It was not
until May 20, 1862, that the free
Homestead Act was
finally passed and signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The law took
effect on January 1, 1863.
Under this law any man or woman twenty-one
years old or the head of a family could have 160 acres of undeveloped
land by living on it five years and paying eighteen dollars in fees.
They were also required to build a home, make
improvements and farm the land before they could own it outright.
Alternatively, the homesteader could purchase the land for $1.25 per
acre after having lived on the land for six months.
The first claim under the
Homestead Act was made
Freeman for a farm in
Nebraska on January 1, 1863.
continues to stand as the Homestead National Monument near Beatrice,
lived on and worked the land until his death on December 30, 1908.
His wife Agnes continued to live on the homestead
until shortly before her death in 1931. In 1936, by an act of the
United States Congress, the site of
homestead was recognized as the
homestead in the United States when it was designated the
Homestead National Monument of America.
Settlers from all
walks of life including newly arrived immigrants, farmers without land
of their own from the East, single women and former slaves came to
meet the requirements.
People interested in
Homesteading first had to file their intentions at the nearest
Land Office and after a check for any ownership claims, the prospector
paid a filing fee of $10 to claim the land temporarily, as well as a
$2 commission to the land agent.
When all requirements
had been completed and the homesteader was ready the take legal
possession, the homesteader found two neighbors or friends willing to
vouch for the truth of his or her statements regarding land
improvement and sign the "proof" document.
After successful completion of this final
form and payment of a $6 fee, the homesteader received the patent for the land, signed with the name
of the current President of the United States. This paper was often
proudly displayed on a cabin wall and represented the culmination of
hard work and determination.
By the end of the 19th
century, over 570 million acres remained open to settlement, but very
little of this was usable for agriculture. As the Frontier moved west onto
the arid Great Plains, the amount of land a homesteader
was allowed to claim was increased to 640 acres.
homesteading cut into the access of the large ranches to the public domain
where hundreds of thousands of cattle were grazed upon the open range, a
practice called free grazing. The ranchers fought back by themselves (or
their cowboys) homesteading prime spots which gave access to water. At
times tensions escalated into violence, conflicts called range wars; for
example, the Johnson County War in