This week we've read a book about the Homestead Act (which is why we know that the anniversary is May 20th), watched the new movie of Little House on the Prairie (some historical inaccuracies, but surprisingly good -- the ladies enjoyed it thoroughly), started reading The Long Winter, with its early chapters on harvesting hay on a homestead, and read about the new farming machinery that allowed Pa to farm 160 acres of Dakota prairie.
The Homestead Act was one of several United States federal laws that gave an applicant freehold title to up to 160 acres (1/4 section, 65 hectares) of undeveloped federal land outside the original 13 colonies. The law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government, including freed slaves, could file an application and evidence of improvements to a federal land office.
The original Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. Because much of the prime low-lying alluvial land along rivers had been homesteaded by the turn of the twentieth century, a major update called the Enlarged Homestead Act was passed in 1909. It targeted land suitable for dryland farming, increasing the number of acres to 320. In 1916, the Stock-Raising Homestead Act targeted settlers seeking 640 acres (260 ha) of public land for ranching purposes.
Only about 40 percent of the applicants who started the process were able to complete it and obtain title to their homestead land. Eventually 1.6 million homesteads were granted and 270,000,000 acres (420,000 sq mi) of federal land were privatized between 1862 and 1934, a total of 10% of all lands in the United States. Homesteading was discontinued after 1976, except in Alaska. Individuals may no longer homestead on public land as a way to acquire title.
Today we're going to braid hair like pioneer girls and make ginger water, which, being a bit sweet and gingery, was easier on stomach on a hot weary day than plain cold water.