Last Homesteaders in the Nation
The last homesteaders in the nation settled in Alaska. The earliest Alaskan homestead claims were filed in 1898. They were filed under the 1862 Homestead Act but only a maximum of 80 acres was initially allowed. Later the maximum changed to 320 acres in 1903. Then it decreased down to the more standard 160 acres in 1916.
In 1927, more legislation for Alaska added the possibility for two non-agricultural types of 5-acre claims. One was to provide for a residence, which were later were called “homesites.” The others were for business purposes and were later called “headquarters” sites. These unusual forms of homesteading required payment of $2.50 per acre. The last claims for these were made in October 1986. This was just days before all forms of homesteading were repealed for Alaska under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. This was the same legislation that repealed all other homestead laws for the Lower 48 States. However, it allowed a 10-year extension fo rAlaska.
The final homesteads in Alaska that required cultivation under terms of the 1862 Homestead Act, were patented in the 1980s. The last woman to receive a homestead of this type was Elizabeth M. Smith. She was one of a group of 10 people, including her son, William Smith, who filed homesteads near Big Delta, Alaska in 1974. This is an area near the Delta River, around 90 miles south of Fairbanks. All received them, with hers awarded on Oct. 18, 1984 as the last of the group. She received the patent to 116.32 acres of land that is part of a large island. Only 15 more homesteads were awarded in Alaska after hers.
The final homestead patent in the nation was issued on May 5, 1988. It went to Kenneth W. Deardorff, a Vietnam veteran, who filed his application for a homestead on May 16, 1974. His claim was for land near Lime Village in western Alaska. It is located around 400 air miles south of the Arctic Circle. It is 200 air miles west of Anchorage, Alaska. The amount of land he received in 1988 was less than 50 acres despite his originally filing for more acreage. He received less than he requested because of the difficulties of performing the required amount of agriculture on his claim. Due to various circumstances, including the relatively remote location of his homestead with no nearby road, the issuance of a homestead patent to Mr. Deardorff was delayed into 1988.
Note: Since 1988, the BLM has used homestead legislation as the authority for issuing belated land patents. It does this in order to correct earlier homestead patents, or for other technical reasons.