The Homestead Act

Homesteading LegaciesThe Homestead Act became the law of the land on January 1, 1863. it remained in effect until 1976, when the Federal Land Policy and Management Act repealed it (though a ten year extension through 1986 was authorized in Alaska).Over the entire 124-year history of the Homestead Act, four million people filed for 160-acre parcels of the public domain. Of these four million, about 1.6 million (approximately 40 percent) were successful, fulfilling all the requirements of the government and earning the title to their property. Every single one of these four million, regardless of success or failure, had a personal story.

How Did they Get the Free Land?

Getting free land from the government was amazingly simple. The first thing you had to do was fill out an application form that stated several facts:You were twenty-one years of age or the head of a family.You were a U.S. citizen, or had declared intention to become a citizen, and had never borne arms against the U.S. (Confederate soldiers could not apply.)

You acknowledged that you did not already own over 320 acres of land within the U.S., or that you had not quit or abandoned other land in the same state or territory.

You told the government the homestead would be for your exclusive use.

Finally, you paid a $10 fee and told the land office which quarter section of land you wanted.

That was it for the first step. Next, you had to move onto the land, live on it for five years — unless you were a Union veteran — farm it, and make “improvements” like a house, barn or fences. Finally, after five years, the homesteader had to file a form labeled “Final Proof” indicating you had resided upon and cultivated the land for five years, and made some improvements. Certain special acts extended the residency period in the event of grasshopper devastation or drought.



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