The Homestead Act of 1862
The Homestead Act of 1862 forever changed the landscape, culture, and history of the American West. Passage of the act meant that anyone over the age of 21, including women and former slaves, could apply for 160 acres of land. In order to “prove up,” or secure ownership of the land, the applicant had to build a house, grow crops, make improvements to the land and live on it for five years.
Ten percent of the land mass of the United States (270 million acres) was transferred into private ownership through homesteading, and ruins of stone and wood dot the backcountry landscape as testimony to the efforts of these homesteaders. They faced many hardships - just as many claims failed as succeeded. Meanwhile, those accustomed to unfettered use of the land must have cringed as settlement by these newcomers expanded.
Descendants of homesteaders today are estimated at about 93 million Americans, with many thousands still living on farms claimed by their ancestors during the homestead era.
History is not just about statistics and dates, laws and places; it’s about people and the hardships they endured. As BLM-New Mexico commemorates this anniversary, we hope to share some of the history in the form of the faces and stories of those who faced these struggles in New Mexico, as well as photos of the places they called home. Check back periodically for new content.
For more information, check out the following resources:
BLM's National Homestead Act Commemorative Site
Homestead National Monument:
BLM's General Land Office Commemorative Site