News from the Homestead
November 2021

This November, we celebrate the heritage and history of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Island communities during Native American Heritage Month. We also honor the brave men and women who have served in our nation's Armed Forces, as we celebrate Veterans Day.

Of course, November also brings Thanksgiving. Here at Homestead National Historical Park, we are thankful for all of the staff, volunteers, partners, neighbors, communities nearby, and our visitors throughout the year, who have made our programming and daily operations possible.

As always, we invite you to come out to the park - it's a great time to see the new and updated Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures exhibit, on display through the end of the year in the Education Center.
Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures Celebration
Go back in time this holiday season and see a beautiful tapestry of winter traditions of those who lived on the Great Plains at the beginning of the Homestead Era. The Homestead Act of 1862 served as an invitation for immigrants to seek free 160-acre homesteads in the United States and become citizens, resulting in the arrival of a variety of cultural and ethnic traditions to the United States. Our Winter Festival, held from November 26th thru January 2nd, remembers this rich heritage and celebrates the cultures of those who settled the Great Plains.

The Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures features decorated trees and tabletop displays featuring ornaments and hand-made crafts that reflect the spirit of hope, humor, traditions, and generosity which characterized winter celebrations of homesteaders in the West.
“The displays during the Winter Festival present festive insight to the various peoples around the world who came to the United States to settle under the Homestead Act,” said Acting Superintendent Tim Colyer.
In addition to the displays, there will be special programs presented on November 28th, December 5th, and 12th, 2021. These programs will be at the Education Center at 2:00pm on their respective dates. They include:
Sunday, November 28 - Songs of the Season: Vocal Holiday Music on the Homestead: Amber Kirkendall
Park Ranger Amber Kirkendall will explore the international origins of popular seasonal songs and examine the rich musical traditions of immigrants who came to the United States on the promise of the Homestead Act.
Sunday, December 5 - The Winter Traditions and Legacy of Swedish Homesteaders: Laureen Riedesel
In the latter half of the 19th century, Swedes were among the largest groups that emigrated to Nebraska. Riedesel will discuss how the communities of Swedish immigrants in Kearney and Harlan Counties celebrated the winter season.
Sunday, December 12 - Music of Ireland: David Marsh
From Sligo to Dublin, Marsh presents various musical styles from the Emerald Isle. He uses many traditional instruments to perform jigs, reels, and sing-a-longs. His stories tell of Irish legends, history, and the joys and sorrows of immigrating to a new land.
In accordance with CDC guidance and recommendations on preventing the spread of COVID-19, face coverings and social distancing are mandatory for all events. Admission to Homestead National Historical Park and all events are free. For information on available accommodations please contact Accessibility Coordinator, Amber Kirkendall at (402) 223-3514 or [email protected]
Artist-in-Residence Program Now Accepting Applicants
Homestead National Historical Park is looking for practicing artists wanting to find inspiration from our rich cultural and natural resources in 2022. To apply for the program, visit and follow the application requirements. The deadline for accepting applications is December 15, 2021, via mail or email. For applications to be considered they must be postmarked or received via email on or before this date. Artists will be notified of selections by the first week of March. Artists can be fine art painters, sculptors, fine art photographers, performers, writers, video/filmmakers, composers, etc. These artists will channel their individual talent into one-of-a-kind pieces inspired by the homestead story and park environment. 

Artists have been intimately tied to national parks since the 19th century, when painters such as Thomas Moran documented the majestic landscapes of the American West. These artists played a crucial role in stimulating the establishment, visitation, and appreciation of these national parks. Today, artists still find inspiration in national parks and continue to help us make meaningful connections to our Nation's special places

Native American Heritage Month:
Native Americans, Land Dispossession, and the Homestead Act
As the National Park Service celebrates Native American Heritage Month, it is important to remember the impact of the Homestead Act on indigenous cultures across the country. Many homesteaders conceived of the western United States as a promising, empty land that just needed to be populated to become prosperous. But that land had been home to Native Americans for untold generations. Land laws, including the Homestead Act, were directly tied to Native American land dispossession, negatively impacting the lives of American Indians across the United States. American Indians believed land belonged to the community, not to individuals. They didn’t own land the ways homesteaders conceived of ownership. This conceptual difference often raised conflicts between homesteaders and American Indians.
Senator Henry Dawes of Massachusetts argued that Native Americans would prosper if they owned family farms. His 1887 Dawes Act carved Indian reservations into 160-acre allotments. This allowed the federal government to break up tribal lands further. Only those families who accepted an allotment of land could become US citizens.

The Dawes Act designated 160 acres of farmland or 320 acres of grazing land to the head of each indigenous family. This was comparable to the Homestead Act, but the tribes already controlled in its entirety the land now being divided up and allotted to them, meaning that Native American landholdings decreased significantly under the Dawes Act - from 138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres in 1934. Additionally, much of the land subject to the Dawes Act was unsuitable for farming.

The interpretation of this story is not static. This is a complex story that varies in every state and with every tribe. New research discusses the relationship between the Homestead Act and Indian land dispossession. In Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History (2017), the researchers found three major patterns across the western states: virtually no direct impact, minor impact, and major impact.

  • Nebraska Pattern - “most Indian land titles were cleared before 1862, and forces other than homesteading produced virtually all dispossession." Some 30 million acres of Native American land claims in the central and eastern part of the state were ceded to the federal government by 1860. In the northwest part of the state, dispossession was tied to homesteading under the Great Sioux (or Black Hills) War of the 1870s.
  • Colorado and Montana Pattern - "dispossession preceded homesteading by several decades, and the primary drivers of dispossession were mining interests, railroads, land speculators, and big cattle ranchers" with homesteading playing a small role - though both states had substantial number of homesteaders, their peak was not until 1900 - 1920.
  • Oklahoma and Dakota Pattern - "homesteading was an important driver of dispossession.” In the Dakota Territory, President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed in 1890 that "all the lands in the Great Sioux Reservation outside of the separate reservations... shall be disposed of... to actual settlers only, under the provisions of the Homestead Act." In Indian Territory (Oklahoma), under the Dawes Act, millions of acres of land were transferred from tribal ownership to be opened up to homesteaders in the famous Oklahoma Land Rushes beginning in 1889.

At Homestead National Historical Park, visitors learn about many aspects of the homesteading story. An exhibit titled "Opportunity and Displacement" discusses how land laws affected American Indians. Consultations with American Indians helped to create this exhibit at the Heritage Center. The park film "Land of Dreams" includes stories from indigenous peoples. The film highlights perspectives of American Indians and descendants of homesteaders.
Jesse's Jottings - Upcoming Prescribed Burn
A prescribed fire is planned at Homestead National Historical Park.  The prescribed fire will be set in the prairie and woodland to meet resource management goals of promoting ecosystem health as measured by native biodiversity.   

Homestead first began using prescribed fire in 1970.  Starting in the 1980’s the main focus was control of the invasive exotic grass smooth brome.  This led the park to focus on burning in the late spring.   

With smooth brome seeming to stay in the margins starting in the early 2000’s a greater focus was placed on using prescribed fire to promote diversity by varying the season which the burn was completed.   

The upcoming burn will mark another big change in fire management at Homestead, the woodland will be treated with prescribed fire for the first time since becoming a NPS site in 1936.  For bur oak woodlands fire is absolutely critical.  Fires help to open up the canopy allowing the shade intolerant bur oak acorns to sprout and grow into the mighty and majestic trees that we know and love.  The thick bark of the bur oak insulates the trees from fire damage and in late fall the leaves provide a great source of fuel for the fires. 

As to when the prescribed fire will be, that is up to nature and staffing.  Nature giving us the north wind at around 10 miles per hour and 14 firefighters who are certified by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group being available. The fire will be announced on Facebook the day of the burn.  While the trails will be closed you are invited to observe from the Heritage Center.   
Honoring All Who Served - Veterans Day
Every November 11th, Homestead National Historical Park, and the National Park Service, commemorate and honor the service of American veterans. While Homestead's connection to the U.S. military and those who served may not be as obvious as at a park like Gettysburg, the Homestead Act supported veterans and their families under the Soldiers and Sailors Homestead Act of 1872, as well as several additional laws passed in the following years.

If you are active duty military, a veteran, or a member of a Gold Star family, you are eligible for a free America the Beautiful park pass - which provides free access to America's public lands. To learn more about how to get free access to approximately 2,000 sites and more than 400 million acres across the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and Army Corps of Engineers managed sites, visit Entrance Passes (U.S. National Park Service) (

While thanking all veterans for their service to our nation, we want to specifically recognize one of our staff members, Danny Toland. Danny retired from the Navy after 20 years of service and 5 deployments. He was a boatswain and was responsible for launching aircraft off the flight deck of aircraft carriers. He retired as a Petty Officer, 1st Class.

Danny serves the park in many ways, but first and foremost it is always with a smile, a positive attitude, and a cup of coffee. As a member of our maintenance division, Danny is someone we rely on to keep public services available, and park projects moving forward.

Thank you for your service to our nation, and thank you for now serving the American people at Homestead National Historical Park, Mr. Toland.

Remembering VIP Marcella O'Bryan
With heavy hearts, we remember the life and service of Marcella O'Bryan, who passed away earlier this month. Marcella, who was born and raised right here in Beatrice, contributed as a volunteer at Homestead for years. Her efforts to the team and our mission cannot be overstated. She led workshops, catalogued historic documents, and gave numerous demonstrations.

Marcella played a central role in the cataloging of the Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company archives for Homestead's archival collection. When the park acquired hundreds of thousands of pages of historical records, blueprints, photos, advertisements, and documentation after the company finally closed its doors, it was clear that the park would need help processing everything.

Marcella was part of a team of volunteers and Homestead staff members that, thanks to support from the Margaret and Martha Thomas Foundation and Dempster's owners, were able to process the entire collection. Twenty volunteers and park staff spent two years removing staples from documents, placing them in archival folders, and labeling each one.

We thank Marcella for her service to the park, and to the American people.
Homesteads Across the National Park Service:
Asa Sweeting Homestead at Biscayne 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'll check out a homestead in a setting very different from ours - Biscayne National Park, in the Florida Keys.

That's right - not only was there homesteading land available in Florida, some even claimed land in the tropical island paradises of the Keys! Asa Sweeting was born in the Bahamas in the early 1800s, and immigrated to Florida with his family. Deciding to acquire land, he scouted the area before settling on Elliot Key under the Homestead Act of 1862. Elliot Key is just off the east coast of Florida, near the aptly named city of Homestead, originally settled by homesteaders around the turn of the century.

Sweeting's tropical homesteading experience would have been very different from farmers trying to "prove up" their land on the Great Plains - instead of growing corn and wheat, and dealing with the threat of winter blizzards and locust swarms, Asa Sweeting grew pineapple, and had to worry about hurricanes!

Sweeting successfully proved up his 154 acre claim, receiving the patent in June 1889. The Miami News reported his continued success, stating in 1919 that "at the time of being homesteaded the land was practically worthless but today is valued at approximately $30,000 and has a fine pineapple plantation of 100 acres." That $30,000 in 1919 equates to approximately half a million dollars today - and certainly the land would be worth even more than that.

A fun side note - Asa's grandson, Asa E. Sweeting, lived in nearby Key West, and appeared in the 1900 census as an 18-year-old "sponge fisher." At that time the Keys had a booming sponge diving industry, further highlighting the different experiences homesteaders all across the country had from one another.

Today, Biscayne National Park protects and preserves the beautiful waters, islands, and reefs of the area. Visitors today can continue to enjoy boating, fishing, diving, and enjoying the pristine scenery.
Homestead National Historical Park Closed Thanksgiving Day
Homestead National Historical Park's Heritage and Education Centers will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25, 2021. The trails and other outdoor areas are open from dawn to dusk every day, including Thanksgiving Day.

On Friday, November 26 the Homestead Heritage and Education Centers will open at 8:30 a.m. You are encouraged to #OptOutdoors and come to Homestead to explore over three miles of trails while earning a Junior Ranger Badge by completing the Junior Ranger Program or the Not-So Junior Ranger Program. The Junior Ranger Program is a National Park Service tradition that encourages aspiring Junior Rangers of all ages to dig deeper into the park by completing a free activity book. You can earn a brand new badge reflecting our recent name change to a National Historical Park!