Homestead National Monument of America
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July  Newsletter
News from the Homestead
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We invite you to come experience and enjoy many of the recreational and educational opportunities available at Homestead National Monument of America this summer, including wildlife watching, hiking, picnicking, and exploring our museum areas and historic buildings. We are excited to continue expanding visitor services, including starting outdoor events and ranger programs back up. Our Summer Campfire Program will kick off on July 4th, with weekly programs on Saturday evenings, and the Kids in Parks program returns on July 11th, with weekly Saturday morning events. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we will continue to follow CDC guidelines in expanding services in the park while taking precautions for visitor and staff safety. 

We hope that all of our visitors, colleagues, and friends enjoy celebrating America's 244th birthday!

Mark Engler, Superintendent

In Memory of Forrest D. Smith

If you have visited the Homestead Heritage Center on a Wednesday morning, there is a good chance that you have bumped into Forrest and Eileen Smith along with a bunch of folks playing their dulcimers.  This group, lead by Forrest, would share their musical talents with park visitors, bringing smiles to the faces of whoever was visiting the Heritage Center.  In fact, you might even hear dulcimer music at a summer campfire program or at Homestead Days!  Not only did Forrest play the dulcimer, but he spent hours teaching others how to play this instrument.  

Earlier this month, June 20, Forrest passed away at his home in Beatrice.   The staff at Homestead National Monument of America want to extend our sympathy to the Smith Family.  We valued the many volunteer hours Forrest spent organizing the dulcimer players for their Wednesday morning jam sessions!   Your work was music to our ears.   Whenever we hear a dulcimer, we will recall Forrest and his commitment to service.  


Meet Homestead's 2020 Teacher Ranger Teacher - Christopher Albrecht 

Homestead National Monument is pleased to welcome Christopher Albrecht as our Teacher Ranger Teacher for 2020. What is the Teacher Ranger Teacher (TRT) Program? It's an extended professional development opportunity for educators to learn about the resources and educational materials available through the National Park Service. During the program, TRT's develop a lesson to be used in their classroom or school, and assist the park with an education project.
Christopher joins us from Brockport, New York, where he's been a teacher for more than 20 years! He shared that the city of Brockport actually has a unique connection with Homestead National Monument of America's museum collections, one he learned when visiting the park. We have a model of a mechanical reaper invented by Cyrus McCormick in the 1840s - and mass produced for the first time at a factory in Brockport! This reaper helped revolutionize agriculture in America, allowing farmers to work larger and larger plots of land with less time and effort, something homesteaders certainly approved of.

After discovering this reaper and the connection between Brockport and Homestead, Christopher started talking with a ranger, and learned about the Teacher Ranger Teacher program. A big fan of the National Park Service, he was excited for the opportunity! He shared that he was actually first introduced to the NPS through another passion - geology. Christopher collects amber stones - especially those with fossilized hairs and feathers, going all the way back to the Cretaceous Period - 145 million to 66 million years ago! He'd go on trips to areas with amber, and then explore surrounding attractions, including National Parks. He first explored Grand Teton National Park, and then got into backcountry hiking. 

He discovered Homestead National Monument on one of these amber trips years ago. Christopher  shared his impressions, from that first visit years ago, through serving as a TRT, "The real gem of Homestead National Monument of America is the people - how excited they are about sharing the importance of the Homestead Act and its impact on the world!" He is very excited to be with Homestead and the NPS as a TRT, getting to blend his passions of teaching, the natural world, and history. While here at the monument he will be developing educational content. He is working on two projects - one is an outreach program for adolescents using primary source documents that will give teachers resources to better prepare their classes to come to the monument. The second project is a project to create condensed booklets on multiple female homesteaders from all over America with the intent to give visitors a more intimate experience with the individual story of one female homesteader. 

Christopher is also the author of Unconventionally Successful: Out of the Box Thoughts and Actions that Led to Extraordinary Outcomes (2020). He is grateful to his wonderful wife and three kids for letting him pursue his dream of working with the National Park Service.

The little-remembered 1854 Graduation Act and its connection to the 1862 Homestead Act

For many years before the passage of the 1862 Homestead Act, there was growing public support for making federal land available for "free" to individuals. Starting in 1820, a minimum price of $1.25 per acre was charged for purchasing federal land, as required by law passed by Congress on April 24, 1820.

But for many poor people, $1.25 per acre for land in the early to mid-1800s was unaffordable. Also, an increasing number of Americans felt that with the country acquiring so much land through purchase, war, or by other means, it was only fair that some of it should be given out to its citizens. It was reasoned that common people not only needed it for their livelihood, but they deserved it as they collectively owned it anyway.
However, before the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, another idea was tried for making federal land more widely obtainable but without giving it away. It was the passage on August 4, 1854 of the "Graduation Act," formally entitled: "An Act to Graduate and Reduce the Price of the Public Lands to actual Settlers and Cultivators."

As its lengthy name tells, the Graduation Act was enacted to reduce the price of federal land - specifically land that had gone unsold for 10 years or longer. This change, in theory, would allow more people, particularly those with limited financial resources, a better opportunity for purchasing federal land and creating private farms to improve their lives.

Under the new law, most of the federal lands that had previously been available for sale at $1.25 per acre for over 10 years were placed into "graduated" categories for purchase at lower prices based on the length of time that those lands had been available for sale. An exception was made for mineral lands that were kept at $1.25 per acre and for lands otherwise reserved for railroads and canals.

Apart from those exceptions, the new per acre price for federal land, starting in early August of 1854, was reduced, as follows:
10-15 years unsold = $1 per acre
15-20 years unsold = 75 cents per acre
20-25 years unsold = 50 cents per acre
25-30 years unsold = 25 cents per acre
over 30 years unsold = 12.5 cents per acre

The result was a significant increase in overall federal land sales. Those eagerly buying the "discounted" lands included not only individual settlers and farmers with little money who could finally better afford the price, but also established farmers who could add more land for less cost to their existing farms if adjoining unsold federal land was available. However, there was also abuse of the new law. Some of the cheaper land was bought through questionable arrangements and ended up in the hands of land speculators for later resale for profit. This was counter to the 1854 law's intent and would serve to erode public and Congressional support for the Graduation Act.

In all, over 25 million acres of public land were sold at "graduated prices" in 12 southern and midwestern states. They were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Other states and territories in the west (with Alaska then owned by Russia) were too recently established to have had federal land left unsold long enough to qualify for sale at discounted prices.
Of these 12 states where "graduation" prices were offered, most of the land sold for 25 or 12.5 cents per acre, with the amount both available and purchased varying greatly by state. On the low end, only a total of 70,495 acres of federal land were still available for sale in Ohio under the 1854 law, and of that amount, 98% were sold under the Graduation Act.

In contrast, the state with the most federal land sold at graduated prices was Missouri. There, nearly 9.9 million acres, of the over 13.8 million acres available for sale, were sold at lower prices. Thus, about 64% of Missouri's available federal lands were sold under the 1854 law. Yet in Florida, only about 8% of its 6.8 million acres of federal land that qualified for sale at graduated prices were sold under the 1854 Graduation Act.

From the viewpoint of those who supported the 1854 Graduation Act, getting more federal land into private ownership did help many thousands of individual settlers and farmers. They used it for the intended purpose of bettering their own lives and producing more crops thereby expanding the national economy.

Also, the sale of federal land, even at "bargain prices," generated much-needed money for the federal government from its more marginal land holdings that otherwise had gone unsold. Within 8 years, land sales under this 1854 act brought in $8.2 million of revenue with an average of about 32 cents received per acre of federal land sold.  Further, land sales under the 1854 law helped increase the amount of private land that would become part of the future tax base for state and local governments.

Yet despite its benefits, the 1854 Graduation Act was controversial from the start and remained that way even before the increasing awareness of how it was misused counter to the law's intent. While some people wanting free land supported it, others did not. Galusha Grow, "Father of the 1862 Homestead Act," voted against the law. For Grow, the 1854 act not only was an imperfect solution but an outright distraction, if not threat, to getting the long-sought "free" homestead act passed.

Indeed, on June 2, 1862, less than two weeks after the Homestead Act was signed into law, the 1854 Graduation Act was repealed. And few seemed to mourn its end. Federal land not sold under the 1854 law in the 12 southern and midwestern states largely became part of the federal land base in those states later available for homesteading.

In sum, the Graduation Act of 1854, which is now little remembered, can be viewed as a short-lived attempt to accomplish some of what the 1862 Homestead Act later better achieved. For nearly eight years, the 1854 law served with mixed results to address needs of a young and expanding nation hungry for land to create private farms.  Understanding why the Graduation Act of 1854 occurred and how it ended in the wake of the Homestead Act of 1862 is just one of many fascinating stories about land ownership in America.
Kids in Parks Summer Program at Homestead National Monument of America 

Summer 2020 Artist-in-Residence Carey Hernandez

Meet Homestead National Monument's latest Artist-in-Residence, Carey Hernandez. Carey works at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, and has previously taught in K-12 schools as a teaching artist. Hernandez has been passionate about art for as long as she can remember. One of her first memories is going to the Joslyn Museum when she was four years old, and being amazed. She went home that night and taped pictures up to the wall and asked her parents, "Would you like to come to my museum?" She also remembered drawing on the walls - and her parents staying very encouraging and supportive of her gift! She has worked with a wide range of mixed-media. One of her most unique artistic creations was when she did a piece made entirely out of corn and beans! A 6'4" version of Herky the Hawkeye (the University of Iowa's mascot), Carey and her husband Eli spent hundreds of hours creating this incredible piece for the American Needs Farmers movement to recognize the critical role agriculture and farmers play in our country.

Carey has deep roots in Nebraska - her grandparents are all descended from homesteaders in the Atkinson area. She first visited the monument in 2018, hoping to find out more information at the genealogical research computers. Rangers helped her find family land patents, sparking an interest. When she learned about the Artist-in-Residence Program, she knew it would be a great experience to research further and learn about her personal family connection to the Homestead Act of 1862.

While at the monument, she learned more about her homesteading ancestors, Dana and Sarah Bigelow. From a Homestead Land Entry Case file she researched here, she learned that Dana and Sarah travelled from Illinois to claim a homestead, but the family suffered a series of tragedies. Dana and his brother died less than a month after filing their homestead claim, while digging a well. Sarah was left a widow and mother of their two teenaged children, and she continued to work the claim - when a fire destroyed all the buildings on the family farm! She moved into town in order to make enough money to survive, and to let her children seek an education (they went on to attend the University of Nebraska!) Sarah had to petition the General Land Office in order to receive her land patent even though she had been absent from the land for so long. In 1890, she received the patent - one of the hundreds of thousand of women homesteaders across America.

Carey shared that the project she is working on here at Homestead is the most excited she's been about a project. Carey said "Coming here and having an idea in my head and then getting very interested in women homesteaders and to have to have the personal connection, and to have Sarah Bigelow's story jump out at me has been a really great moment!"

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

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Homestead National Monument of America
Upcoming Events

Special Events and Exhibits at Homestead National Monument of America:

June - July: Impact: Willa Cather Art Exhibit (Education Center)

Saturday, July 4th, 7:00 P.M. - Summer Campfire Program: With Liberty and Justice For All with Jonathan Fairchild; Musical Performance by Terrence Keefe (Education Center)

Saturday, July 11th, 10 A.M. - Kids in Parks: Prairie Plant Walk (Education Center)

Saturday, July 11th, 7 P.M. - Summer Campfire Program: The Art of Trick Roping with Joan Wells; Musical Performance by Paul Siebert (Education Center)

Saturday, July 18th, 10 A.M. - Kids in Parks: Bird Discovery Walk (Education Center)

Saturday, July 18th, 7 P.M. - Summer Campfire Program: The History of the Home on the Range Song and Cabin with Larry Holthus (Education Center)

Thursday, July 23rd, 7 P.M. - Book Discussion on "Planted in the Soil" at the Beatrice Public Library

Saturday, July 25th, 10 A.M. - Kids in Parks: Insect Discovery Walk (Education Center)

Saturday July 25th, 7 P.M. - Summer Campfire Program: Wildlife Rescue Team with Vikki Henry; Musical Performance by Frailin' Hearts (Education Center)

To learn more about events visit:
Homestead National Monument Salutes the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce

Homestead National Monument of America is proud to  celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce! Did you know that the Chamber of Commerce has been involved with Homestead since the very beginning, when the park was first created? The Beatrice Chamber of Commerce officially endorsed the idea and rallied local support beginning in the 1920s and formed a committee to begin planning efforts. The Lincoln Star issued a congratulations to the Chamber just after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the legislation creating the monument on March 19th, 1936: "Congratulations to the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce... for making the Freeman Homestead a National Monument. They faced considerable odds, but insistence on Congressional action was accomplished... Nebraska thus secures another historical monument, one that marks the beginning of the distribution by this nation of free land to its citizens."

Nebraska Governor Frank Morrison, with National Park Service Assistant Regional Director George Baggley and Beatrice Chamber of Commerce President William Boyd at Homestead National Monument of America's Visitor Center Groundbreaking Ceremony in 1961.


The Chamber of Commerce was also involved in acquiring one of the historic structures at the park - the Palmer-Epard Cabin. Though the monument is located on the site of the original Freeman homestead, that building had been lost to time before the National Park Service acquired the site. Efforts to locate historic structures for the park led to the cabin built by George Washington Palmer for his Gage County homestead, and later acquired by John B. Epard. Epard donated the cabin to the monument in 1950, and the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce generously paid the costs of moving it - $200 (more than $2,100 in 2020 dollars). The Homestead Committee of the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce, headed by Maurice Hevelone, was in charge of the project which brought the Palmer-Epard Cabin to its new home at the monument, where it continues to provide visitors with a glimpse into how homesteaders on the Plains lived in the 1870s.

We're also grateful for all the hard work the Chamber of Commerce has put in over the decades, and the many things it has done to recognize and support Homestead. In 1948, the Chamber had highway signs made to promote visitation of the park on roads leading to Beatrice. In 1961, the Chamber requested the issuance of a special Homestead National Monument commemorative stamp by the U.S. Post Office for the centennial of homesteading.

A four cent stamp for the Centennial of the Homestead Act in 1962, with a man outside a sod house and a woman in the door

But for many, the most visible aspect of the relationship between Homestead National Monument and the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce is the community-wide program named after us - Homestead Days. Celebrated as a weeklong celebration sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce in 1964, it included picnic lunch, games at the park, square dancing, musical performances, a rodeo, and historic demonstrations to promote the monument and attract tourists to the area. By the 1970s, Homestead Days became an annual celebration in Beatrice (and the signature event at Homestead, organized for the first time in 1979). The two events started coordinating together in 1984, and remains the park's annual flagship event.

Performers at Homestead Days 2017

Homestead National Monument of America salutes the Beatrice Chamber of Commerce on its 100th year, and for its many contributions to the park! The Beatrice Chamber of Commerce's support and investment in the monument is enjoyed daily by the tens of thousands of visitors who visit us. In return, these same visitors inject millions of dollars into our community annually.

Flooding and Storm Damage at Cub Creek and the Woodland Loop Trail

On June 19th, Homestead experienced a torrential storm - 7.2" of rain overnight! Cub Creek swelled and flooded over its banks. Normally just under five feet deep, Cub Creek crested at a mighty 22.62 feet - well past the "flood stage" of eighteen feet. Rangers sprang into action to prepare to deal with emergency flooding to protect the Education Center and the surrounding area in the flood plains. All trails were temporarily closed.

After the floodwaters receded, monument staff surveyed the damage. In the Woodland Loop Trail, there was a washout of the trail. A mighty oak tree, 80 feet tall and 40 inches at the base was felled by the storm. A contractor will be hired to assist the maintenance staff with the removal of the tree - no small undertaking! 

The tree will be removed by utilizing a woodchipper for small segments, and cutting up larger segments up for firewood, and hauling the base of the tree off. A tracked skid loader will be used to reduce impact to the soil. The park's maintenance division will also be cleaning up over a mile of fencing, as well as tightening barbed wire impacted by the flooding and debris washed into fencing. 

The Woodland Loop Trail remains closed until further notice.

Ranger Jesse's Natural Resource Musings:
 Freshwater Mussels in Cub Creek

Freshwater mussels are amazing creatures with an amazing life cycle.  They feed by serving as a living filter, straining bacteria, phytoplankton and small particles of organic matter from the water. Mussels are a long lived creature, 60-70 years is not uncommon, however one study reported that 22 years was the average age of the mussels they sampled. Because they are long lived and don't move around much they are an indicator of water quality.  If the mussel population is abundant and diverse that means the water quality must be pretty good.  If they are not abundant most likely the water quality is impaired in some fashion or has been in the past.

Reproduction of the mussel is unique.  The male expels sperm into the water column and the female filters it out to fertilize her eggs.  The fertilized eggs develop into a larval form call a glochidea.  The glochidea then need to be transferred to the gills of a fish where they are parasitic. After hitching a ride (and nutrients) for a few weeks they fall off of the fish, hopefully in a good habitat and spend the rest of their lives filtering water within a few feet of where they were deposited.

Because of their unique job in the ecosystem filtering stuff out of the water that can kill them, their bizarre reproductive cycle, and their lack of defense from predators like raccoons and muskrats numbers of mussels are declining worldwide. To help reverse that trend Nebraska Game and Parks has started rearing mussels so they can be stocked in suitable habitats throughout the state.  Cub Creek has been selected as one of those sites and it is planned to stock around 500 plain pocketbook mussels and 500 fatmucket mussels in the creek.

Before the stocking could occur it was determined that it was necessary to survey the creek to see what was present.  During the four day survey, which covered 1.402 km, 311 live mussels were encountered. The majority of the mussels were mapleleaf mussels (Quadrula quadrula) , pimpleback mussels (Quadrula pustulosa)  were found in smaller numbers, a single live pink papershell (Potamilus ohiensis ) and a single live fragile papershell (Leptodea fragilis ) were also encountered.  Species that were just represented as shells included the giant floater (Pyganodon grandis ), white heel splitter (Lasmigona complanata )and fingernail clams (not identified).   

The results showed us the good news that yes Cub Creek can support mussels but the low diversity and low numbers of live mussels (0.03-0.04 mussels per square meter) raise questions regarding what is happening in Cub Creek that is limiting the success of the mussels.

This survey would not have been possible without the assistance of the Youth Conservation Corps.  The four of them crawled on their hands and knees searching for mussels in the water for almost one mile.  In addition retired Game and Parks employee Steven Schainost graciously identified the mussels from pictures.  His dedication to helping this undervalued and very imperiled fauna is an inspiration. - Thank you. 

YCC Hannah Holtmeier helping Ranger Jesse out with the Mussel project.

For information about the Game and Parks mussel program view this video

For more information about Nebraska's Freshwater mussels checkout this online book by Steven C. Schainost

Homestead National Monument of America is Kicking Off the Summer Campfire Series on Saturday, July 4, at 7:00 pm.  Reserve Your Spot Today 

Summer Campfire programs are back at Homestead National Monument of America! Saturday, July 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm Jonathan Fairchild, Homestead National Monument of America's historian, will present "With Liberty and Justice for All: Black Homesteaders and the Homestead Act". This program will be based on the new research from the University of Nebraska's Center of Great Plains Studies. This research was done in collaboration with the National Park Service and shines an important light on the experiences and legacies of Black Homesteaders.

Patriotic music performed by Terrence Keefe of Lincoln, NE will follow the program. This campfire program will take place outside at Homestead National Monument of America's Education Center. This event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required to ensure that social distancing protocols can be followed. To make reservations, please contact the park at 402-223-3514.
The event may be cancelled in the event of inclement weather. Folding chairs will be available to guests, but we welcome lawn chairs and blankets as well.   Insect repellent and water are highly recommended. Mark Engler, Park Superintendent, stated that "We are excited to be offering this summer programming that utilizes the tradition of gathering around a fire."
The CDC has offered guidance to help people recreating in parks and open spaces prevent the spread of infectious diseases. We will continue to monitor all park functions to ensure that visitors adhere to CDC guidance for mitigating risks associated with the transmission of COVID-19 and take any additional steps necessary to protect public health.  
Details and updates on park operations will continue to be posted on our website  and social media channels. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on .