60 years of the BLM

Part 5 - The Homestead and Mining Era

[Text from History of the BLM video, part 5]

Slide #29 History/Homestead and Mining (title)

  • In addition to railroads, these public lands were also made available for cultivation and mining through several historical land laws.

Slide#30 Homesteads

  • One of the most important of these laws was the Homestead Act of 1862, passed by Congress during the Civil War as a means of rapid settlement.
  • It was a true American “innovation” – the chance to obtain one-hundred and sixty acres for a mere one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre.
  • All these homesteaders had to do in return was farm a portion of the land and make a living off it for five years.
  • Through this process the growing nation moved westward.

Slide#31 Larger Homestead Tracts

  • As the settlers reached more arid lands, there was a need to increase the acreage to make a living, and Congress passed yet more laws.
  • First, homesteads grew to three-hundred and twenty acres.
  • Then to six-hundred and forty acres, allowing for livestock rather than farming under the Stock Raising Homestead Act.
  • Eventually, the land that could be cultivated for farming was mostly taken, and as homesteaders failed to “prove up,” use of the law diminished.

Slide#32 Public Land Surveys

  • Identifying all these parcels of land on the ground was the challenge given to surveyors.
  • Both government and private surveyors were involved, and these survey records were under the jurisdiction of the General Land Office as well.
  • While many were done professionally, others, particularly those under private contract, were sometimes fraudulent, leading to title disputes -- many of which persist to this day in some States.

Slide#33 Mining

  • Another key law that was uniquely American was the Mining Law of 1872, which is still in force today.
  • Enterprising miners staked claims in hopes of finding the “mother lode.”
  • The General Land Office, followed by the U.S. Geological Survey, worked to inventory these resources.
  • But the government couldn’t keep up with the miners, and backlogs stretched four to five years.
  • Often causing miners to settle their “claim-jumping” disputes with “six-shooters” rather than paperwork.

60 Years of the BLM - History video, part 5: broadband, dial-up