Homestead National Monument of America
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February Newsletter
News from the Homestead
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In February, it may be cold outside, but Homestead is heating up! We've been keeping busy with events, grants, and planning for the year! We will be celebrating Black History Month all February long, with a social media campaign, certain selections for the film festival, and a program about Black Homesteaders on the Great Plains. This month we also celebrate Presidents' Day, so we hope you will enjoy reading different Homestead Quotes from Presidents who were in office during the administration of the Homestead Act.

We hope you will join us for one or all of our wonderful upcoming events - like the final Square Dance session called by Lanny Weaklend, a part of the Healthy Parks, Healthy People Initiative, or one of the many great options in the Film Festival. To learn more about upcoming  events and programs, visit our website here.

On behalf of all the staff at Homestead, wishing you a warm, safe winter season,

Mark Engler, Superintendent
Gusta Strohm "First Homestead" Painting Conservation Completed!

Thanks to generous support from the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Friends of Homestead, and the skilled labor of the Ford Conservation Center, a conservation project which sought to restore a 130-year old painting of America's first homesteading family at their cabin on the site of America's first homestead - the present-day site of Homestead National Monument of America - is now complete. This painting, by Gusta Strohm, was exhibited at multiple venues in the late nineteenth-century before being displayed and stored at the U.S. Capitol building. A congressional representative of the state of Nebraska shipped it to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1917, where it remained for decades before being delivered to Homestead National Monument of America in 2011.

This historic painting of Daniel Freeman, the first homesteader on the first homestead, is a valuable part of our cultural heritage, and conserving it met the DAR Special Project Grant focus of historic preservation, education, and patriotism.

Homestead National Monument of America's museum staff prepared the Strohm painting for transportation to the Ford Conservation Center in July of 2019. The Ford Conservation Center is a regional conservation center, and a division of History Nebraska, which is the State Historical Society.

Kenneth Be, head of the Paintings Conservation Laboratory there provided conservation services, making the painting more structurally secure by mending the holes and distortions, lining the canvas to a second, more stable support canvas, as well as cleaning the grime with aqueous-based cleaning solutions in order to restore brighter colors and the original artistic intent.

This conservation process is now complete, and is only awaiting return transportation from the Ford Conservation Center back to Homestead National Monument of America on February 13th. The painting will be placed on exhibit behind the glass window into the collections storage area of the Homestead Heritage Center museum, for visitors to appreciate this piece of American cultural heritage, with interpretive text highlighting the historic nature of the object, and thanking the DAR and the Friends of Homestead for their contributions in conserving it. The Friends of Homestead will host a special reception in the Spring of 2020, inviting the DAR for their generous support with this important project.

President Harry S. Truman, A Would-Be Homesteader?

Did You Know?

While it is thought that one out of every four or five people in the United States today descends from a homesteader, no Presidents of the United States or any of their closer relatives are known to have homesteaded.

Yet, there was one President who would have become a homesteader starting in 1911 if luck had been with him. But it wasn't. This would-be homesteader was Harry S. Truman (1884-1972). To follow is the little-known story of how our 33rd President might have ended up becoming a homesteader instead of President, plus a brief history of the highly-desired area of Indian land where he would have settled.

The place was Tripp County in south-central South Dakota, just north of the state's border with Nebraska, and the circumstances involved another opening in 1911 to homesteaders of what had been part of the previously very large Rosebud Indian Reservation. The early 1900s were a time when many Indian reservations in the United States were being divided up by the federal government and allotted to individual Indians as private property, with any additional "surplus" land becoming available for other uses, notably homesteading. What was driving this in South Dakota and elsewhere was strong pressure to make more land available nationwide for eager homesteaders. And few places were more sought after at this time than the region where Truman wanted to homestead in 1911.

The Rosebud Indian Reservation that drew so much attention, including Truman's, had been established in 1889 after the United States' partition of the very large Great Sioux Reservation created in 1868 by the  Treaty of Fort Laramie. It originally included the western half of South Dakota, taking in all the land in that state west of the Missouri River, as well as parts of northern Nebraska and eastern Montana. And even when first divided, the portion that became the Rosebud Indian Reservation was still very large and thus became a target for further reduction under changing U.S. land laws and Indian policies.

Connected to Truman's would-be homesteading venture in 1911 was President Theodore Roosevelt's earlier August 24, 1904 Proclamation 820 concerning the Rosebud Indian Reservation. It stated:

"all of the said lands which shall remain unallotted to Indians, unselected by any state and unreserved for townsite purposes, be disposed of under the general provisions of the homestead laws of the United States, and be opened to settlement, entry and occupation."

The result was that nearly a million acres of the Rosebud Reservation were to be opened for homesteading though not all at once. Portions of the "surplus" Rosebud Indian lands were to be made available in stages and would be done under a lottery system. Would-be homesteaders would apply to get their names including in the lottery drawing and then wait for the results. Only those whose names were drawn were allowed to file for the relatively limited number of possible homesteads compared to tremendous demand. It was news of the 1911 lottery that caught the attention of Harry Truman that led to his unsuccessful attempt to become a homesteader.

But to add more to the story, it is likely that the future President had known something about these prime South Dakota lands well before 1911. Seven years earlier, there had been widely-published stories carried in newspapers about the 1904 opening of part of the Rosebud Indian Reservation to homesteaders. Articles about that event were carried widely in newspapers all across the country, including in several Missouri papers that may have been seen by Truman.

For instance, the St. Louis [Missouri] Globe-Democrat newspaper, published a lengthy story in its July 10, 1904 edition about what was happening in South Dakota, including conceding that Indians were losing their traditional lands to homesteaders. The piece was headlined: "Thousands of Applicants for Homesteads in the Famous Rosebud Indian Reservation."
It told that around 125,000 people had registered for a chance to obtain "about 24,000 homesteads" of 160 acres each that were to be made available to homesteaders, thus nearly four million acres total. The 1904 article reported:

"When last Tuesday morning, July 5, Commissioner Richards of the general land office threw open the doors of the city hall of Bonesteel [South Dakota] and formally declared his office open for the filing of applications for homesteads of 160 acres each on the famous Rosebud Indian reservation, he unsealed the land for which white men have sighed and died for half a century, and one where the fierce Sioux fought for in the earlier days, but of which money finally secured possession. Lying in the most fertile part of South Dakota just west of the Missouri river, the land is the choicest of the state, and is probably the finest body of land which the government ever took from the Indians and gave to the whites."

The latter blunt statement was further emphasized by the newspaper article also reporting on the reaction of some Indians to the impending opening of part of their reservation to thousands of eager homesteaders. Contained under a subheading entitled "Indians Say Farewell" was this poignant story:

"There were some picturesque features connected with the opening of the reserve and not the least of these was the dramatic incident of the farewell dance of the Sioux Indians, which they gave on the ancient dancing grounds of the tribe. For centuries warriors of this tribe had danced on the banks of the Ponca river, and when it became necessary for them to leave the country and go to other reservations, the braves gave a farewell dance and a dog feast. Old Swift Bear, the aged chief of the band, made a dramatic speech maligning the whites for taking the Indians' homes from them, and then, covering his face with his blanket, left the dance tepee, declaring that he would go to the Pine River agency of the tribe to spend the remainder of this days."

And so the homesteaders came. This particular region of South Dakota was so sought after by homesteaders that the 1904 opening only whetted the appetite for more reservation land to be made available for settlers. Thus, it set the stage for the later opening that occurred in 1911, which drew in a future American President, Harry S. Truman. He personally came to South Dakota that year and entered his name in the land lottery, though with unsuccessful results.
The December 2019 issue of this Newsletter quoted President Truman's 1948 comments about the benefit of homesteading and how it give people the opportunity to acquire land and establish family farms. One wonders if his own personal memories of his attempt to homestead 37 years earlier were going through his mind?

Former Artist-in-Residence Judy Thompson's Homestead Collection Coming HOME

Judy Thompson is an artist from Illinois who specializes in watercolors capturing the beauty of the Great Plains. Judy spent time with Homestead National Monument as the Artist-in-Residence in 2010, and credits her residency here as having a huge impact on her development as an artist. Judy's  Homestead Series has toured throughout the Midwest, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act. Thompson's artwork, seen above, was chosen as the cover art for the Laura Ingalls Wilder's Pioneer Girl series of
books published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press.

The Making of the Homestead Series

Video: The Making of the Homestead Series

We are pleased to announce that after nearly a decade touring the art galleries of the country, Thompson's Homestead Series  is coming back to Homestead National Monument of America! While one of twelve paintings is already on permanent display at the monument, the other eleven will be donated and exhibited later in 2020. Stay tuned for more information, and click here for a sneak peek of the series!

A Sense of Place Exhibit on display through May courtesy of Humanities Iowa

David Plowden: A Sense of Place is on exhibit at the Homestead Education Center from February 4 through the end of May. This exhibit is on loan courtesy of Humanities Iowa. The exhibit is a collection of 50 mounted 16" x 20" black and white photographs of rural and small town Iowa by photographer David Plowden. Dating from the mid-1980s, these photographs capture the rural Iowa landscape. 

For decades, the award-winning photographer has recorded America's our country's vanishing landscapes and artifacts. His iconic photography of landscapes, buildings, and individuals collectively define life in 20th-century urban and rural America. Since 1952, when he first began to photograph steam locomotives, David Plowden has studied, documented, and commented upon the transformation of America. Plowden, self-described "archeologist with a step ahead of the wrecking ball," noted a sense of urgency "to record those parts of our heritage which seem to be receding as quickly as the view from the rear of a speeding train. I fear that we are eradicating the evidence of our past accomplishments so quickly that in time we may well lost the sense of who we are."

Homestead National Monument of America invites you to visit this exhibit while it is on display between now and May, at the Education Center!

Homestead Maintenance Division Hard at Work Clearing Ice and Snow!

Maintenance crews have been busy keeping up with Mother Nature in January. While the prairie is beautiful covered in snow, parking lots can become hazardous and maintenance works to make sure they are safe for our visitors!
We remind everyone to be cautious when walking outdoors. 

Here are some general Winter safety tips:
1. Plan ahead when travelling or commuting. Give yourself plenty of extra time - traffic moves slowly in winter conditions.
2. Wear appropriate footwear - footwear made of rubber and neoprene provide better traction than plastic and leather soles. Wear flat-soled shoes.
3.  Be careful when entering and existing buildings and vehicles, or using stairs. Move slowly, use handrails or the car for support. Keep your center of gravity over your support leg.
4. Walk on designated walkways - do not take shortcuts over snow and ice.
5. Walk safely! Take short, shuffling "penguin" steps. Keep your hands out of your pockets. If you do fall - avoid using outstretched arms to brace yourself. Bend your back and head forward to avoiding hitting it on the ground.

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 and Exhibits at Homestead National Monument of America:


February 5 - May 31 - David Plowden: A Sense of Place (Homestead Education Center)


Saturday February 1st  and Sunday February 2nd, 2:00 p.m. - Film Festival: Little Women (Homestead Heritage Center)

Sunday February 2nd, 2:00 p.m.   - Square Dance Workshop and Dance Session (Homestead Education Center)

Saturday February 8th and Sunday February 9th, 2:00 p.m. -  Film Festival: One Woman, One Vote  (Homestead Heritage Center)

Sat February 15th and Sunday February 16th, 2:00 p.m. - Film Festival: A League of Their Own (Homestead Heritage Center)

Saturday February 22nd, 2:00 p.m. - Film Festival: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice  (Homestead Heritage Center)

Sunday February 23rd, 2:00 p.m. Black History Month Program - Black Homesteaders of the Great   Plains (Homestead Education Center)

To learn more about events visit:
Homestead  Celebrates  Black History Month!

Homestead National Monument of America is proud to commemorate Black History Month this February, celebrating the rich legacy of African American history - the stories and individuals that came before us. We honor all of our nation's history and work tirelessly to ensure that previously underrepresented stories continue to be told and remembered.

Over the past several years, Homestead National Monument and Nicodemus National Historic Site have partnered with the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, on a long-term research study - the Black Homesteader Project. This project sought to learn, preserve, and share the story of African American homesteaders of the Great Plains. The project had case studies in six key Black homesteading communities: Blackdom, New Mexico; Dearfield, Colorado; DeWitty, Nebraska; Nicodemus, Kansas; Empire, Wyoming; and Sully County, South Dakota. After years of research, that project is now completed!

This month, Homestead is hosting several events and programs to celebrate Black History Month, including hosting a speaker from the Center for Great Plains Studies, who will present their findings at the Education Center on Sunday, February 23rd at 2:00 p.m. We will be sharing a social media campaign on this project throughout the month of February as well - watch for it on Facebook! Finally, the Film Festival will conclude on Saturday, February 22nd at 2:00 p.m. with a documentary on Ida B. Wells, an African American journalist and feminist who fought for civil rights and women's suffrage in America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Author Ann Weisgarber's Generosity to Provide Field Trips for Culler Middle School!

Last year the Hevelone Foundation provided the Friends of Homestead a $4,000 grant to bring to Homestead National Monument of America Author/Writer Ann Weisgarber.  Ann's book The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, is being turned into a major motion picture starring Viola Davis.  When we original scheduled Ann to come to Beatrice to talk to her book,  her agent told us we could schedule her for one day.   

It turned out when October rolled around she spent six days with us. Ann talked to the general public at the Beatrice Public Library, worked with students at Beatrice High School, presented at the Center for Great Plains Studies on the campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and gave two presentations at Homestead. She had also talked to a group of 8th Graders at Culler Middle School in Lincoln. Why Culler? Alisha Chab, a Social Studies teacher there, served as a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher at Homestead and was part of our 2019 summer staff. 

Throughout Ann's stay in southeast Nebraska she and her husband Rob were very inspired and touched by the students.  While at Culler Middle School, Ann and Rob learned that the students had never been to Homestead!   Ann and Rob wanted the Culler Students to have the opportunity to visit the monument. So, they provided the Friends of Homestead a generous donation to cover the transportation costs.  This donation will pay for six charter buses to bring the Culler Students to Homestead April 2 & 3, 2020!

The Homestead Act Presidents

The Homestead Act was in effect from the presidency of President Lincoln to the presidency of President Reagan - between 1862 and 1986! In honor of Presidents' Day, we wanted to highlight the many Presidents who oversaw distribution of land under the Homestead Act. 
Between being signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln (in 1862) to its final years under President Reagan (1986), 24 different Presidents sat in office while the Homestead Act was law.
The full list of Homestead Act Presidents follows, with select quotes from some of these Presidents that talk to the Homestead Act. If you'd like to read more quotes afterwards, you can find a more complete collection on our website:
01. Abraham Lincoln  (1861-1865),  "I think [the Homestead Law is] worthy of consideration, and that the wild lands of the country should be distributed so that every man should have the means and opportunity of benefiting his condition."
02. Andrew Johnson  (1865-1869),  "Long experience and earnest discussion have resulted in the conviction that the early development of our agricultural resources and the diffusion of an energetic population over our vast territory are objects of far greater importance to the national growth and prosperity than the proceeds of the sale of the land to the highest bidder in open market."
03. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877), 
04. Rutherford B. Hayes  (1877-1881),
05. James A. Garfield  (1881-1881),
06. Chester A. Arthur  (1881-1885),
07. Grover Cleveland  (1885-1889),
08. Benjamin Harrison  (1889-1893),
09. Grover Cleveland  (1893-1897),
10. William McKinley  (1897-1901),
11. Theodore Roosevelt  (1901-1909),
12. William Howard Taft  (1909-1913),
13. Woodrow Wilson  (1913-1921),
14. Warren G. Harding  (1921-1923),
15. Calvin Coolidge  (1923-1929),
16. Herbert Hoover  (1929-1933),
17. Franklin D. Roosevelt  (1933-1945),
18. Harry S. Truman  (1945-1953),  "The Homestead Act of 1862 provided [immigrant settlers] 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."
19. Dwight D. Eisenhower  (1953-1961),  "Because of the unique exposure of the farmer to economic forces over which he has no control, and the dependency of the nation upon our agricultural economy, the Federal government must concern itself in practical ways to assist in assuring a sound farm economy and income [...] one application of this principle a hundred years ago: A Federal Homestead Act, passed under Lincoln, providing free quarter sections of land to settlers."
20. John F. Kennedy ( 1961-1963),  "One hundred years ago the Congress passed the Homestead Act, probably the single greatest stimulus to national development ever enacted."
21. Lyndon B. Johnson  (1963-1969),  "Americans have always built for the future. That is why we established land grant colleges and passed the Homestead Act to open our Western lands more than 100 years ago."
22. Richard Nixon  (1969-1974),
23. Gerald R. Ford 
(1974-1977),  " I think all of us recognize that America's future depends upon America's farmers. Our national heritage was created by farmers. [...] Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which embodied our fundamental belief in the importance of the American family farm. Lincoln was so right."
  24. Jimmy Carter  (1977-1981),
  25. Ronald Reagan  (1981-1989),  "Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Homestead Act that ensured that the great western prairies of America would be the realm of independent, property-owning citizens -- a mightier guarantee of freedom is difficult to imagine."
Have a happy Presidents' Day!

Homesteading in the News

- Former Homestead NMA Artist-in-Residence Judy Thompson's watercolors are currently on exhibit in Iowa!

- The opera "Proving Up" tells the story of Nebraska homesteaders attempting to complete the requirements of the Homestead Act of 1862 to claim their 160 acres of land.  

- Learn more about the Freeman Homestead Nature Trail in at... Saguaro National Park! We were just as amazed to learn there are multiple Freeman Homestead sites in the National Park Service as you are!

 - A fantastic overview of the history of Agriculture in America - and what may come next!

- Learn more about the homesteading history of... 1900s Florida?! Yes, Florida was one of the 30 Homestead states!