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.


Light pollution-free area, near Little Snake River, Colorado

December 12, 2012

Take a look at this sunset shot:

Sunset near Little Snake River, Colorado - Photo by Shannon Diszmang

Sunset on BLM land near the Little Snake River, in northwest Colorado. Photo by Shannon Diszmang, via Royal Gorge National Recreation Area.

Note from America’s Great Outdoors blog:

Earlier this year, the Royal Gorge Recreation Area staff had a photo contest on their Facebook page and here is one of the great photos that was submitted. Here’s what photographer, Shannon Diszmang, had to say about it.

“This is BLM land in Northwest Colorado (Little Snake River district). I fell in love with this place. The red haze in this photo is the smoke coming from the wildfires on the west coast at the time. This is one of the lowest light pollution spots in our state which makes star gazing the absolute best.”

So, if you’re nearby, and you want a good place to look at the Geminid meteor shower tonight, odds are high there will be little light pollution here.  If there aren’t many clouds, you’re in luck.

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P.S.: The stunningly beautiful photo above is NOT the winner of the photo contest(!).  BLM wrote in a November press release:

CAÑON CITY, Colo. – Today the BLM Royal Gorge Field Office announced the winners of its BLM-sponsored photo contest.  The two winners were decided by the public via the RGFO’s Facebook page: one winner is based on the most “likes” and the other is based on the most “shares.” Only those “likes” and “shares” that originated from the Royal Gorge Facebook page were tallied towards a winner.

Chris Nelson’s photo was the most “liked” and is a scenic shot taken from Chaffee County Road 175 between Cañon City and Salida. Nelson’s photo received 64 “likes.”

The most “shared” photo was submitted by David Madone and portrayed several deer in an alfalfa field near Cañon City. Madone’s photo received 20 shares.

Both photos will be featured on the RGFO’s Facebook page throughout November and may be featured in future BLM Colorado publications and social media sites.

The photo contest began Oct. 2 and ended Nov. 4 with more than 60 photos submitted. All the photos that were entered into the contest may be viewed via the “Photo Contest” album on the RGFO’s Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/BLMRoyalGorge

Yeah, were I you, I’d go see what the winners looked like.


Here’s an ass you’ll really like, if you have room

July 12, 2012

Wild burros on the range, USA - Wikipedia

Wild burros on the range – Wikipedia photo

If you’re in Lubbock this weekend, and if you have a corral that needs an equine inhabitant, you can buy an ass — a burro — from the Bureau of Land Management.  Or a horse.

Do a favor for some ass today, if you can:

From the coolly-named Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (some links added):

Wild horse, burro auction set at Panhandle-South Plains Fairgrounds

More than 50 animals are expected to be adopted.

Posted: July 11, 2012 – 11:13pm  |  Updated: July 12, 2012 – 12:32am

By ELLYSA GONZALEZ

AVALANCHE-JOURNAL

The United States Bureau of Land Management will host a wild horse and burro adoption at the Panhandle-South Plains Fairgrounds today through Saturday.

More than 50 animals are expected to be adopted.

According to a news release, animals are periodically removed from the range to “maintain healthy herds” and protect the land. It says more than 225,000 wild horses and burros have been adopted since 1973.

The animals are described as “iconic symbols of America’s western heritage.”

Adoption fees will start at $125, as set by law.

The age requirement to adopt an animal is 18. Buyers must have no animal abuse on their records as well as room for the animal to dwell.

Buyers’ records will be checked at the time of adoption.

At least 400 square feet of corral space is required per animal as well as a 6-foot corral fence for adult horses and a 5-foot fence for yearlings. Animals must also have access to food, water and shelter.

Buyers must load animals in covered stock-type trailers with swing gates and sturdy walls and floors, according to the news release.

People who adopt horses at least 4 years of age will receive a one-time care-and-feeding allowance of $500 from the bureau after one year upon receiving official ownership titles.

The news release states that no younger horses, burros and trained animals are eligible for the allowance.

Adoptions will be from 2-6 p.m. today, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m.-noon Saturday. Animals are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Bureau staff will be available at the site to help with loading, questions and applications. The fairgrounds are located at the northeast corner of Broadway and U.S. 87.

For more information, call (866) 468-7826 or visit http://www.blm.gov/nm/oklahoma.

Adopted wild burro, Wikipedia image

A formerly wild burro after adoption. 2005 photo from Wikipedia

By the way, you’re qualified to participate in discussions here, right?  I mean, you do know the difference between a burro and a burrow, don’t you?

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