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Homestead History
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Homestead Act Stamp
The Homestead Act, 1862-1962: 4 cents, U.S. postage. Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection.

frontier fact
The Homestead Act was repealed in 1976. Special provisions were then created to allow homesteading in Alaska until 1986.
Written by Christopher W. Czajka

owboys riding off into the sunset. Indians in war paint. Raw-boned men in fringed leggings accompanied by sallow-faced women in faded calico dresses and slat sunbonnets. Wagons rocking slowly west under crisply starched canvas covers. Prim, thin-lipped schoolmarms and grizzled, wild-eyed prospectors. There is perhaps no more overly romanticized and misunderstood time in history than the settling of the American frontier. In today's popular consciousness, the frontier exists in some hazy period of the nineteenth century, populated with larger-than-life stereotypes and events.

In reality, the "frontier" existed for much of the United States' history. From the time the first European settlers reached the North American continent, there have been individuals and groups living on the "frontier," the edge of the "wilderness" just beyond the grasp of what they considered to be "civilization." For the Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution in England, the frontier was the Massachusetts coastline in the 1620s. For Daniel Boone, the frontier was Kentucky in the 1770s.


For the residents of Skunk City, a wild boomtown later known as Chicago, the frontier was Illinois in the 1840s. For pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder, the frontier was South Dakota in the 1880s. The U.S. has had many frontiers with many pioneers, each existing in its own unique place, time, and circumstances. For our upcoming production THE FRONTIER HOUSE, we have chosen to send 21st-century families back to one of these very specific frontiers: the life of homesteaders in Montana Territory in the year 1883.

Linda Peavy describes what "going West" meant in the 1880s. Read her bio.
Homesteading was a way of life created, in effect, by the U.S. government. The Homestead Act, passed by Congress on May 20, 1862, declared that any citizen of the United States could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. After payment of a nominal filing fee, homesteaders were to "improve" their land by living on it, building a dwelling, and planting crops. If the settlers fulfilled these requirements, and remained on their homestead for a period of five years, the land became their property. Via the Homestead Act, vast amounts of the public domain -- 270 million acres, or 10% of the continental United States -- were opened up to private citizens.

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