Monday, November 19, 2012

Homesteaders by Lauri Robinson

While driving through Wyoming last year my husband and I talked about what it must have been like to migrate west with little more than a wagon and a dream and what visionaries those pioneers must have been...

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed a person to claim as much as 160 acres, with the condition that they would improve the property, live on it for five years and pay a fee of approximately $30. Within a few short years over 20,000 pioneers had gone west to stake their claim, and within the next four decades a million more traveled westward to carve a life out of the vast lands. Over two million more purchased land from the railroads, land companies, and/or state governments. What some soon discovered was, though the land was cheap, everything else was expensive. At average, to start a homestead took a minimum of $1,000, translated into 2012 dollars, that would be about $25,000. This was mainly for livestock, equipment, and seed, not building materials for a home or food, etc. 

The influx of people brought new inventions such as special plows and equipment needed, but along with them came new costs, and on average, less than half of the homesteaders actually succeeded. 

Just as the railroad provided ways for cattle ranches to transport their animals, it gave the farmer a way to transport grain. Soon farmers discovered it was more profitable to grow one ‘cash’ crop, and a lot like the cattle barons, they started accumulating large tracts of land to increase profits, especially when John S. Pillsbury of Minneapolis perfected his flour-milling process and the demand for grain increased.   

This wave of homesteaders included women, who worked side by side the men to pursue their dreams, and that, along with the fact in some places there were 100 men for every 1 woman, women of the west were ‘granted’ more ‘privileges’ than those in the east. Land ownership, business ownership, and bringing charges against people or business who wronged them, were a few of the rights women sought and ultimately received in the west, which prompted more eastern women to move west. 

In 1890 the U.S. Census director officially proclaimed there was no more ‘frontier’ in America. 

I wish you all a blessed and happy Thanksgiving. 

1 comment:

Ellen O'Connell said...

I think that first photo says it all, Lauri. Can you imagine trying to GROW things on land like that without irrigation? And that picture looks to have been taken in spring when there are hints of green.

As you know, I did a lot of research about the Homestead Acts and homesteading for my last book too, and it's no wonder so many people failed. Like everything else, the people who got there first got the best land with water sources and latecomers... didn't. All those plows carved up a lot of marginal land that not only the people couldn't make a living off of but that made for ugly payback in the Dust Bowl years.