The Homestead Act 1862-2012
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What was the 'ideal' homestead?

During the 1850s and 1860s, the idea of having the federal government make free land available to create private farms became popular. The ideal homestead envisioned was that of a Midwestern farm. In Illinois and Indiana, there was enough rainfall for a farmer to make a living on 160 acres of land. However, as time went on more people wanted to claim land. The majority kept moving west to find still-unclaimed land. Unfortunately, as people did move west, there was less and less rainfall. In the western parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, the amount of precipitation declined dramatically. Farming successfully on 160 acres was very difficult.

Congress tried to address the problem. In 1873, it passed the Timber Culture Act along with several other acts, including the 1877 Desert Land Act. 

In some instances, specific states received state-only legislation. An example of this is the 1904 Kincaid Act for western Nebraska. It increased the maximum size of a homestead from 160 to 640 acres.

Other problems arose for homesteaders. Some faced crop destruction by voracious grasshoppers. It was difficult to farm in other places like Alaska that had unusually cold winters or very marginal land. Congress tried to address these problems by changing homestead laws to make it easier to prove up and get a patent. 

Last updated: 03-07-2012