News from the Homestead
January 2022

With January, we welcome the beginning of another new year, and 2022 promises plenty to get excited about here at Homestead National Historical Park.

Our theme for the year is Cultivating Community. We invite you to the park to learn more. We hope you will join us for one or all of our wonderful upcoming events and programs. Please note that the 2022 Special Event calendar has been published as well. To learn more about this year's events and programs, you can visit our website Homestead National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (
2022 Special Events and Programs Schedule
Cultivating Community at Homestead National Historical Park

Special Exhibitions at the Education Center:
January - February: Promontory Point and the Golden Spike
March: Descendants of DeWitty, Nebraska
April - May: National Parks Photo Contest Exhibit
June - July: Celebrating Our National Parks: A Woven Tribute
August - October: Marketing Dakota
November - December: Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures

17 - Monday - 1:00 p.m. MLK Day of Service - Bird Walk and Survey -

27 - Sunday - 2:00 p.m. Cultivating Connection: Black Homesteading in America

13 - Sunday - 2:00 p.m. Women's History Month Program

16-24 - Sat-Sun - All Week National Park Week
21 - Thursday - 12:30 p.m. National Park Week Naturalization Ceremony
23 - Saturday - 2:00 p.m. National Junior Ranger Day - Ranger-led Junior Ranger Program
30 - Saturday - 2:00 p.m. Arbor Day Woodland Walk - Ranger-led Nature Walk

6&7 - Fri-Sat - 8:00 a.m. Bird Walk
21 - Saturday - 8:00 a.m. Homestead Critter Count - BioBlitz Bird Walk
21 - Saturday - 10:00 a.m. Homestead Critter Count - BioBlitz Plant Walk
21 - Saturday - 12:30 p.m. Homestead Critter Count - BioBlitz Insect Walk
28 - Saturday - 10:00 a.m. Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival - Free Workshop
28 - Saturday - 12:00 p.m. Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival - Competition

1-30 - Daily - 2:00 p.m. Ranger Talks
3&4 - Fri-Sat - 8:00 a.m. Bird Walk
14 - Tuesday - 2:00 p.m. Flag Day Naturalization Ceremony
24-26 - Fri-Sun - TBA Homestead Days

1-31 - Daily - 2:00 p.m. Ranger Talks
4 - Monday - 7:00 p.m. July 4th Heritage Campfire Program
9 - Saturday - 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program
9 - Saturday - 7:00 p.m. Campfire Program - TBD
16 - Saturday - 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program
16 - Saturday - 7:00 p.m. Campfire Program - TBD
23 - Saturday - 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program
23 - Saturday - 7:00 p.m. Campfire Program - TBD
30 - Saturday - 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program
30 - Saturday - 7:00 p.m. Campfire Program - TBD

1-31 - Daily - 2:00 p.m. Ranger Talks
6 - Saturday - 10:00 a.m. Kids in Parks Program
6 - Saturday - 7:00 p.m. Campfire Program - TBD
25 - Thursday - 2:00 p.m. National Park Service Founders Day Program

3 - Saturday - 10-4 Living History Extravaganza
5 - Monday - 10:00 a.m. Old Fashioned Spelling Bee at the Freeman School
17 - Saturday - 2:00 p.m. Constitution Day Naturalization Ceremony
25 - Saturday - TBA Public Lands Day Volunteer Project - Deer Survey

1 - Saturday - 1:00 p.m. Prairie Plant Seed Harvest
XX - Sunday - 2:00 p.m. Researching Your Family's Homestead Connection - Bob King, Bureau of Land Management
22 - Saturday - 4:00 p.m. Howling Homestead

13 - Sunday - 2:00 p.m. American Indian Heritage Month Program - Special Speaker

4 - Sunday - 2:00 p.m. Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures - Special Speaker
11 - Sunday - 2:00 p.m. Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures - Special Speaker
18 - Sunday - 2:00 p.m. Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures - Special Speaker
Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service - Ranger Led Bird Walk
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, January 17th, 2022, we held a ranger led bird walk that explored the winter diversity of birds at the park!

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a day where all Americans are encouraged to volunteer to improve their community. Community or citizen science initiatives are a great way to combine service and recreation.

Because of the contributions of citizen scientists like you logging their findings into, we know that during the winter months 76 different species of birds have been seen in Gage County, Nebraska.

With its variety of habitats, Homestead National Historical Park is home to many different species of birds, coming in all shapes and sizes. Some live in the area year-round, some spend the summer here, and others migrate through on their way to other areas.

You can learn more about birds at HOME by visiting our website at Birds - Homestead National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (

Jesse's Jottings - 2021 Accomplishments
January is a great time to reflect on the successes and challenges of the previous year.  When thinking about the natural resources of the park there were many successes.   

Here are a few: 

  • The Fire Management Plan for the park was updated to add the woodland to the prescribed fire rotation.  With prescribed fire it is hoped that the biodiversity of the woodland can be improved and the regeneration of the native bur oak increases. 

  • An agreement was entered into with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to monitor particulate matter that is 2.5 microns in diameter (pollutants such as smoke).  That data is available on .  This data gives visitors real time information that they can use in determining if it is a good day or not to visit the park. 

  • In 2020 Fatmucket and Plain Pocketbook mussels, which had been extirpated from Cub Creek, were reintroduced.  In June of 2021 the creek was surveyed to see if the reintroduction was successful.  After eight days of crawling up the creek the determination was the introduced mussel were growing and it was warranted to stock more.  On July 13, 2021 – 900 more mussels, 450 Fatmuckets and 450 Plain Pocketbook mussels were delivered from the Nebraska Game and Parks, North Platte Fish Hatchery and stocked into Cub Creek.  Here is an article that was published in Park Science that talks more about it.  Partnership Is Helping Us Restore Mussel Diversity in Cub Creek (U.S. National Park Service) (   

Here is to 2022!   
100 Years of Willa Cather - One of Ours (1922)
Willa Cather remains one of Nebraska's most celebrated authors, especially for her depictions of homesteading life here. 2022 marks a century since the release of Willa Cather's One of Ours (1922), for which she won the Pulitzer Price in 1923.

Willa Cather and her family lived on a homestead just outside of Red Cloud, Nebraska, when she was a young girl. Like approximately fifty percent of homesteaders, her parents failed to successfully prove up their homestead claim, instead moving into the town of Red Cloud itself. But the experience, and life in rural Nebraska heavily imprinted itself on her life and works, including in One of Ours, as well as My Antonia, The Song of the Lark, and O Pioneers!

In One of Ours, Cather tells the story of Claude Wheeler, a farmer whose father had come to southeast Nebraska to homestead, and who had encouraged other farmers to take up homesteads. Cather writes of scenes that would have been familiar to Daniel Freeman, or to visitors here at the park - cottonwood groves, osage orange hedgerows along the borders of homesteads, of plows and reapers, corn fields and winter wheat.

While his farm is successful, Claude can't help but wonder if there's something else out there for him. When World War I breaks out, he decides to enlist, and go "Over There."
Homesteads Across the National Park Service:
"Mormon Row" Homesteads at Grand Teton National Park
While we may be located on the site of the first homestead, we're far from the only National Park with a homestead within the park boundaries! Odds are good that when you're visiting a park in a former homestead state, there were homesteaders in the area. This month we're headed to Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming, to view a community of Latter-Day Saints homesteaders there.

While the first members of the LDS Church entered the Salt Lake Valley in the late 1840s, the earliest federal titles to land weren’t issued until 1870 – Utah was the last area in the continental U.S. where the public domain was opened to private ownership. In fact, a land office wasn’t even opened in Utah until 1869. Prior to that the Utah Territorial Assembly governed land ownership, establishing surveys and titles – but these were not inherently recognized on federal public lands. When the federal land office opened in Salt Lake City in 1869, Utah residents were able to claim homesteads, purchase lands, and claim preemption rights – essentially asserting the rights to land which they had been “squatting” on until then. At this point homesteaders were finally able to file claims, through either the Homestead Act or the Desert Lands Act, in addition to buying out or “commuting” claims. This is why when you’re doing genealogy and using Homestead records you might see that someone had been on the land for ten, fifteen, even twenty years – well beyond the required residency of five years.

From the Salt Lake Valley, Mormon migration and settlement patterns began to spread widely in the late nineteenth century. Mormon homesteaders tended to cluster their farms in “colonies” – designed group settlement from the beginning. From the 1860s, hundreds of new colonies and settlements were established throughout the homesteading west – Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, Montana. The 1880 census report noted that “Utah presents us with a case dissimilar to any of the other territories – a case of steady, regular growth due almost entirely to its agricultural capabilities.” As homesteaders claimed more land, those who wanted to farm had to look to neighboring homesteading states to stake their own claims in the late 1800s.

Pictured here is a barn on the Moulton homestead, in what was then the community of Grovont, Wyoming – established in the 1890s by 27 LDS homesteader families who migrated from Idaho. James I. May initiated the migration, by settling his extended family and neighbors. By 1896, he had staked a claim, along with the families of James Budge and Leroy McBride – all three successfully proved up, receiving 160 acres each by 1903. They set the town up on a north-south bearing along a central road, leading to the town being referred to as “Mormon Row” – now a part of Grand Teton National Park.

A post office was established in 1901 as more families settled along the row, and the office shifted from homestead to homestead. By 1915, there were 27 families living in the area, all with 160 acre claims. Agriculture largely consisted of oats, barley, hay, wheat, and sheep. A church was built in 1916, and a school just south of the church in 1922 – right in the center of the community. With the establishment of Grand Teton National Park in 1950, new settlement ceased, and the land use changed from agriculture to tourism by the 1970s, with families moving out of the area by the 1990s, and the area now as a historic district as an example of Mormon settlement and community formation in the 1890s. 
Maintenance repairs damage from Derecho
A series of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes struck the Midwest on December 15, 2021. That storm was referred to as a derecho - sort of like an inland hurricane. The derecho damaged approximately 50 feet of the demonstration fence which illustrates different types of fences common on homesteads across the country. That 50 foot section, with approximately six posts, was knocked over and significantly damaged. HOME's maintenance division repaired the fence by replacing fencing and posts which were damaged beyond repair.

The repair work entailed drilling the posts out of the existing holes, and then putting new posts in the same holes. Replaced materials were "in-kind" - the same material and same dimensions as the fence and posts that were damaged. Staff from the maintenance division used a skid loader with an auger to drill the damaged posts out.

We're grateful to the maintenance division for all the hard work they put in to keep the park, its facilities, trails, and amenities in tip top shape.
This month’s column is about a homesteader who led a most unusual life. It is the story of Thomas B. Dempster (1843-1928) who served in the 7th Cavalry in the U.S. Army under General George Armstrong Custer in 1876 but survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn. How this happened and the intriguing story of Dempster’s life both before and after his association with Custer, including his time as a homesteader, follows.

The Idaho State death certificate for Thomas B. Dempster reports that he died at age 84 on June 26, 1928 in Boise, Idaho, with his birth having been on September 3, 1843 in Scotland. A military tombstone marks his burial location at Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise, Idaho. Besides listing his name, it includes information on his Civil War unit: “Co. H. 3. N.Y. L.A.,” referring to Company H of the 3rd New York Light Artillery. His death certificate noted that he was a veteran of the Civil War.

Thomas B. Dempster’s obituary in the June 27, 1928 issue of the Idaho Daily Stateman newspaper (p. 11) of Boise, Idaho provides more information on his early life and immigration to the United States. It follows:

“Thomas B. Dempster died at the home of R. S. Bumgardner on Vine street, at the age of 86 [84] years. Mr. Dempster was born in Scotland and came to the United States when he was 4 years old [ca. 1847]. He is survived by a cousin in New York. He was a veteran of the Civil war.”

Thomas B. Dempster, at age 19, enlisted on November 5, 1861, in Battalion H of the 3rd New York Artillery at Rome in New York State. He served in that unit until being mustered out on June 24, 1865 at Richmond, Virginia. It seems likely that he would have been in several battles during the war, with those possibly mentioned in his Civil War pension file that would be in the National Archives.

Two years after the Civil War ended Dempster enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was initially stationed at Brooklyn, New York. Records show that he served on the USS Portsmouth soon after his enlistment. This was a large wooden “sloop of war” sailing ship in service in the United States Navy during the mid-to-late 19th century.

By the spring of 1869, Dempster was assigned to the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. Records through mid-1871 continue to report him being there with the rank of private. At that time, Thomas B. Dempster would have served in a variety of necessary government missions.

By December of 1871, he was stationed back at the Marine Barracks in Brooklyn, New York, with Dempster reported by March of 1872, as serving as a private on the USS Canandaigua. This was another large wooden “sloop of war” sailing ship that saw service in the Civil War. But by 1872, it was in use for service in the West Indies and Gulf of Mexico during which time it apparently made occasional stops at the Navy Yard in Pensacola, Florida. That may have led to Dempster’s next assignment.
His Marine Corps records for December 1872 recorded him as stationed at the Pensacola Navy Yard as a Corporal. Yet he was back again holding the rank of private while stationed at the same Navy Yard in Pensacola in May of 1873. That month, at age 29, he was mustered out of service. By then, Dempster, had spent most of his time since 1861 in some form of military service. Yet that would not be the end of it. Less than a year later he would be back in military service. And he would do it from Idaho Territory.

On February 21, 1874, at Boise (likely at Fort Boise), Dempster again voluntarily entered the U.S. Army. His later military pension records report that he served in Company F of the 7th Regiment of the U.S. Cavalry. This was one of 12 such companies of the 7th Regiment that were headquartered at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory during 1873-1876.

The 7th Regiment, starting on February 26, 1867, was under the command of General George Armstrong Custer. He had served as a Union Army general during the Civil War, including in Virginia shortly before the war’s end in April of 1865. Custer would subsequently remain commander of the 7th Regiment until being killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in eastern Montana Territory on June 28, 1876. He was the most famous of the 268 Cavalrymen and their Indian scouts who died in that legendary battle, with the men under Custer being from five companies of the 7th Regiment: Companies C, E, I, L – and Dempster’s Company F.
This presents a mystery. If Thomas B. Dempster’s military pension record is correct, how did he survive? And what other evidence is there for his association with Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn?

On August 11, 1911, the following story appeared in The Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane, Washington (p. 9):

LONE SURVIVOR CUSTER FIGHT: Working on Some Placer Claims Near Stites.
STITES, Idaho, Aug. 2.—Thomas B. Dempster, the only survivor of Custer’s command before its last battle with the Indians and a pioneer miner of Idaho county [Idaho], has gone of a month’s visit to Lander, Wyo., and from there will go the Soldier’s home before returning to his placer claims on Leggett creek, near Newsome, this county, where he has worked with James Surridge for the last 10 years.”

The wording about Dempster being the “only survivor of Custer’s command before its last battle with the Indians” is both intriguing and ambiguous. It could include the possibility that Dempster was (luckily!) off normal duty on the day of the battle, perhaps being ill or on a special work detail. But what really happened is unknown.

Also illusive is how long Thomas B. Dempster served in Company F after the famous 1876 battle? And did the annihilation of Company F lead to his being reassigned to another Company within the 7th Regiment?

I was unable to determine when Dempster ended his service with the 7th Regiment, and he appears not to have been included in the 1880 census. But in 1886, the reconstructed census of Idaho (found in lists him at Boise, Idaho. The evidence is a money order registered in his name, but whether he was a civilian at this time is unclear. His age at that time would have been about 43 years old.
Otherwise, by sometime in the 1880s he lived in Idaho County, Idaho (north of Boise) where the prior-quoted 1911 newspaper article told that he was a “pioneer miner.”

By early November of 1889, Dempster was living at or near the community of Clearwater in Idaho County, Idaho. That fall, on October 22, 1889, he was named as one of the witnesses to provide proof that Daniel K. Gant had met the requirements to receive a homestead in Idaho County, Idaho. Thus, Dempster must have been a resident of that area for some time, perhaps engaged partly in mining near Clearwater. After 1889, he apparently continued living in the same area for several more years as he became a homesteader there.

On October 12, 1897, Thomas B. Dempster was still living in Idaho County, Idaho when he filed his own notice to provide proof that he had also met the requirements to receive a homestead. His claim for 160 acres was only a few miles from Daniel K. Gant’s homestead. Just when Dempster first settled on his homestead claim would be reported in his Homestead casefile in the National Archives. Because of his past, Thomas B. Dempster was likely able to substitute up to four years of his extensive prior military service for the five-year requirement to live on a homestead in the late 1800s. Thus, he may have filed for his homestead as late as the mid-1890s instead of before that. And in his case, he may have been mining part-time while homesteading.

On February 3, 1891, Thomas B. Dempster applied for, and was granted, a Civil War pension as an “invalid” claiming some health problems resulting from his Civil War and later military service, including his time in the U.S. Marine Corps.
I could not find records for him in the 1900 census, but in 1910 Dempster was listed in the federal census as a placer miner in Newsome Precinct in Idaho County, Idaho. He was then age 67, unmarried, and living alone.

In 1920, Thomas B. Dempster was listed by the federal census as living in the Idaho Soldiers Home at Boise, Idaho along with other old soldiers in their 70s and 80s. Some had never married (apparently Dempster’s situation) while others had been widowed. The Boise, Idaho city directories for 1917 (using 1916 information) and 1929 (using 1928 information), listed him as a resident of that home, so he moved there at least by 1916.

On January 29, 1928, Thomas B. Dempster wrote a will in Boise, Idaho. In it, after the payment of debts and taxes, he left all his property to “Alice E. Bumgardner of Boise, Idaho, in compliance with my agreement in writing with her and her husband of even date herewith, and in gratitude for her kindness to me both before and after such agreement.” That arrangement apparently included their care of the aged soldier, homesteader, and miner in his final months. Dempster subsequently died at their home on Vine Street in Boise on June 26, 1928.

The story of Dempster and his extraordinary military career before becoming an Idaho miner and homesteader adds yet another intriguing and unexpected tale about an American homesteader. Each story of a homesteader’s life further enriches our understanding of the great diversity of people who homesteaded during this most important episode in America’s past – one that in many ways still influences the lives of many Americans today in the early 21st century.