Homestead National Monument of America
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December Newsletter
News from the Homestead
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Happy Holidays from all of the staff here at Homestead National Monument of America!

We invite you to  visit the Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures exhibit, running from November 29th through January 5th, at both the Education Center and the Heritage Center. This exhibit celebrates the winter traditions of the many diverse cultures who called the Great Plains home during the homesteading era. Decorated trees, tabletop displays, ornaments, and hand-made crafts await you.

We hope you will join us for one or all of our December events. Please note that the 2020 Special Event calendar has been published as well. To learn more about upcoming  events and programs, visit our website here.

As 2019 comes to an end, we want to recognize and thank our Gateway Communities, partners, volunteers, and staff for making 2019 special. Happy Holidays!

Mark Engler, Superintendent
Visit the Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures at Homestead

NPS Photo - Festively decorated trees at the Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures in Homestead National Monument of America's Education Center.

Homestead National Monument of America will be presenting the Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures, from November 29, 2019 through January 5, 2020. These sparkling holiday displays showcase ethnic traditions of the people who came to places like Nebraska so they could file Homestead Claims and become landowning citizens of the United States. These holiday displays, which include decorated trees, ornaments, tabletop displays with hand-made crafts, traditions, and other festivities, will be at both the Homestead Education and Heritage Centers. Cultures represented include African-American, Czech, French, German, Jewish, Hispanic, Irish, Polish, Scottish, Swedish, and Welsh. Our Winter Festival remembers this rich heritage and celebrates the cultures of all those who called the Great Plains home during the era of the Homestead Act.
In addition to the displays, there will be special programs on December 1, December 8, and December 15, 2019:
Sunday, December 1, 2019, at 2 p.m:                     
Songs to Celebrate Hanukkah: Tuffy Group - Visit Homestead National Monument of America and enjoy of this wonderful 3 person klezmer band from Omaha, Nebraska. Klezmer music was brought to America by European Jewish immigrants. The Tuffy Group will play songs to celebrate Hanukkah traditions.
Sunday, December 8, 2019, at 2 p.m:
Traditional Swedish Folk Dancing: Lindsborg Swedish Folk Dancers - The Lindsborg Swedish Folk Dancers hail from Lindsborg, Kansas. Their ensemble includes 5 violinists and 17 dancers. They will perform traditional Swedish Folk dances in historic costumes.

Sunday, December 15, 2019, at 2 p.m:
Native American Songs and Winter Traditions: Jerome Kills Small - Jerome Kills Small, Red Robin, of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, is a member of the Oglala Sioux Nation. He will sing a variety of songs and discuss the winter traditions of the Lakota.
"This fun holiday exhibition showcases the rich traditions that the various ethnic groups that settled under the Homestead Act practiced during the Winter holiday season. We invite everyone to come and experience these fun and educational programs over the holidays," said Superintendent Mark Engler.

Did You Know that Homestead National Monument of America was once featured on an Ornament that hung on the White House Christmas Tree?

(Photograph Courtesy of the Beatrice Daily Sun)

In 2007, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush chose to decorate the official White House Christmas Tree with ornaments representing National Parks. Among these was an ornament for Homestead National Monument of America!

The ornament, pictured above, was made by Ashland, Nebraska native Gene Roncka -- who also painted the amazing prairie mural permanently featured on the wall of the Homestead Education Center seen here.

Each of the four sides of the ornament display a different season in a homesteading family's life: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter!

The George W. Bush Presidential Center is celebrating the 2019 Holidays with a brand new exhibit, Holiday in the National Parks: Christmas in the White House 2007. The ornament will be on display at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas through 2019, along with 346 others.

You can read more about this:  beautiful ornament as well as the festivities at  The George W. Bush Presidential Center

The Peak Homesteading Year: 1913

Did You Know?
The year 1913 saw the largest amount of federal public land, nearly equal in size to Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined, patented to the largest number of homesteaders than in any other year in the history of homesteading.  In 1913 alone, 59,363 individuals received ownership to 10,884,822 acres by "proving up" under the homestead laws of that time.  Further, 1913 was the only year to see more than 10 million acres become private land under homestead laws, and the only year with more than 54,000 people receiving free land as homesteads.  Clearly, it was a record-breaking year in the history of homesteading.
So, why did this happen in 1913?  What was so special about that year? 
The reason was due to the passage of new homestead laws in 1909, 1910, and 1912.   These changed two very significant requirements of the original 1862 Homestead Act allowing a homesteader to get more land, and also to get it faster.  The new "Enlarged Homestead" law in 1909 increased to 320 acres from 160 acres the maximum amount of land that could be homesteaded in seven states and two territories: Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, plus Arizona and New Mexico Territories.  In 1910, the law was amended to also apply to Idaho.  Then in mid-1912, the "Three-Year Homestead Law" passed decreasing down to three years from the original five years for the amount of time required of a homesteader to live on the land.  Since the law applied retroactively, suddenly there were many more homesteaders ready to prove-up and get their land for free in 1913 than what would have been normal.  The year 1914 was similar with just under 10 million acres being transferred to 53,308 homesteaders that year.  This was the second largest number of homesteaders get land in any one year and the second largest amount of land being transferred to homesteaders in any single land-again, second only to 1913.
While the changes in homestead laws accelerated the process, other factors were also involved in helping make 1913 the peak year for homesteading.  Since the early 1900s, the amount of land patented yearly as homesteads was mostly increasing.  By 1908-1912, it had risen to over 6 million acres yearly, nearly double the acreage awarded as homesteads on average yearly in the 1890s.  The reason was improved transportation and easier access to public lands.  With the steady construction of more railroads in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then the rise of automobiles in the early 1900s, it became easier and perhaps even cheaper to "go out West" and homestead.  People could book train passage to many areas in the West where land open to homesteading was nearby. 
Also adding to the rise of homesteading in the early 20th century were wetter than normal conditions prevailing in the northern Great Plains states.  The same was true in some of the normally dryer parts of the Pacific Northwest including the Big Bend country of eastern Washington and much of central and southern Oregon.  But in the second half of the 1910s, dryer conditions set in causing making a living on some homesteads to become much harder.  Increasing drought conditions that lasted into the 1930s in some areas made it very difficult if not impossible for some homesteaders to "prove up" because of crop failures.  Today, the Bureau of Land Management in Montana and elsewhere manages some public lands where homesteaders filed claims, built cabins, but later had to abandon the land due to the unfavorable weather shifts in the early 20th century.
Further Note:  While 1913 saw the largest number of acres pass into the hands of homesteaders than in any other year, the year 1902 saw the most people of any year apply for homesteads (98,829).  Further, the year 1910, just after passage of the 1909 Enlarged Homestead Act, came in a close second with 98,598 people filing applications for homesteads.  That same year of 1910 saw the largest number of acres (18,329,115) claimed under homestead applications than in any other year in homesteading history.  Thus, the year 1910 also enters the history books as another special "peak" year for homesteading. 

U.S. Presidents on the Homestead Act

"The America to which these Swedish settlers came was a land that needed the hardy qualities they brought. It was not a land that was particularly softhearted towards newcomers, but everyone believed that each should have a fair chance regardless of his origin.
The newcomers quickly learned their way about and soon felt at home. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided them, as well as many other pioneers, with an opportunity to acquire land and establish family farms. To the land-hungry immigrants, the tough prairie sod seemed a golden opportunity and they conquered it by hard work."

- Harry S. Truman, June 4, 1948


Thank You to the Toro Foundation, Exmark, and the Friends of Homestead!

We would like to thank the Toro Foundation and Exmark.  On October 28, 2019 the TORO Foundation and Exmark donated three mowers to organizations in our community and Homestead National Monument of America was one of the recipients.   Donated to the monument through the Friends of Homestead, this shiny new Lazer Z Mower will be put to good use maintaining park grounds and nearly three miles of trails  throughout Homestead.  Thank you to the TORO Foundation and Exmark for donating this mower to us. We would like to recognize Don Ferneding, President of the Friends of Homestead for accepting this mower on our behalf.  

Tammy Weers and Don Ferneding, both with the Friends of Homestead, invite Homestead employees Sue Bruns, Travis Allen, and Mark Engler to join them in the photographs showing off Homestead National Monument of America's new Lazer Z Mower

Homestead Rangers at Training!

Homestead National Monument's Park Rangers Jessica Korgie and Brandon Clark have been off at training - here's what they've been up to!

Hello, I'm Park Ranger Jessica Korgie.  In November I was able to attend the Midwest Region Interpretation and Accessibility Programs' Audio Description Training Course at Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CUVA) in Peninsula, Ohio.  The training goals revolved around the best practices of creating  audio description for the visually impaired.  And to understand how to create scripts for a visitor center, exhibits and text, social media and film.   

I am a video producer for Homestead and have been providing audio description for videos but hadn't had a round table of discussion with colleagues from NPS sites across the country before.  It was wonderful to talk shop.  The training was incredibly satisfying and empowering to be with a diverse group of varying titles and parks all working through the understanding of how to better serve our visitors.  We all benefited from this training and are excited to bring back enhanced skill sets to share with our colleagues.  

The world of audio description goes much deeper than video.  The parks are working to audio describe their museums and visitor centers, exhibits and text, along with social media.  Imagine a person enters a park's visitor center with a large museum space.  They are offered a listening device and as they walk through the building the device describes in detail the pictures, objects, and text the museum holds.  They have choices to listen to as much or as little as they wish and by simply walking around the device knows where they are at and provides description real time.

If you are curious of how this technology works, Homestead offers audio description headsets at the Heritage Center.  The work that goes into providing audio description is extensive and rewarding and I'm so very fortunate to have attended this training to better my skills and grow my community of NPS colleagues across the country.

Hello, I am IT Specialist Brandon Clark.  The National Park Service held a service wide Information Technology (IT) 4 day training this year at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC). There were 57 different classes we could sign up for ranging from learning the best practices for processes (like project management and contingency operations planning), to understanding the different systems the Park Service uses, to learning new skills/tools (like PowerShell).

Each day started with a Welcome session in the large auditorium, where teams from the Washington Office would present on a subject followed by a Q&A. Then we would have our morning class, followed by lunch, and then 2 more classes in the afternoon. And then there would be a 1-hour evening session that ranged from Lightning Round Sessions to have quick discussions on a variety of topics to a meeting with all the IT people in our region.

All-in-all, the main point throughout the whole training was to utilize our agency contacts - each other. Even though we all work at different parks and might do things a little differently, we all have the same goal and are always willing to help one another.

You don't have to feel as disconnected as the first homesteaders did.

Stay in touch with us all the time! 

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Homestead National Monument of America
Upcoming Events
Special Events at Homestead National Monument of America:

November 29 - January 5 - Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures (Homestead Education Center)

Sunday, December 1st, 2:00 p.m. - Songs to Celebrate Hannukah: Tuffy Group (Homestead Education Center)

Sunday, December 8th, 2:00 p.m. - Traditional Swedish Folk Dancing: Linsborg Swedish Folk Dancers (Homestead Education Center)

Sunday, December 15th, 2:00 p.m. - Native American Songs and Winter Traditions - Jerome Kills Small (Homestead Education Center)

Tuesday, December 24th - Monument closes at 2:00 p.m.

Wednesday, December 25th - Monument is closed. 

Wednesday, January 1 - Monument is closed.

To learn more about events visit:

Hitching Posts at the Freeman School

Everyday we learn more about homesteaders and the history of the park itself. Earlier this year, we were contacted by Judy Reece, a former student at the Freeman School about a possible donation. She had two hitching posts from the Freeman School that had been in her family since they were dug up and offered to the public in the late 1940's. 

Caption: Two hitching posts donated to Homestead National Monument of America.

She told us there was a line of 15-20 posts connected with a chain along the east side of the school yard near the road. They were spaced about eight feet apart with alternating directions, so the horses would not kick each other. This was new information to the current employees at the park, even though these hitching posts would have been used while the monument was in operation. The best photograph we have of the posts is a blurry line in the background of a school photo dating around 1916. We know the posts were being used when Judy's father, Forrest Maranville, attended the school during the late 1910s' to early 1920's.

On November 1st, Judy and her husband develived the two hitching posts to the park where they have now been added to the museum collection.

Caption: Class photo at the Freeman School, ca. 1915-1917

2020 Events Calendar Published
Homestead National Monument of America's 2020 Events Calendar has been published! If you're looking for something fun to do, look no further! The calendar, detailed below, can be accessed at any point from the park website as well. Be sure to check it out for updates and new events!

2020 Theme: Women Homesteaders: Leading the Way to Suffrage

2020 Schedule of Events:

Special Exhibitions at the Education Center

December 2019 - January 2020: Iowa Roots, Global Impact: The Life and Legacy of George Washington Carver
February-May: David Plowden: A Sense of Place (Black and White Photo Exhibit)
June-August: Impact: Willa Cather (Mixed-Media Art Exhibit)
September-October: Celebrating Women Art Quilts Exhibit: Women's Suffrage and the 19th Amendment
November 23 - December 31: Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures


11 & 12 Sat-Sun 2:00 p.m. Film Festival:  The Origins of Oz 
18 & 19 Sat-Sun 2:00 p.m. Film Festival: The Wizard of Oz
19 Sunday 2:00 p.m.   Square Dance Workshop and Dance Session
25 & 26 Sat-Sun 2:00 p.m. Film Festival: The Woman Behind Little Women 
26 Sunday  2:00 p.m. Square Dance Workshop and Dance Session

1 & 2 Sat-Sun 2:00 p.m. Film Festival: Little Women
2 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Square Dance Workshop and Dance Session
8 & 9 Sat-Sun 2:00 p.m. Film Festival: One Woman, One Vote 
15 & 16 Sat-Sun 2:00 p.m. Film Festival: A League of Their Own (film)
22 Saturday 2:00 p.m. Film Festival: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
23 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Black History Month Program - Black Homesteaders of the Great   Plains


Sunday 2:00 p.m. Women's Suffrage and the Homestead Act - Blake Bell, Former Historian at Homestead National Monument of America  


18-26 Sat-Sun TBA  National Park Week
18 Saturday 2:00 p.m. Ranger Led Junior Ranger Program

1 & 2 Fri-Sat 8:00 a.m. Birds & Bagels
16 Saturday 7:00 a.m. Homestead Critter Count - BioBlitz
23 Saturday 10:00 a.m. Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival - Free Workshop
23 Saturday 12:00 p.m. Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival - Competition

5 & 6 Fri-Sat 8:00 a.m. Birds & Bagels
7 Sunday 1:00 p.m.  Ranger Program
14 Sunday 1:00 p.m. Ranger Program
15 Monday 2:00 p.m. U.S. Immigration Naturalization Ceremony - U.S. Flag Day
21 Sunday 1:00 p.m. Ranger Program
26-28 Fri-Sun TBA Homestead Days - Music, living history, farming demonstrations

4 Saturday 7:00 p.m. July 4th Heritage Campfire Program
11 Saturday 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program - Nature Detectives
11 Saturday 7:00 p.m. Heritage Campfire Program
18 Saturday 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program - Nature Detectives
18 Saturday 7:00 p.m. Heritage Campfire Program
25 Saturday 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program - Nature Detectives
25 Saturday 7:00 p.m. Heritage Campfire Program

1 Saturday 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program - Nature Detectives
1 Saturday 7:00 p.m. Heritage Campfire Program
8 Saturday 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program - Nature Detectives
8 Saturday 7:00 p.m. Heritage Campfire Program
23 Sunday 2:00 p.m. 19th Amendment Centennial Program  - Jonathan Fairchild - Historian at Homestead National Monument of America

5 Saturday 10-4 Living History Activities
6 Sunday 10:00 a.m. Cars of the Homestead Era 1900-1980's Car Show
7 Monday 10:00 a.m. Old Fashioned Spelling Bee at the Freeman School
17 Thursday 2:00 p.m. U.S. Immigration Naturalization Ceremony - Constitution Day
26 Saturday TBA Public Lands Day Volunteer Project

3 Saturday 1:00 p.m. Prairie Work Day - A Prairie Appreciation Week Event
11 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Family History Month Program - Special Speaker
24 Saturday 6:00 p.m. Howling Homestead


1 Sunday 2:00 p.m. American Indian Heritage Month Program- Special Speaker 
29 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures- Special Speaker
6 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures - Special Speaker
13 Sunday 2:00 p.m. Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures - Special Speaker
Homestead National Monument of America would like to acknowledge and thank our many partners, volunteers, and the community for their support in making these programs and events possible, including the Friends of Homestead, the Hevelone Foundation, the Coffin Family Foundation, Humanities Nebraska, the Nebraska Arts Council, America's National Parks, and others.

Season's Greetings from Homestead National Monument of America

Getting to Know our Wild Neighbors and their Habits: Bats!

Homestead National Monument of America has entered into an agreement with the University of Nebraska to learn about the bats of Homestead and their habits with an emphasis on the threatened Northern Long Ear bat.
Goals of the study are to answer these questions:
  • What species of bats are present at the monument and what months are they active? Do bats hibernate at HOME?
  • What is the health of the bats? Is white-nosed syndrome present?
  • What areas of the park are being used by the bats? Are there certain hazard/dead trees that should be protected?
In order to answer those questions University of Nebraska graduate student Christopher Fill under the direction of Dr. Craig Allen has utilized several different monitoring techniques. Starting in July 2018 acoustic bat detectors were placed throughout the monument. Multiple detectors were placed in varying habitats to determine how foraging density varies over different habitats.

In August 2019 the University hired a contractor (who had a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife to work with threatened and endangered bats) with the agreement funds to gain a better understanding of the exact habitats that Northern Long Eared bats. Chris Fill worked with the contractor to mist net bats at the monument. During the seven nights that they sampled 55 bats were captured representing 5 different species. The most numerous species was the Evening Bat with 28 individuals captured. Other species that were captured included 14 Big Brown Bats, 7 Eastern Red Bats, 5 Northern Long Eared Bats and one Hoary Bat. Four of the northern long eared bats were fitted with transmitters so they could be tracked.

In addition to the work that Christopher is doing the agreement was amended to have Dr. Eric North, Assistant Professor of Practice, quantify the amount of large woody debris that is found in the woodland at the park. The work that his technicians completed over the summer will better give the managers a better idea of potential habitat that may be utilized by bats. The two projects together will hopefully paint a clearer picture of the habitat of the bats.

The results showing the species present and their habitats are very important and useful to the NPS helping managers determine how management actions could impact the bats and how to avoid negative impacts.

Homesteading in the News

  - Charles Nelson discusses an African-American homesteader community in Florida under the Southern Homestead Act of 1866. 


 - Conserving homesteads, and continuing their legacy of agricultural production today!

- On Land Grant colleges, part of the sweeping set of laws passed in 1862 along with the Homestead Act, in order to provide Americans with opportunities to encourage western settlement and farming.

- Letters of a Woman Homesteader is the account of Elinore Pruitt Stewart's efforts to homestead in Wyoming in the early 1900s.

- Tractors are a homesteaders best friend! 
Natural Resources Corner - 
Dragonfly Mercury Project

On Tuesday, October 8, 2019 Mrs. Schaaf's Beatrice Middle School science class assisted Natural Resource Specialist Jesse Bolli in collecting dragonfly larvae for the Dragonfly Mercury Project. The Dragonfly Mercury Project is a nationwide citizen science project where scientists use the data to determine areas at risk from mercury contamination. The larvae were collected from Graff Pond by the Homestead Heritage Center.  Once they were collected they were measured and froze so they could be shipped off to a lab where they will be analyzed to determine how much mercury they have accumulated in their bodies.  The research helps the NPS understand the risks posed by mercury to park resources.

Dragonflies are excellent indicators of mercury levels for several reasons.  They have a long life span under water (up to 9 years) during that time they eat many other aquatic invertebrates accumulating mercury as they age.  They are also present in most water bodies and easy to be collected.  

The report on the mercury levels is expected in late 2020.  Data from 2016 showed that the average level in dragonflies collect from Cub Creek within the park was 64 parts per billion, dry weight.  The nationwide average in 2016 was 137 parts per billion, dry weight so Homestead was well below the nationwide.