Homesteads Act

In 1862 Congress passed the Homesteads Act. This legislation stated that a head of a family could acquire land consisting of 160 acres, settle it, and cultivate it for five years. At the end of the five year period the head of the family was granted the land. The Homesteads Act had a dramatic impact on persuading people to migrate to California and Oregon. By 1890 all available federal land had been settled by these pioneers.

Primary Sources

(1) Homesteads Act (1862)

Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled. That any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States government or given aid and comfort to its enemies, shall, from and after the first January, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, be entitled to enter one quarter sections or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands.

Section two; And be it further enacted That the person applying for the benefit of this act shall, upon application to the register of the Land office in which he or she is about to make such entry, make affidavit before the said register or receiver that he or she is the head of a family, or is twenty-one or more of age, or shall have performed service in the army or navy of the United States . . . and that such application is made for his or her exclusive use and benefit, and that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, and not either directly or indirectly for the use or benefit of any other person or persons whomsoever; and upon filing the said affidavit with the register or receiver, and on payment of ten dollars, he or she shall... be permitted to enter the quantity of land specified: Provided, however, That no certificate shall be given or patent issued therefor until the expiration of five years from the date of such entry; and if, at the expiration of such time, or at any time within two years thereafter, the person making such entry; or if he be dead, his widow, or in case of her death, his heirs or devisee... shall prove by two credible witnesses that he, she, or they have resided upon or cultivated the same for the term of five years immediately succeeding the time of filing the affidavit aforesaid... shall be entitled to a patent.

(2) The Nation, Settlers Occupy Oklahoma (4th March, 1889)

There is probably nowhere else in the world such a curious collection of settlements as are now stretched along the border lines of the new Territory waiting for the 22nd of April to arrive. They have regular names, like Beaver City and Purcell, with hotels and stores. Some of them have a population of 1,500, and at one store the gross receipts in a single day are said to have reached $500. Yet there is scarcely a permanent building in any of them. One town is famous for having a plastered house in which the railway agent lives. For the most part the boomers are living in dug-outs, or sod houses, with some rough wooden shanties and many tents. Yet business is carried on regularly, and there is a scale of rentals ranging from $5 to $25 a year. Clothing is the most difficult thing to obtain, and the 10,000 boomers who are thus waiting on the threshold of the promised land are clad more like Indians than civilized people. In addition to these 10,000, there are said to be many thousands more in the regular towns and settlements near the border, and it is estimated that the new Territory may have a population of 100,000 a few months after it is thrown open for settlement. The rush is ominous for the remainder of the Indian Territory, for the same greedy eyes are upon that as have been fastened so eagerly upon the portion about to be gained.

"No matter what people tell you to the contrary, there is not a man in this town who would stay if he could get out." This was the pessimistic remark of a prominent Oklahoman to a stranger, made in a weary time of waiting for a Government appointment; but, fortunately for the growth of the Territory, there are those within its bounds who do not feel that way. They see in the new country a chance to make a fresh start, unhampered by the competition of crowded districts, and relieved of over-stimulation of haste.

Before the famous "Run" with which Oklahoma opened, the government cleared the decks for action. In the old days the district was supposed to be given over entirely to the Indians; but in reality it contained many white residents of unsettled habits of life and loose morals. Cattle men leased lands for grazing, and led the usual rough, exciting life of the cowboy; matched shrewdness against savagery for the sake of both profit and adventure. Those of this class now living seem to have left from the experience a residuum of romance which forms the foundation of engaging tales. The retired cowboy, now keeping a grocery store or a livery barn with demure respectability in a town's center, seems merely a humdrum, shiftless sort of citizen whose life has always been in crowded districts; but if his confidence be gained, his illiterate tales will be a veracious history of the most interesting period of the region.

Besides the cowboys there were outlaws who fled to the Indian Territory to escape the avenging justice of better-governed states. Once within the Indian borders, there was every facility for the evasion of justice. Here the celebrated James boys had an occasional "dug-out," to which they flew when respite from adventure was desired. The equally notorious Dalton boys, who were cousins to the Jameses, also found here a home so happy, and express trains so profitable, that they were very loath to leave, even after well-meaning folk had flooded the Territory as homesteaders. Immunity from punishment was secured through the absence of local law. Tribal laws prevailed among the Indians, but did not affect the refugees; and, provided a man kept from trouble with the Indians, there was so little difficulty in living that one wonders at the restless spirit which impelled him again into danger. When the land was bought from the Indians, surveyors were sent to mark the entire country off into squares. The plan was, no doubt, neatly drawn at Washington on the smooth surface of a pretty pink map in which topographical inequalities were not represented. The lines were surveyed to run a mile apart, north and south, east and west, each to denote a highway, and each square mile between them to represent a section. The intention was to give each settler a quarter-section of one hundred and sixty acres. The authorities at Washington, in looking at the plain surface of the map, forgot that the country they were thus geometrically dividing was frequently broken by deep ravines and gulches: ... as a consequence the traveller never deviates from the compass, but his horse toils up a hill, reaches the crest, sidles down the farther slope, crosses a rude bridge, and climbs another hill, to repeat the process indefinitely. The uplands are always bare of trees, but the gulches are thickly wooded; and if the roads could have been permitted to follow the line of trees, a grateful shade would have been secured from the relentless sun, and picturesque beauties would have beguiled the farm children on their way to distant schoolhouses.