The Homestead Act of 1862, considered to be one of the 100 most important documents in the National Archives, helped to influence the course of United States’ history. While many meanings of the word “homesteader” exist in our minds today, at the time this act was signed it meant that a person was traveling to the West to start an often difficult, self-sufficient life on the land. Today’s modern homesteaders are able to use a multitude of technologies, including the Internet and electricity, to make the path towards self-sufficiency simpler and, in short, easier.
This was not true for the four million hopeful souls that filed for free land under the Homestead Act. In total, they received nearly 10 percent of the land mass of the United States. Today, an estimated 92 million U.S. citizens are descendants of homesteaders — nearly one-third of our current population. We modern homesteaders have plenty of skills to learn from our elders, those who toughed it out as pioneers and self-sufficient homesteaders 150 years ago. It’s worth taking a trip to the Homestead National Monument near Lincoln, Neb., to check out artificats, including the signed Homestead Act document, and participate in recalling this phase in homesteading history.
How to Participate
The Homestead National Monument has put together a running events calendar with free activities and exhibits every month this year.
Homestead National Monument is seeking people who participated in the Homestead Act of 1862 or are descendants of people who received land through the Homestead law that have a strong connection to on of the 30 Homestead States. Proudly represent your state by carrying the state flag during one or two 150th events.
Jennifer Kongsis the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitteror Google+.
Photo by Fotolia/John Kropewnicki