Social mobility is the extent to which, in a recognized culture, an individual's social status can change over the course of his or her life, or the degree to which that individual's children and succeeding generations move up and down the class system.  Social Mobility is the promise that lies at the heart of the American Dream.

The expression American Dream can mean many things. For some, it is the chance to attain more success than they could in their countries ofbirth; for others, it is the chance for their children to grow up with an education and become professionals; for still others, it is the chance to be an person without the restriction enforced by caste, race, gender or ethnicity. Once, in the past, for many the American Dream included land
ownership.  Today it sometimes includes the idea of owning a home.  The definition of the American Dream is under constant discussion.  While the term "American Dream" is associated with immigrants, native-born Americans can also be described as "pursuing the American Dream" or "living the American Dream.”

President Abraham Lincoln even defined the purpose of our government as providing the opportunity for social mobility:

“This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men - to lift artificial weights from all shoulders - to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all - to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. Yielding to partial, and temporary departures, from necessity, this is the leading object of the government for whose existence we contend.”[1]

In 1960 the poet Archibald MacLeish, debating ‘national purpose,’ said: "There are those, I know, who will reply that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream.  They are right.  It is the American Dream.” 

During the 19th century the American Dream for many millions of people was to own their own farm land.  The Homestead Act of 1862 which allowed settlers to own up to 160 acres of the Public Domain after 5 years residence, making some improvements, and paying a nominal fee allows hundreds of thousands to reach the American Dream.
Homestead National Monument of America preserves the ideals behind and the legacy of the Homestead Act of 1862.  Lincoln probably thought this law which he signed on May 20, 1862 elevated the condition of men, lifted artificial weights, and provided a fair chance in the race of life.

[1] From a speech by President Abraham Lincoln given to a Special Session of Congress on July 4, 1861

Friday, April 23, 2010

An open door to the world: Homestead Immigration

Immigration in the United States has had a rich historical tradition that goes back to the first settlements in the new world. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided an open door to the rest of the world to come to the United States and participate in the American Dream. Many know that immigration was dramatically affected by the Homestead Act, but many do not know why. It may seem obvious that groups of people were coming to the United States to try and claim the free land being offered by the government, but the story is much deeper than that, and the reasons were as varied as there were immigrants. There are many themes that can be addressed, but in this article the focus will remain on issues abroad.
Nineteenth century Europe was suffering from overcrowded urban populations, political unrest, and social discontent. The industrial revolution had engulfed Western Europe creating undesirable living and working conditions in urban areas, and land was still controlled by the elite classes, making a dire situation insufferable. The feudal veil that had kept the peasantry of Eastern Europe in perpetual serfdom was lifted; however, opportunity for progress remained bleak. Populations across the continent were suffering from centuries of war and tyrannical regimes.

Russia was on the eve of Revolution, Italy was engrossed in a bitter civil war, Eastern European countries, like Bulgaria, were being created from war and conquest. The continent was in a constant state of flux. Political ideology was as unstable and chaotic as the power shifts. Revolution infected the continent as a new social awareness washed over the masses. The peasantry pushed for more social, political, and economic equality, while the nobility and elites sought to maintain their monopoly in these areas.

This was the climate many European populations had to endure. However; there was a nation across the Atlantic that was founded on principles of freedom, liberty, and justice. The United States had declared that immigrants who were willing to become citizens could come and take advantage of the newest land law; The Homestead Act. This provided immigrants the opportunity to receive 160 acres of their own land if they were to successfully make the required improvements. Emma Lazarus’s words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” from her sonnet The New Colossus, would have undoubtedly touched a chord with Europe’s impoverished masses seeking an opportunity at a better life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Planning Your Vacation

A good place to start planning your vacation is the website for the National Park System,  There are several ways you can search.  On the right hand side in an area with a brown background you can search for parks by state.  Under the banner in an area with a green background you can click on to link to “Find a Park,” “Discover History,” “Explore Nature,” “Connecting with Communities,” “Get Involved,” “Teachers,” “Kids,” or “About Us.”  There are a number of helpful links on each of those initial links. For example in Find A Park you can search for parks by name, by location, by activity, and by topic.  Or at Get Involved you can find ways to become a volunteer, make a donation, or join a “friends group” like the Friends of Homestead National Monument of America that maintains this blog.

Once you have found the units in the National Park System you plan to visit there are numerous links on each unit’s webpage that can be helpful to you.  There are links to “Plan Your Visit,” “Directions,” “Operating Hours and Seasons,” “Fees and Reservations,” “Things to Do,” “For Kids,” and much more.  Some of the units will have a link for “Nearby Attractions” that can be found after going to the “Things to Do” link.  This link can be very helpful, take the Nearby Attractions link for Homestead National Monument of America for example; it provides links to nearby state parks, camping, and other units in the National Park System.  In addition it provides links to appropriate visitors’ bureaus, airports, and tourism agencies.

The National Park System isn’t the only agency that administers federal lands that you could visit.  The best place to start for ideas is  But you could also check these sites: Department of Interior Plan A Trip, U. S. Forest Service homepage, and U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Recreation Page.

Dream big, plan well, and visit your Federal Lands.

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in Wyoming & Utah
U. S. Forest Service.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Homestead Act Influence on Agricultural Identity

America has often been called the “bread basket of the world.” The title reminds us that we have the ability to produce large amounts of grains that can be shipped to all corners of the earth. But the capability to perform this task is a relatively recent phenomenon. About a century and half ago, the United States was still forging an identity in the world; and on its own continent. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln, by signing the Homestead Act, created the opportunity for our young nation to grow into the largest agricultural producer in the history of the world.

The Homestead Act, coupled with advances in transportation, put the United States in a position to produce and distribute copious amounts of vegetables and grains. However, conquering the land would prove a long and arduous task. Homesteaders flooded the western United States and began plowing millions of acres of land. Most were focused on sustaining their own livelihood by producing enough to get them through the harsh winters the plains and prairies were infamous for. In an attempt to accomplish this goal an amazing thing happened; inventions and new agricultural techniques began to make farming easier and more productive. I do not mean to insinuate that farming a century ago was easy, but compared to the previous two millennia farmers were able to expend less energy and produce more yields than ever before.

This did not happen overnight; generations of homesteaders dedicated their lives, often in vain, to attain perfect farming techniques. As yields increased farmers turned to the railroads to distribute their products. Increased yields provided more feed for ranchers and in turn more beef became available. Large transport networks, preservation techniques, and refrigeration allowed perishable items to be transported over longer distances. The Midwest and Great Plains slowly became economically viable, not only to the United States, but to the rest of the world.

The emerging global economy was tested by World War I. While the rest of the world struggled to manufacture enough for themselves, the United States enjoyed a surplus. After WWI, grain prices plummeted and many farms did not survive; nevertheless, the grain belt of the United States was firmly established as a leader in global grain production. The depression of the 20’s and 30’s coupled with the disastrous dust bowl tested the will of a majority of farmers, but many persevered through these hardships emerging stronger and more determined than ever.

In the wake of the Second World War homesteaders and their descendents had firmly established themselves as, not only self-sufficient farmers, but the manufactures of global produce. The lessons of recent decades still fresh in the minds of many led to a greater respect and more careful treatment of the land.

Modern society often takes for granted where its produce comes from, but it comes from the sacrifice of several generations who endured the pains of our modern agricultural revolution. The Homestead Act was the conduit that accelerated Western development and created an agricultural identity unique to the United States.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Homestead Claim: The First in Line on the First Day

The Homestead Act became law on May 26, 1862, but it didn’t become effective until January 1, 1863. Therefore, January 1, 1863 was the first day anyone could apply for a Homestead and a total of 418 persons filed on that first day at 30 different land offices in 11 different states or territories. Listed below are those who were recorded as Entryman No. 1 at the United States Land Offices on January 1, 1863. That is, they were first in line at their land office.
Daniel Freeman long after he became one of the first to apply for a Homestead

To learn about the several who claimed to be the VERY FIRST visit Homestead National Monument of America and ask for the “First Homestead” handout or go here to learn how to contact them by phone, fax, or mail. Follow the links to learn about Daniel Freeman and how his Homestead became the site of Homestead National Monument of America.


The entries below all bore No. 1 in each of the Land Offices names. There were no time stamps or notations on any entry. Hours of operation were not given by the offices. On January 1, 1863, Nebraska was a territory and what is now North and South Dakota were simply “Dakota Territory.” The other states listed had been granted statehood prior to January 1, 1863.

Land Office



Henry Ketterman
Wm. B. Hector
Council Bluffs
Des Moines
Fort Dodge

Henry Stump
Orin Holdbrook
Henry H. Patterson
Junction City

Melkes J. Martin
 Robert L. Titua
East Saginaw
Traverse City

 Paul W. Williams
Wm. B. Smith
John W. VanNostrand
Winnebago City
Taylor’s Falls  
St. Cloud         

 Samuel Taylor
Samuel A. Poll
 Stillman Gee
Frederick Teubert
James Tanner
Seargale Wakelin
Nebraska City 
Dakota City  

Daniel Freeman
William Young
Adam Smith
John Smith

 Samuel Harger
Oregon City

 Everand Sharrock
James Appleton
South Dakota  

 Mahlon Gore

 Michael Houliken
Eau Claire       
Falls St. Croix
La Crosse
Stevens Point  

 Edward Torsgaad
James Logan
John Henry Uringer
Richard L. Degroff
Dennis Manning