Homesteading in Alaska
Did you know that there were over 3,000 homesteaders in Alaska who took up federal land? And did you know that less than 0.1 percent of federal land in Alaska was homesteaded?
Many men, women, and entire families followed their dream of claiming "free" land in Alaska under the Homestead Act. Though Alaska did not have the most homestead claims, they were some of the most remote and proved to be a challenge unlike any faced by earlier homesteads in the midwest. The requirement to farm part of your claim was a particularly difficult challenge in much of Alaska.
Imagine packing up everything you own and traveling to a patch of land north of the Alaska Range mountains where moose, bear, and caribou outnumbered humans, or to a plot accessible only by train, and building your house from scratch, with no indoor plumbing and brutal winters. Sound unreal? Well people came to Alaska and survived. Descendants of those early Alaskan homesteaders are alive today! Read about the history and challenges of becoming a homesteader in Alaska by exploring this site.
Homesteading in America began when President Lincoln signed the 1862 Homestead Act enabling over 1.6 million people to claim federal land intended for small farms. Homesteaders included men, women, freed slaves, and European settlers. During the homestead era, about 270 million acres of federal land were claimed in 30 states, from Florida to Michigan to Alaska. This is over one-tenth of all the land in America. Descendants of homesteaders today are estimated at about 93 million Americans, with many thousands still living on farms claimed by their ancestors.
Homesteading began in Alaska when President William McKinley signed 1898 legislation extending homestead laws to the then District of Alaska. Few homesteads were claimed until after Alaska became a territory in 1912, with most after WWII. By the time the last homestead claims were made in the 1980s, around 3,500 people had received land in Alaska.
Early Alaskan Homesteader
John M. Heady (1849-1920s), a native of Indiana, came by boat to Alaska in 1899 during the gold rush, and mined with a partner in the Jack Wade Mining District northeast of Fairbanks, Alaska. In 1909, he was working as a miner in the Juneau area. By 1915, he was employed at nearby Thane by the Alaska Gold Mining Company. In the later 1910s, Heady resumed his pre-Alaska occupation of farming and filed for a homestead near Wasilla, Alaska. On March 12, 1922, a few months before his 73rd birthday, he was awarded title to a 160-acre homestead.
Photo © Alaska Railroad Collection,
Anchorage Museum, AEC.G998
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150th Anniversary of the Homestead Act