Friday, March 11, 2011

Why Weren’t There Any Homestead Lands in Texas?


When you travel up the walkway leading to the Heritage Center at Homestead National Monument of America you see a visual representation of the percentage of land acquired by private individuals under the Homestead Act of 1862 in each of the 30 states where it applied. But why just 30 states? Why not all 50?

The simple answer is the Government of the United States of America could not sell or “give away” land it didn’t own or control. And in 20 states the National Government did not control the unclaimed lands. Those 20 states were the original thirteen plus five [Kentucky, Tennessee, Vermont, Maine, and West Virginia] carved out of land claimed by original thirteen.

That leaves two states: Texas and Hawaii that were annexed to the United States. When Texas was annexed by the United States in July 1845, the Ordinance of Annexation specifically stated that Texas would retain the rights to all vacant and un-appropriated land within its borders. Texas became a state just five months later, on December 29, 1845. The provisions of the Ordinance of Annexation remained in effect upon the achievement of statehood. The Hawaii annexation agreement had a similar provision.

However, there were homesteaders in Texas, only they acquired their land under the provisions of a state law, not the U. S. Homestead Act of 1862. In 1845 the State of Texas passed a Pre-Emption Law similar to the U.S. Pre-Emption Act of 1841.

In the Texas law a settler could claim up to 320 acres of land by living on it for 3 years, making improvements, and then paying $2.00 per acre for the land. In 1853 the law was changed so that all the settler had to pay was a $12.00 filing fee.

In 1854 the law was changed to reduce the amount of land that could be claimed “for free” to 160 acres. In 1856 the law was repealed, then passed again in 1866, amended in 1870 and 1876 and finally repealed in 1898.

The amount of land disposed to Texas homesteaders is impossible to determine because the Land Office of Texas did not distinguish between those who acquired the land under the pre-emption and homestead laws of Texas. The amount distributed under the two laws is recorded at 4,847,136 acres.

Sources:
Thomas L. Miller, The Public Lands of Texas, 1519–1970 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972).

Texas State Historical Association. Handbook of Texas Online. “Land Grants.” http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mpl01

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