Thursday, July 29, 2010

Surveying the Public Domain

The northeast quarter of the northwest quarter of section 26, township 4 north, range 5 east from the 6th principal meridian: what is that?

That is the legal description of the forty acres where the Education Building at Homestead National Monument of America is located and is typical of at least part of the legal description of almost all property in the 30 “Public Domain” states. [Public lands or the “public domain” came to cover all the territory of the nation except the original thirteen states including what later became West Virginia plus Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and Hawaii.]

How did it all come about? It pre-dates the U. S Constitution. In 1784 Thomas Jefferson was chairman of an Articles of Confederation Congressional Committee established to determine how to sell the untold millions of acres of public land. Jefferson was aided by Pennsylvania born Doctor of Mathematics Hugh Williamson. Williamson who had earned his doctorate in Holland was very impressed by the rectangular Dutch fields. Jefferson, Williamson, and their committee recommended the public lands be surveyed into ten square mile “townships.” Congress through the Land Ordinance of 1785 changed the size of a township, but otherwise basically followed the committee’s recommendations.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 set up the rectangular survey system used in most areas of the 30 “Public Domain” states. This system is called the Public Land Survey System [PLSS] and is used to determine titles to land. The basic units of the PLSS are township, range and section.

A township is 36 square miles. A range identifies a row or tier of townships. Each square mile contains 640 acres and is called a section and each section is numbered [see diagram]. Each section can be further subdivided for sale. Frequent subdivisions are the quarter-section (160 acres) and the quarter-quarter section (40 acres).

Each township and section is measured from its own “initial point” which consists of intersecting principal meridian and baseline. A principal meridian is the principal north-south line used for survey control in a large region. A baseline is the principal east-west line that divides townships between north and south.. For example, for all of the yellow area in the middle of the map below the intial point was on the Kansas-Nebraska border 108 miles west of the Missouri River near the current town of Mahaska, Kansas. If you look closely at the map you can see the intersecting principal meridians and baselines for most of the survey areas on the map.

Sounds really complicated. Well consider this; men using a 66 foot chain, a transit ["Transit" refers to a specialized type of theodolite that was developed in the early 19th century. It featured a telescope that could "flop over" ("transit the scope") to allow easy back-sighting and doubling of angles for error reduction. Some transit instruments were capable of reading angles directly to thirty arcseconds], and a compass surveyed all of the yellow area in the middle of the map starting from an “intial point” on the Kansas-Nebraska area near the current town of Mahaska, Kansas. They divided the entire area into square miles [640 acres called sections] marking the corners of section with stakes or a pile of rocks. The other colored areas were surveyed accordingly. Pretty amazing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Homestead’s Warrior Butterflies

The fancy shawl dance is an athletic, spirited interpretation of what some describe as the dance of a butterfly. This dance was created in the 1950s by native women wishing to match the energetic footwork of the men’s grass and fancy dances. Pearson, a dance choreographer and grass dancer, likens the smooth, rhythmic movements of the dance to a “colorful cyclone.” The color is from the individually decorated shawl that spans the dancer’s shoulders from finger tip to finger tip. The graceful bobs, spins and twirls allow the shawl to flutter and wave like butterfly wings.

Another teaching of the origins of the shawl dance holds that the women dancers represent warriors just as the men of the grass dance do. The honor of warrior originates from the women runners that ran between the native villages warning of upcoming dangers.

Children begin to learn the art of dance at an early age. Small children often join their elders in the dance circle watching carefully and emulating the steps and moves they see their older relatives and mentors executing. Besides learning the dance steps participation teaches children the values of their elders as well as how to honor the customs of their past.

In the video below a dancer, a member of The Many Moccasins Dance Troupe shows the joyous flight of a butterfly after birth. The bright symbols across her back suggest light and brightness while when her shawl whirls and opens it offers quick glimpses of nights bright stars. The Many Moccasins Dance Troupe danced and educated an audience of about 600 at Homestead National Monument on July 17, 2010. The picture to the left shows dancers ending their program with a heart salute shared with the audience.


Dance styles. (2002, January 31). News from Indian Country, p. 19B.
Pearson, T. (2005, October). In the spirit. Dance Magazine, 79, 10. doi: 00116009.
The Many Moccasins Dance Troupe:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Doing Land Office Business

"The tap-rooms adjoining the polls were all open and doing a land office business" was a comment by the Chicago Tribune in 1875. In 1887 the Louisville Courier-Journal reported, "The doughty burglar has been doing a land office business1 the past few days." We all know that means they were busy, but have you ever stopped to wonder; just what was a “land office?”

The need to provide for the orderly settlement of public land was recognized early in American history. The Congress under the Articles of Confederation enacted the Land Ordinance of 1785. The law provided for the survey of public lands into townships 36 square miles in size. The Ordinance set forth the use of a rectangular survey system, a system for recording land patents2 and related case records essential to the chain of title in the public domain states. The rectangular survey system and the tract book system for permanent title recordation became the standard for the transfer of public lands into private ownership as western migration progressed beyond the original 13 states3.

In 1789 Congress [now established by the Constitution] established the Treasury Department and gave it the responsibility of overseeing the sale of public lands, and on April 25, 1812 the General Land Office was created within the Treasury Department. Headed by a commissioner, the new bureau was responsible for the survey and sale of public lands. Field offices of the General Land Office were established to serve the needs of the local settlers and were closed as patterns of migration and settlement dictated. These field offices were generally called “Land Offices” by settlers who purchased the land under the various U.S. land laws or applied for land under the Homestead Act of 1862.

The General Land Office was transferred to the new Department of the Interior in 1849 and continued to establish “land offices” in the western territories and states.

In 1946 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was created by the merger of the General Land Office and the Grazing Service. State offices serving one or more adjoining states were established as well as a system of district offices to manage the remaining public lands.

In 1976 the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) defined the Bureau of Land Management's mission as a multiple use land management agency and terminated the disposal of public lands in the lower 48 states under the existing homesteading laws. The law allowed homesteading in Alaska through the end of 1986.

This Bureau of Land Management map depicts the Public Domain Lands surveyed and platted under the auspices of the General Land Office to facilitate the sale of those lands.

Friday, July 9, 2010

An Act to Secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain

What we commonly call the Homestead Act of 1862 was actually officially named “An Act to secure Homesteads to actual Settlers on the Public Domain.” Why was it necessary to say “to secure Homesteads for actual Settlers on the Public Domain?”

During the American Revolution the United States and the individual states became heavily in debt. Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, convinced Congress to assume the states debts [earlier Thomas Jefferson and others had convinced the states to give up their claim to lands west of the Appalachian Mountains thus creating a “Public Domain” that belonged the United States Government—overlooking the Indians claims to the land]. Hamilton’s plan to pay off the debt included the sale of public land at high prices and in large lots that would secure the maximum advantage for the public treasury.

Therefore, the nation’s first land law, the Land Ordinance of 1785, provided for the sale of lots of 640 acres or more at a minimum price of $1.00 per acre. This was much more land than any one farm family could farm at that time and no prospective settler could raise what was then an enormous sum of $640.00. As a result of this policy public land was purchased in large lots by land speculators who then sold it in smaller lots of 20 to 40 acres to actual settlers for more than the price it was purchased from the government.

Many claimed that land speculators were becoming wealthy selling “public” land and the law should be changed so “actual settlers” could purchase the land directly from the government. Overtime, new land laws were passed decreasing the amount of acreage that had to be purchased, but still in amounts larger than the average farm family could farm or afford. As increased machination came to farming allowing one farm family to farm more land and the amount of acres required to purchase public land decreased there came a point where some farmers could actually purchase land directly from the government. However, most land was still being sold by the government to land speculators who then who re-sold it to the actual settlers. So now you know why Congress in the Homestead Act of 1862 officially was trying to get the land directly into the hand of “actual settlers.”

Friday, July 2, 2010

Walk a Mile to School: A One Room School

When I think of being a teacher, I don’t expect to get up at four o’clock in the morning, walk a mile to school, and then get the wood burning stove ready. I don’t think any of us would be envious of that job. After doing my research on one room school houses I realized how the teachers of that time played a huge role in how students are taught today. Today I have the pleasure of sharing with you my interests in one room schools houses and the teachers of that time. I would like to inform you of the requirements of being a teacher, their general lifestyles and their roles.

By Alycia Fritzen
Southeast Community College

Before the 1900’s there were hardly any requirements for being a teacher. I know that sounds crazy to us considering all the education and experience a teacher needs today. According to Bobbie Kalman, the author of a One Room School (1994), a teacher needed to be able to read, write and be ready to handle rough and ready students. So therefore most teachers were men and they were called school masters. If a teacher was female, she was not allowed to marry and if she did, she was not allowed to teach.

By the late 1800’s parents did want teachers to have more training. Schools opened up on the East coast and offered a two year training program for their education. Some teachers took normal training at local high schools (Graves, 2002).

Now that I’ve told you about the requirements of a teacher I will tell you about the way a teacher lived. David Steinecker, the author of A Frontier Teacher (1994), says that a teacher’s salary was low so teachers had to “board around,” meaning they lived with their students families. This boarding technique left teacher without a place to call home. In addition, teachers had no privacy and they were always under the watchful eye of the families they were living with. This also meant a teacher’s job was never done because they had to tutor the children at night as well.
Like I said the average teaching salary was very low. Since money was scarce a teacher was paid in goods rather than money. This was a challenge as well. Most teachers tried to exchange their goods at a local store for money, but that didn’t always work (Steinecker, 1994).

So, now that I’ve shared with you a teacher’s way of life I will tell you some of the roles a teacher was faced with. Obviously a teacher taught reading and writing but they were also expected to teach everything from manners to hygiene. My generation would be offended today if a teacher told us to pull our pants up or take a shower.
According to Kerry Graves, the author of Going to school during Pioneer Times (2002), first thing in the morning the students showed their manners to the teacher by bowing or curtseying to the teacher. Boys and girls were punished for not having good manners.

For an example: arriving late and falling asleep in class, or answering questions incorrectly could leave you wearing a dunce hat. I thought it was interesting that one of the punishments was to write the same sentence over and over, and I can actually remember doing that in elementary school (Graves, 2002).

Just like today some students were able
to use their parent's "car" to travel to school. 

Of course teaching the Three R’s was the main role of the teacher. School books were expensive so many students brought books from home or were taught from the Bible (Graves, 2002). Memorization played a huge role in the one room school houses, especially of the multiplication tables. My next door neighbor Dale said last week he remembered memorizing his tables to the Yankee Doodle song (D. Minster, 2010).

Anyways, I find all this stuff interesting because I want to be a teacher myself. So after telling you the requirements the living styles and the roles of the one room school house teacher, I hope you found it interesting too. The teachers of that time played a huge role in the settlement of our country. The legacy of these teachers and schools will not be forgotten. However, getting up at four in the morning and walking a mile to school, well…… forget that.


D. Minster (personal communication, May 2, 2010)

Graves, K. (2002). Going to school in pioneer times. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press.

Kalman, B. (1994). A one room school. NY: Crab Tree Publishing Company.

Steinecker, D. (1994). A frontier teacher. Vero Beach, FL: The Rourke Book Company.