Homesteading without the hardship
The civil war ended in 1865; Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862. As the smoke cleared from the pain of seven hundred thousand dead, the rush for free land was on. So we colonized the territories, stealing them from the Indians who never imagined owning land. The government took the land, gave it away in plots of one hundred and sixty acres at a time—then placed the Indians on a reservation and made them rely on the colonizer’s government. It was the first socialist construct in America.
The Dakotas have been called a “farmers’ frontier.” Hope-filled people with a wagon full of possessions and a determined heart came and risked everything. They were called “Soddies” settlers that met the “must build a house” requirement using the rich loam grassland as bricks. A sod brick needed suitable grass to bind the earth; the three-foot-high grasslands of Dakota were perfect. Typically the bricks were two feet square, but some used two-foot by three-foot bricks laid grass side down. A sod house used the available materials provided by God’s earth to keep costs low, but it made sense for the cold winters of the Dakotas. Earth has an “R” factor of about 1 for each inch of thickness. The earthen bricks would give the walls an “R” factor of about 24. Most modern houses have 2X4 walls with an R factor of 18. The average sod house was about 250 square feet, with plenty of “move around” room for a homesteader. The fuel supplying heat in those days was dried buffalo manure patties. The homesteader hunted, fished, gardened, and raised meat and crops. Homesteaders sewed their clothes and made everything they could. Danger surrounds them and is part of everyday life.
A homestead claim costs the farmer $14.00. That was the filing fee at the U.S. Land Office, where the claim was registered. Because the registration fee was so low, many people talked about going to Dakota for “free” land. But there were other costs. Every homesteader had to build a house, dig a well, and feed the family. If they didn’t have a horse, an ox, or a milk cow, they had to borrow livestock to pull the plow until they could afford to buy a horse. A good plow horse might cost $75 in the 1880s. They also had to buy seeds. One historian has estimated that the actual cost of homesteading was about $1,000. That amount covered transportation costs, seeds for the garden and fields, livestock, and living expenses until the harvest. Homestead life was perilous back-breaking hard work. No Grid existed to live away from, just three-foot-high grass, blazing summer heat, and sub-zero cold.
Homesteading today is redefined by Wikipedia as a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. Characterized by subsistence agriculture and home preservation of food, and may also involve the small-scale production of textiles, clothing, and craft work for household use or sale. Modern “Steaders” today claim “off-Grid” living but typically are a short drive from a Walmart or Home Depot. Modern Steaders have Internet connections, ultra-high-definition T.V.s, solar panels, and heat pumps for cooling and heating. This Steader lifestyle is honorable, and more people need to get back to a somewhat self-sufficient lifestyle: gardening, ranching, home-preserving food, and stopping reliance on Walmart. We are trying to be more independent and adopt our grandparent’s work ethic. But I don’t believe we deserve to be called homesteaders. I think “Independents” might be the proper name.
Homesteading sells. If you what to be a YouTube success, the title “Homesteading’, or “Preppers” sells. Modern homesteaders and preppers fill YouTube; the algorithm loves those “Off Grid” personalities. But these days, no one deserves to be considered a homesteader; homesteaders worked their fingers to the bone, and the work put them in an early grave. We, the Independents, have not endured such hardship or taken extreme risks to keep the land. There are a few real “off-grid,” self-reliant folks out there, but they drive a four-wheel-drive there, not months in a wagon.
I praise everyone becoming more independent and self-sufficient, preparing for hard times, but homesteaders they are not—that’s the little house on the prairie.
One who settles upon the public land or acquires a residence under the Homestead Act.
One who has entered upon a portion of the public land to receive ownership of it under provisions of the homestead law is the so-called; one who has acquired a homestead in this manner.
The Homestead Act of 1862, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, granted Americans 160-acre plots of public land for the price of a small filing fee. The Civil War-era act, considered one of the United States’ most important legislation, led to Western expansion and allowed citizens of all walks of life—including the formerly enslaved, women, and immigrants—to become landowners.
In 1976, the Homestead Act was repealed with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management
Act stated, “Public lands be retained in Federal ownership.” The act authorized the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to manage federal lands. Homesteading was still allowed for another decade in Alaska until 1986.
On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate troops to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, marking the beginning of the end of the grinding four-year-long American Civil War. But it would be more than 16 months before President Andrew Johnson declared a formal end to the conflict in August 1866.