What were the last homestead laws in the USA?
This question can be answered in several ways. Rephrasing it into several more specific questions, here are four different answers:
#1 The last major federal law passed regarding homesteading was one to repeal the homestead laws, thus ending homesteading in the Lower 48 States in 1976 and in Alaska in 1986. That law was the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA): It was passed on Oct. 21, 1976 (90 Stat. 2743).
#2 The last federal law to create a policy change to a major homestead law that had wide applicability under which many thousands of homesteads had been patented in several state was passed on April 23, 1993 (107 Stat. 60). It was an amendment to the 1916 Stock Raising Homestead Act with the amendments purpose clarifying procedures for mineral exploration on homesteads awarded under the 1916 Act where the subsurface had been reserved to the federal government.
#3 The last federal laws passed to modify existing homestead laws under which homesteading was being actively done were signed into law in the 1950s. The first was passed on July 11, 1956 (70 Stat. 528). It allowed Alaskan homesteaders to file final proof of compliance with all the terms of the homestead laws before survey of the final survey of the land, thus eliminating the two-step process in place earlier of having to make two filings. At this time a lot of homesteading was occurring in Alaska in contrast to almost none in the Lower 48 States.
The second homestead-related law passed in the 1950s was also for Alaska. It was signed into law on Aug. 23, 1958 (72 Stat. 730). However, it provided only relatively minor word changes to amend earlier laws related to homesteading on coal lands in Alaska. Thus, it was more technical in nature.
#4 The last federal law with an historical connection to homesteading was also passed for Alaska. It happened on October 21, 1998 and is termed the 1998 Alaska Native Veterans Allotment Act. This law was Section 432 (112 Stat. 2516) of a more sweeping appropriations act for the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development (112 Stat. 2461).
Section 432 of this 1998 act allowed certain Alaska Natives who were veterans of the Vietnam War to claim Native Allotments “of not more than two parcels of federal land totaling 160 acres or less” under terms of the earlier 1906 Alaska Native Allotment Act. Of note, the 1906 act was entitled “An Act Authoring the Secretary of the Interior to allot homesteads to the natives of Alaska.” And indeed it had been modeled after homesteading laws for Indians in the Lower 48 designed in part to entice Native people to settle down on individual tracts of land and give up their customary use of larger areas otherwise desired by non-Native settlers and developers. Thus, the 1998 Act could be viewed as the last type of a federal homestead law ever passed in America – and perhaps fittingly, if not ironically, it was for Native Americans whose traditional (pre-1492) lands were the source of all the lands claimed under all prior homestead acts starting in 1862 with the one signed by President Lincoln.