The Homestead Act of 1862

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The Homestead Act of 1862 was a law passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862.   It provided for the transfer of 160 acres (65 hectares) of unoccupied public land to each homesteader on payment of a nominal fee after five years of residence.   A homesteader had  to be the head of a household or at least 21 years of age to claim a 160 acre parcel of land.  Land could also be acquired after six months of residence at $1.25 an acre.


Background - On January 1, 1863, Daniel Freeman, a Union Army scout was scheduled to leave Gage County, Nebraska Territory, to report for duty in St. Louis.  At a New Year's Eve party the night before, Mr. Freeman met some local Land Office officials and convinced a clerk to open the office shortly after midnight in order to file a land claim.  In doing so, Freeman became one of the first to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Homestead Act.  417 others filed claims that day. 

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“Proving Up” - Many more pioneers followed.  Settlers from all walks of life including  immigrants, eastern farmers without land of their own , single women and former slaves came to meet the challenge of "proving up" and keeping this "free land". Each homesteader had to live on the land, build a home, make improvements and farm for 5 years before they were eligible to "prove up". A total filing fee of $18 was the only money required, but sacrifice and hard work exacted a high price from the hopeful settlers.

Homestead National Monument - In 1936, the Department of the Interior recognized Daniel Freeman as the first claimant and established the Homestead National Monument, near a school built in 1872, on his homestead near Beatrice, Nebraska. Today, the monument is administered by the National Park Service, and the site commemorates the changes to the land and the nation brought about by the Homestead Act of 1862. By 1934, over 1.6 million homestead applications were processed and more than 270 million acres—10 percent of all U.S. lands—passed into the hands of individuals. 

The End of the Homestead Act - The passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 repealed the Homestead Act in the 48 contiguous states.  The government believed that the best use of public lands was for them to remain in government control.   The only exception to this new policy was in Alaska where the law allowed homesteading until 1986.

The last claim under this Act was made by Ken Deardorff for 80 acres (32 hectares) of land on the Stony River in southwestern Alaska.  He fulfilled all requirements of the Homestead Act in 1979, but did not receive his deed until May 1988.  Therefore, he is the last person to receive title to land claimed under the provisions of the Homestead Act.


Settlement Family History -- Bethune, Colorado  -- German Russian Settlement
Developed by:  Nathan Kramer -- Blair, Nebraska

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The National Archives at

Homestead National Monument of America - About the Homestead Act...

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