The Homestead Act 1862-2012
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What were the problems caused by homesteading?

When the 1862 Homestead Act was passed, initially there were many unanswered question about it and how to interpret its sometimes vague provisions. For instance, as a requirement to obtain a homestead, a settler had to perform agriculture. But the amount required under the original 1862 Act was not stated, with the later standard of one-eighth of the land being cultivated not clearly articulated until later. The results were some different requirements by the various land offices especially in the first years of homesteading. One historian for Montana homesteads, for instance, apparently found evidence that some early land offices may have interpreted the 1862 Homestead Act as providing options: either residing on the land for five year or cultivating it, but not both being needed to get patent (Vichorek 1987: 9).

Another problem cited by historians and ecologists is that some land areas not well suited for agriculture of a century ago were claimed by homesteaders with the result of damage to the long-term sustainability of the land. The problems with homesteading in some of the dryer or otherwise more marginal land areas of the West was exacerbated in the later 1910s in areas including parts of eastern Montana, Washington state, Oregon, and the western Dakotas when they entered into a cyclic period of less rainfall. When the plowed-up original topsoil was gone coupled with less moisture, the soil was more exposed to increased wind erosion while crop growth was otherwise minimal. Many homesteaders left during this time and some of their lands were later bought out under provisions of the 1937 Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (50 Stat. 522).

Last updated: 03-07-2012