Friday, August 27, 2010

The Dawes Act: How Would You Feel?

Land of Dreams: Homesteading America, the interpretive film shown daily at the Heritage Center at Homestead National Monument of America mentions the Dawes Act several times. “Land Rushes” an article posted on the Homestead Congress Blog on April 12, 2008 also mentions the Dawes Act.

1. Just what was the Dawes Act?

2. What was its purpose?

3. What was Congress trying to do?

4. How would you feel about the Dawes Act if you were a Native American?

Below is a simple explanation of the Dawes Act, but the questions above are not answered. Please post a response and give your answers to question number 4.

The Dawes Act enacted on February 8, 1887 authorized the President of the United States to have Native American tribal lands, which was held in common by the members of a tribe, surveyed and broken into small allotments to be parceled out to individuals. Each head of a family received a quarter of a section [160 acres]. Each single person over 18 years of age received an eighth of a section [80 acres]. Each orphan under 18 also received an eighth of a section. After 25 years, individual Native American land owners could sell their land if they so desired. The land beyond what was needed for individual allotments was sold to settlers. Through purchase of the “surplus” land and by buying directly from Native Americans [after 25 years had passed] most of the land within modern “Indian Reservations” is actually owned by white ranchers and farmers.

Before the passage of the Dawes Act it was a common U. S. Government practice to move Native America tribes onto reservations and then later moving them again, often to “Indian Territory” [Oklahoma]. The Otoe-Missouri are just one example of this. At the time of Lewis and Clark their village was near the confluence of the Platte and Missouri rivers. In 1854 they were moved to a reservation that was mostly in present day southern Gage County, Nebraska. In 1881 the Otoe-Missouria were moved to “Indian Territory” [Oklahoma]. The land they left was opened up to be purchased by settlers. Eventually the Otoe-Missouri land in Oklahoma was parceled out to individuals under the Dawes Act with the “surplus” being sold to settlers.

Revisit question 4 above and post a response.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Homestead Genealogy Has Support

I just returned from the National Genealogical Conference that was held in Salt Lake City, Utah [April 27 – May 1]. The conference held a variety of workshops, presentations, and exhibits designed to support the legions of genealogists in attendance. This years conference had an attendance of nearly 3,000 people; one of the best turn outs in the history of the event. Most people go to a conference with an agenda, and I was no different; however, my agenda was to learn how genealogy could impact current historical methodology.

by Blake Bell
Homestead Historian

The welcome session was an eye opener for me. I walked into the Salt Palace (this complex is enormous) that was filled with young and old looking for tips that could lead them to their hidden ancestors. This was my first introduction to genealogy and I was interested in the process in which these dedicated individuals tracked down their family members. It was soon apparent that this was no easy task. Misinformation, false leads, and endless dead ends could easily lead to a constant state of frustration and hopelessness. However, by the end of the opening session, I realized that a genealogist is not an individual working in isolation, vulnerable to the endless archives, libraries, courthouses, and historical societies. There is a vast support network connected digitally throughout the world helping each other overcome the various obstacles that would have ended many searches just two decades ago.

Digital records are located all over the web, and they are increasing exponentially with every passing year. Birth records, marriage, death, land, and even criminal records are all accessible to those willing to seek them out. This has had a profound effect on genealogy, as well as scholarship. These disciplines use this information for different reasons; however, the ends are often the same. Each is looking to find truth in the past, whether it be for a personal family story, or developing a broader historical narrative or argument.

Throughout the week I attended several presentations having to do with everything from using databases, searching immigrant records, to of course, using homestead records. These presentations were full of hopeful genealogists looking, not only for a way to find an ancestor, but more importantly, they were looking to hone their craft. The conference mission was to provide individuals with the tools and networks they needed to succeed. An entire exhibit hall was designed to introduce genealogists to the vast amounts of information that they can access. As the conference came to a close minds and bodies were exhausted; some eyes were full of optimism, and others looked overwhelmed and confused, but all were better genealogists for having attended.

How did I feel leaving the conference? Well, I had already acquired many of the skills being taught in the presentations, but I had not realized the effort many of these individuals put forth in order to preserve their ancestry. I have experienced the thrill of finding that primary document that brings my historical argument together, but genealogy is much more personal, with higher emotional stakes to the participants. I look forward to the day when the Homestead Records are digitized and readily available to the genealogical world because the pieces to countless puzzles are undoubtedly hiding within these documents.

Homestead Records Broken Bow
Genealogy FAQs The National Archives
National Genealogical Society
Nebraska Homestead Records
Homestead Records Groundbreaking Research

Friday, August 13, 2010

Homestead Act Had Larger Impact Than You Think

Forty-five percent of all the land in Nebraska was given away under the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862. This is the highest percentage of any state where settlers received land under the Homestead Act. But in many other states large percentages of land were successfully claimed by homesteaders [see chart at right].

But you will be amazed to learn that in some states where a low percentage of land was successfully claimed by homesteaders the Homestead Act had a much bigger impact that you would first think.

Take California for example, only 10% of California was successfully homesteaded. However, 45% of California is still owned by the Federal Government and managed by Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the US Department of Defense, the US Army Corps of Engineers, or the US Bureau of Reclamation. Also, a great deal of the land in California is owned by the State and managed by the California Department of Resources and other state agencies. Therefore, the 10% that was successfully homesteaded is much more significant when you know far less than 55% of California is privately owned.

Another example would be Nevada. Only 1% of Nevada was successfully homesteaded, but 85% of Nevada is still owned by the Federal Government. The means one out of every fifteen acres privately owned in Nevada were transferred from the Public Domain through the Homestead Act.

The chart below shows how the Homestead Act had a significant impact even in states where the overall percentage of land distributed by the Homestead Act wasn’t that large.

The chart below shows that considering the high percentage of federally owned land in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado; the significance of the Homestead Act in those states is extremely large.

Overall, about 20% of the privately owned land in the United States was transferred from the Public Domain to successful homesteaders. [see chart below]

For more:
Go to Homesteading by the Numbers
Go to State by State Numbers
Go to graph of Total Number of Acres that were Successfully Homesteaded in Each State
Go to graph of Total Number of Claims that were Successfully Homesteaded in Each State
Go to graph of Percentage of Total Acres in Each State that were Successfully Homesteaded
Go to graph Showing Number of Successful Homesteaders Decade by Decade
Go to graph Showing Number of Acres Successfully Transferred to Homesteaders

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jingle Dance: The Sound of 10,000 Raindrops on a Tin Roof

The jingle dance is a medicine or healing dance that originated with the Ojibwas in the Great Lakes area. The healing powers of the dress are said to derive from a medicine man’s granddaughter’s cure from dancing in a dress adorned with shells that jingled musically, rain-like, with each step. Some dancers describe the jingle as the sound of 10,000 rain drops hitting a tin roof.

Other devices used to create the jingle were deer hooves. A dress could have up to 400 hooves sewn on it. Today’s dresses are adorned with rolled snuff tins lids [see picture to the left] rather than shells. The original dance step was low and dignified while today’s pow wow competitions allow two types of jingle dance steps: the side step and the faster, higher straight step.
In the video below the dancers, members of The Many Moccasins Dance Troupe demonstrate both types of steps used in the jingle dance. The Many Moccasins Dance Troupe danced and educated an audience of about 600 at Homestead National Monument on July 17, 2010.


Dance styles. (2002, January 31). News from Indian Country, 19B.
Inter-tribal competition pow wow dance styles. (2005, March 9). Indian Country Today, 52.
Rhythmic traditional dance meets modern day culture. (2004, February 25). Indian Country Today, 28.
Sexsmith, P. (2003, August 1). The healing gift of the jingle dance. Windspeaker, 28.
The Many Moccasins Dance Troupe: