Free land! May 20, 1862, the Homestead Act remade America

May 20, 2014

A family off to find and settle their homestead, 1886. Photo from the National Archives

A family off to find and settle their homestead, 1886. Photo from the National Archives

History and demographics of the United States were forever changed when the Homestead Act became law early in the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, on May 20, 1862.

With Congress paralyzed and unable to act to do even minor good things now, it’s astonishing to think how the Congress of 1862 could do so much to open the American west, in the middle of the American Civil War.  Perhaps Congress was able to act because legislators from the South were absent, and did not oppose progress.

In any case, the Homestead Act encouraged Americans who lacked property to strike out for the western territories and states, to make a new life, to found new towns, cities and farms, and fulfill what some call the nation’s “manifest destiny.”

The bill that became the Homestead Act, H.R. 125, in the 37th Congress, 1862. Image from the U.S. National Archives

The bill that became the Homestead Act, H.R. 125, in the 37th Congress, 1862. Image from the U.S. National Archives

Here’s the history from the National Archives:

The notion that the United States government should give free land titles to settlers to encourage westward expansion became popular in the 1850s. During that time the U.S. House of Representatives passed numerous homestead bills but southern opposition in the Senate prevented enactment. In 1860, during the 36th Congress, the Senate narrowly passed a homestead act but President James Buchanan vetoed it and the Senate failed its override attempt.

When the 37th Congress convened for its brief summer session in 1861, now without members from seceded states, it was preoccupied with Civil War-related legislation. The House took up briefly the homestead issue in December but postponed further consideration of it until the following February. The House finally passed the Homestead Act on February 28, 1862 by the large margin of 107 to 16. The act worked its way through the Senate until May 6, 1862 when it passed easily by a vote of 33 to 7. After a few minor changes in conference committee—which both houses agreed to without controversy—Congress sent the final legislation to President Abraham Lincoln who signed the act into law on May 20, 1862.

The Homestead Act encouraged western migration by providing settlers with 160 acres of land in exchange for a nominal filing fee. Among its provisions was a five-year requirement of continuous residence before receiving the title to the land and the settlers had to be, or in the process of becoming, U.S. citizens. Through 1986, when the last claim was made in Alaska, the Homestead Act distributed 270 million acres of land in the United States making it arguably one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation in American history.

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Much of this post has appeared at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub before; the Homestead Act deserves commemoration.


Moon and Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills, California

May 18, 2014

U.S. Department of Interior, Twitter feed: Beautiful view of the moon over Mabius Arch in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area. #California @BLMca pic.twitter.com/u0KYyJ6p0S

U.S. Department of Interior, Twitter feed: Beautiful view of the Moon over Mabius Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area. #California @BLMca pic.twitter.com/u0KYyJ6p0S

Interesting points, reasons to like this image:

  1. No, that’s not the Sun.  It’s the Moon.
  2. Who knew California had natural arches?  I mean, it makes sense — but there’s one in Virginia, and a bunch of them at Arches National Park, and . . .
  3. An arch that should be in Utah, in the Alabama Hills, but not in Alabama, in California.
  4. Stars!
  5. Great photograph, obviously a long exposure.  Let’s see if we can find the name of the photographer.  Pox on Interior for failing to fit that into the caption. Photographer is Steve Perry, and you should check out his site (and buy some photos!). (Thanks, J. A. Higginbotham, for tracking that down.)
  6. America’s public lands, showing how they are unexcelled at astonishing us.
  7. What? Interior called the “Mabius Arch?” No, it’s the Mobius Arch!
  8. This place was named after the Confederate warship C.S.S. Alabama. Sympathetic miners making claims on minerals, it appears. “The unusual name Alabama Hills came about during the Civil War. In 1864 Southern sympathizers in Lone Pine discovered gold ‘in them thar hills.’ When they heard that a Confederate cruiser named the Alabama had burned, sunk or captured more than 60 Federal ships in less than two years they named their mining claims after the cruiser to celebrate. Before long the name applied to the whole area. Coincidentally, while Southerners were prospecting around Lone Pine, there were Union sympathizers 15 miles north near Independence. And when the Alabama was sunk off the coast of France by the U.S.S. Kearsarge in 1864, the Independence people struck back. They not only named their mining claims ‘Kearsarge’ but a mountain peak, a mountain pass, and a whole town as well.”
  9. More than 400 movies were shot using Alabama Hills for a backdrop, including How the West Was Won, Gunga Din (standing in for the hills of northern India) and the 1960 Audie Murphy classic, Hell Bent for Leather.
  10. Geologists will love that this area is a prime example of chemical erosion — rocks made out of the same stuff as the craggy Sierra Nevada Mountains in the distance, but eroded differently.
  11. Lichens by moonlight!  (Or is that just desert varnish?)

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Quote goof of the moment: Tom Paine didn’t say that; Edward Abbey did.

May 7, 2014

Oy.  You’d hope that the Rabid Right would learn after a few dozen of these errors that they should try to verify stuff before they claim events of history, or sayings of famous people are gospel — especially stuff involving our patriotic founders.

But, no.

Sometimes their failure to check sources can produce amusement, though, like this one which they misattribute to Tom Paine in propaganda supporting rent scofflaw Cliven Bundy and other land management issues:

Tom Paine didn't say that. Edward Abbey did.

Tom Paine didn’t say that. Edward Abbey did.

“The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.”

Someone mildly familiar with Tom Paine and his life and other writings might suspect the supposed attribution from the start.  Paine was a great advocate of governments to protect the rights of citizens, especially citizens like him, who were often on the outs with popular opinion and avoided the Guillotine in France and mob violence in the U.S. only through interventions of government officials who told mobs the law did not cotton their wishes to see violence on Mr. Paine.

Wikiquote notes Paine didn’t say it.  A simple check would have found that.

But other sites claim it was written by Edward Abbey, the author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkeywrench Gang.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

– Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis en Deserto) : Notes from a Secret Journal (1990) ISBN 0312064888

Why is that delicious?

The quote — the image above, for example — is being used by pro-militia groups who have defended Cliven Bundy’s trespassing on public lands in Nevada, and by Texans who, upset that they don’t have such a good target as massive Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holdings in Texas, have ginned up a faux controversy, claiming falsely that BLM is seeking to seize lands in Texas.

Edward Abbey?  He didn’t much like BLM, and he was particularly ticked off at the Bureau of Reclamation and the imposition of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River with the drowning of Glen Canyon.  Abbey’s disdain of federal land managers and grand dam schemes may have been exceeded only by his contempt for developers, miners and ranchers who took advantage of the desert for profit.

Would Abbey have supported Bundy’s overgrazing on public lands, or Texas Republicans scrambling to make a false issue to mismanage lands?  Oy.  Oy.  And oy.

See this brilliant poster at Americans Who Tell The Truth:

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey.

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey. Writer, ‘Desert Anarchist’ : 1927 – 1989 “The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”

Wall of Fame (people and sites who got the cite right):

Wall of Shame (people and sites who got the cite wrong):


BLM’s statement on Red River management

April 23, 2014

You may have missed the press statement the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued yesterday, in response to press requests following the release of a letter from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.  Here it is.

On the Record

The BLM is categorically not expanding Federal holdings along the Red River.  The 140-acres in question were determined to be public land in 1986 when the U.S. District Court ruled on a case brought by two private landowners, each seeking to adjust boundary lines for their respective properties.  The BLM was not party to any litigation between the landowners.  The 140-acres were at no time held in private ownership.

On Background

During Westward expansion of the country, Texas and Oklahoma disputed their state line, particularly in relationship to where it fell on the Red River.  Once oil and gas was discovered, the dispute was elevated.

In 1923, the Supreme Court made a final determination on the State line and also clarified ownership by private landowners on each side of the river.  Subsequently in 1981 and 1984, Texas and Oklahoma landowners challenged this finding in U.S. District Court as it related to their private property and the changing course of the river.  In both cases, the District Court echoed the Supreme Court determination regarding private boundaries, ruling that the Oklahoma private landowner held property to the center of the river while the Texas landowner’s boundary stopped at the ordinary high water mark.  In 1986, the U.S. District Court established that the 140-acres are public lands.

The BLM is currently in the initial stages of developing options for management of public lands in an area that includes the Red River.  This is a transparent process with several opportunities for public input.

This issue has moved mostly underground, on radical right-wing on-line media, and Facebook and Twitter.

FYI.


Insta-Millard: Nevada’s Constitution doesn’t favor Cliven Bundy

April 15, 2014

It’s a relic of the Civil War and Congress’s intention to strengthen the Union when Nevada became a state in 1864, but there it is, in Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution, making a mockery of Cliven Bundy’s claim to owe allegiance to Nevada and its Constitution, but not to the U.S.:

Sec: 2.  Purpose of government; paramount allegiance to United States.  All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States. The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.

Sheesh!

Here’s the essay quiz, students:  The standoff between the Bureau of Land Management cowboys — each of whom swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the U.S., in contrast to Mr. Bundy who claims to owe no allegiance to the U.S. — and the armed mob who threatened to kill those same employees of our U.S. government:  Did Nevadans  (or Idahoans) violate any part of Section 2 of the Nevada Constitution?  Which clauses?

I used to say “the Sagebrush Rebellion is over; sagebrush won.”  Even the sagebrush are losing this one.

From The Atlantic:  Eric Parker, who lives in central Idaho, aims his weapon from a bridge as protesters gather by the Bureau of Land Management's base camp in Bunkerville, Nevada. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

From The Atlantic: Eric Parker, who lives in central Idaho, aims his weapon from a bridge as protesters gather by the Bureau of Land Management’s base camp in Bunkerville, Nevada. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)  (See also Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, with regard to Mr. Parker’s actions here.)

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Insta-Millard: Bundy Ranch issue history

April 14, 2014

It’s an oversimplification, but not an oversimplification that leads to inaccuracy.

I say “oversimplification” because President Reagan did not impose grazing fees for the first time, but instead set rates at the time.  U.S. grazing fees grew out of the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, which included among other noble purposes the saving of unoccupied public lands from erosion, to prevent them from contributing to a national Dust Bowl.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages about 245 million acres of land in the U.S., highly concentrated in 13 western states (about 86% of Nevada is public lands of one sort or another).  Of those lands, about 155 million acres are open to grazing.  BLM is part of the U.S. Department of Interior.  Reagan’s Executive Order came when the law authorizing grazing fees had expired, and Congress was at an impasse in passing a new one, partly over a Reagan Administration proposal to raise grazing fees to market value, a multiple of fees then (and now) in effect.

Sagebrush Rebellion catches Tea Party Stupid disease, it seems to me.  If the virus hasn’t been cured since 1993, what are the odds Mr. Bundy will sit still for a cure now?

More to come?

More:

Mad City Quanta, a Nebraska on-line comic, on grazing fees issues in 2012.

Mad City Quanta, a Nebraska on-line comic, on grazing fees issues in 2012. To update it, substitute “Bundy” for “Fischer” on the tie of the steer on the left.


Steens Mountain, sunrise, or sunset?

July 31, 2013

Either someone just spent a very cold night to get a photo, or they’re getting ready to spend a very cold night.

Which is it?

Steens Mountain in #Oregon

US Dept of Interior: If you haven’t seen Steens Mountain in #Oregon, you really should check out this stunning photo from @BLMOregon pic.twitter.com/H2eePMmfsX

Steens Mountain at sunrise is a very popular image for photographers — but very few get a shot from the mountain itself like this one.

Steens Mountain is a large fault-block mountain in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Oregon. Located in Harney County, it stretches some 50 miles (80 km) long north to south, and rises from alongside the Alvord Desert at elevation of about 4,200 feet (1,300 m) to a summit elevation of 9,733 feet (2,967 m). It is sometimes confused with a mountain range, but is properly a single mountain.

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English: The Alvord Desert playa, looking sout...

The Alvord Desert playa, looking southeast from Steens Mountain, southeast Oregon; Wikipedia image


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