Homesteading Act and Land Rush
For most of the early development of the United States, only the East Coast and Southern states were populated. With the Louisiana Purchase and the expansion and adoption of most of the new Midwest and West Coast, there was a major need for people to move into these areas.
Homesteading was an encouragement to give land to people that moved westward. As long as they remained on the land and farmed it, they could own it within five years. While this sounds like a magnificent idea, remember that life in the west didn’t have even some of the most basic of needs, and it was brutal and difficult.
- The passage of The Homestead Act gave people the opportunity to make a claim to 160 acres of land that had been surveyed by the government. They paid a small fee for filing, had to improve their land by building a home, living on it, and planting crops and remain for five years. After the fifth year, the would-be owners of the land.
- Homesteading was a perfect opportunity for the many immigrants that were arriving in America. Most of the Northern and Eastern business people wanted to encourage people to move to the west and start small farms. They were against slavery and didn’t want to see southern plantation owners try to expand into the west and bring slavery with them. There were people known as “speculators” that bought up some lands and then resold it to immigrants from Germany, England, and Holland. They were known for advertising opportunities in European newspapers.
- The railway companies were also encouraging people to move close to the train route. They wanted them to build new towns and cities that would help to support the railway travel and supply them with passengers.
- Those that arrived in the west found that life was difficult. They had to build their own homes, create farms that would support them with food, and do their own hunting. Most times, they had to deal with hostile Native Americans that were angry that these settlers had invaded the lands that they had lived in for centuries. The weather was also harsh, boiling in the summer and freezing in the winter. They battled insect infestations and droughts that destroyed their crops.
- Because those that were homesteading had to do things quickly to survive, there was often not enough time to build homes out of wood. Instead, they used the sod in the surrounding prairies. This was quick and cheap, but it made their homes damp and dark. Using the sod had a dual purpose because they had to chop up the sod before they could do any planting.
- The people that were homesteaders brought using windmills and learned to grow wheat that could survive the harsh winters. As time passed, they used some new farming technologies, such as the plows were faster at chopping through the sod.
- Homesteaders are used as examples of the type of spirit of freedom that has been the basis of Americans. Those that moved to the farthest areas of the west, including California and Oregon, seemed to be those that took the most chances and risks. It’s thought that this spirit lives on in the people that live there today.
What did the homesteaders have to do to have the land become theirs?
Improve it by building a home, planting crops, and remaining on it for five years
What hardships did the homesteaders face?
Harsh weather, insects, hostile Native Americans, damp and dark homes
What did the homesteaders initially use to build their houses?
What industry encouraged homesteaders?
What did the Northerners and Easterners fear might happen with homesteading?
The southern plantation owners would move west and bring slavery with them
What invention made homestead farming life easier?