News from the Homestead
October 2021

Transition becomes a theme in this month’s newsletter, as the weather is not the only thing changing here at the park.  September brings a transition from summer to fall, which means there will be a transition in park hours as well.  We will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.   
There will also be a transition in park management with an acting superintendent arriving to fill in behind long-time superintendent Mark Engler as he transitions to a new phase of his life (more on that below). 
During this time of transition, Tim “TC” Colyer will be serving as the acting superintendent while a permanent replacement can be recruited and selected.  TC joins us from Omaha, Nebraska where he lives with his wife and two children.  Starting his NPS career in Yellowstone National Park in 1999, he has also worked at the C&O Canal National Historical Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and the regional office in Omaha where he currently serves as the Regional Chief Ranger for Visitor and Resource Protection.   
“It really is my privilege and an honor to join the team here at Homestead National Historical Park,” said TC.  “I look forward to working side-by-side with park staff and volunteers, Friends of Homestead, and a very welcoming and supportive gateway community to continue the level of service and collaboration that Superintendent Engler has established during his tenure here.” 
We invite you to the park to enjoy the events, programming, and the natural beauty of the prairie this autumn. 
Congratulations to Superintendent Mark Engler. Enjoy your retirement!
Superintendent Mark Engler, after more than 40 years with the National Park Service, retired on September 30th. Mark first joined Homestead National Monument of America in 1977 as a seasonal ranger. His career with the National Park Service took him to several parks, including Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, Gateway National Recreation Area, Saguaro National Park, and Gateway Arch National Park, but Homestead and Beatrice were always home.

Engler was named Superintendent in 1997, a position he held for the next 24 years. It's almost impossible to think of the park without thinking of Mark, and the ways he shaped and guided the park's development under his stewardship. Under Mark, the Homestead Heritage Center was planned and built. To say that encouraged higher numbers of people to see the park would be an understatement. Visitation more than doubled under his tenure - more than 1,500,000 people visited Homestead while Mark was Superintendent!

He spearheaded efforts to bring the actual Homestead Act of 1862 from the National Archives to the park for the 150th anniversary of the signing of the law by President Abraham Lincoln. His tenure also saw the creation and launch of the Homestead Quarter as part of the America the Beautiful quarters series, as well as the rescue of the Last Homesteader's tractor, which was brought back from Alaska. It now rests permanently in the Heritage Center lobby, greeting visitors as a symbol of the beginning and end of homesteading in America. The unforgettable eclipse in 2017 brought tens of thousands of visitors to the park overnight, to watch one of the biggest astronomy events of the century unfold over the prairie, with Homestead being one of the few national parks in the path of the totality.

Every single day, Mark Engler reminded staff to "remember our last name - Service." Well here's to you, Mark, and your incredible 44 years of service to the American people. Enjoy your retirement - Homestead won't be the same without you!
Art Exhibit and Event featuring Judy Thompson's Little House on the Prairie works
Homestead National Historical Park has a new art exhibit on display featuring 15 watercolor paintings by former Artist-in-Residence Judy Thompson. “The Art of Pioneering: Watercolors by Judy Thompson” is now on exhibit in the Education Center through November 15, 2021. 

The twelve pieces of the “Homestead Series” commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act, giving a glimpse into this extraordinary time in our nation’s history. Judy Thompson is an award-winning artist who paints the people and places of the Great Plains. Her vivid and richly textured watercolors capture the subtle beauty of the prairie landscape. 

Each watercolor painting was created independently from the others using different art techniques, styles, and approaches to portray the variety of people and experiences which comprised the homestead movement. 

In addition, three pieces were commissioned as the cover art of the Pioneer Girl book series. This series, produced by South Dakota Historical Society Press, explores Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and works through a scholarly lens. The third book of this series, Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts, is scheduled for release on October 15, 2021. 

We celebrated with a special pre-release event here at the park on Sunday, October 10th at 2 p.m, where Judy Thompson spoke about her experience illustrating the series and how her time as an artist-in-residence at Homestead National Historical Park influenced her work. Signed copies of the book are available for purchase.

Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts takes a close look at the progression of Laura Ingalls Wilder's writing and the influences her daughter/editor, Rose Wilder Lane, had on Wilder’s stories. The book compares three drafts of the manuscript as the mother-daughter pair worked together to transform Wilder's autobiography into the Little House series.
Giant in the Earth - Homestead's Mighty Cottonwood
The Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) is the state tree of both Nebraska and Kansas, and it grows along creeks, streams, and rivers in great numbers. These "giants in the earth," to borrow a phrase from Norwegian author Ole Rolvaag, were planted at homesteads by early settlers for shade and as windbreaks or shelterbelts. If you've ever been out on the trails at Homestead, you may have come across our giant cottonwood tree. It is one of several types of trees in our 40-acre woodland, including oak, maple, hackberry, and cottonwood. It rises above the tallgrass prairie like a giant watching over the land.

The Nebraska Forest Service was recently at the park doing a survey, and informed us that our largest cottonwood tree is the fourth largest example across the entire state! It measured in at 27.2 feet in trunk circumference, 88 feet tall, and a crown spread of 110 feet. The "Champion" cottonwood, the largest example nationwide, is also located in Gage County, and is 37.5 feet in trunk circumference, 88 feet tall, with a crown spread of 108 feet. While cottonwoods typically live to be about 100 years old, many last hundreds of years.

The Cottonwood at Homestead

She overlooked bison that roamed and
children of the plains who followed them,
the homesteader who toiled and
his children who plucked peaches
and shucked corn,
She overlooked battered stalks and
seasons of time, fresh lain sod
and scattered seed,
She overlooked as prairie roots
hugged deeply into soil once more,
and embraced these moments in
each of her rings.

~ Anonymous
Honoring Latinx Homesteaders
During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the contributions and the important presence of Americans tracing their roots back to Spain, Mexico, Central America, and South America. President Lyndon B. Johnson started the practice in 1968 when he declared Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1988, it was expanded by President Ronald Reagan, from September 15 through October 15. These dates are historically important because they include the independence days of many Latin American Countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile, and Mexico.

While the majority of claims were in the southwest, Hispanic and Latinx individuals homesteaded all over the United States, from Florida in the far southeast, all the way north to Alaska. The earliest homestead entries from Latinx homesteaders were filed in the 1860s, just after the passage of the law in 1862, and the latest to prove up were more than a century later - thousands upon thousands took advantage of the law to receive free land under the Homestead Act. While many Latinx homesteaders were born in what is now the United States, others migrated, some coming from as far away as Chile.

Veronica Barreto, a Latino Heritage Internship Program volunteer from Puerto Rico, shares her research about homesteaders of Latino descent at Homestead National Historical Park.

During this month and throughout the year, we, and our partners, share history, heritage, and accomplishments of Hispanic and Latino Americans of past and present. Join the conversation on social media by sharing your own inspiration and learning more about Hispanic and Latino heritage by using #HispanicHeritageMonth and #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque.
Howling Homestead
Howling Homestead is back at Homestead National Historical Park! Join us for this fun, family friendly, and not actually scary event at the Homestead Heritage Center on Saturday, October 30th, starting at 4:00 pm. 

Entertainment at this event will include learning about snakes, owls, and other critters, listening to stories of the stars in the night sky, watching a “mad scientist” conduct crazy cool experiments, and taking a hike on the tallgrass prairie! There is no fee for this event and the first 100 children to arrive receive a free pumpkin to take home, courtesy of the Friends of Homestead. In true fall fashion, pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies will be served to visitors. 

Most of the activities are outdoors, so be sure to dress appropriately for the weather, and please leave your costumes at home. Remember, this event is appropriate for all ages! 

Acting Superintendent Tim "TC" Colyer stated, “Howling Homestead is a great, family-friendly event that celebrates autumn with fun activities and allows visitors to explore some of the unique environment and wildlife familiar to local homesteaders in the past.” 

In accordance with CDC guidance and recommendations on preventing the spread of COVID-19, face coverings and social distancing are mandatory for all events, indoors and outdoors. This event is made possible by the generosity of The Friends of Homestead. Admission to Homestead National Historical Park and all events are free.    
Jesse's Jottings - Late Summer on the Prairie
Late summer is a grand time to be at Homestead National Historical Park, the bees are buzzing, sunflowers are stretching their blooms to the sky and birds are gathering up to head south.  It is also cool enough to enjoy the prairie without your eyes stinging from your own sweat. 

This year at Homestead we will be heading to the prairie this late summer and fall to remove unwanted woody vegetation and gather seed that will be used to plant disturbed areas.  We will also be heading to the prairie to learn more about the wildlife of Homestead.  

On Saturday, September 25, 2021, we held a Public Lands Day Deer Census. The weather for the event was perfect. It had warmed up from the fifties when we started to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit by the time we were done at noon. Helping conduct the survey were five volunteers, two staff members on the road, and four staff members walking the prairie and woodland.

Drivers were split into teams. A group of three pushed out the woodland loop area, two pushed out the Cottonwood area, and two pushed out the areas west of the creek. The woodland was extremely dense with vegetation, much of it eight feet or taller, making it difficult to see.

Once the woodland was pushed out the drivers spread out across the prairie and headed east toward the Heritage Center, trying to keep a straight line north to south. In total, 35 deer were seen. Eleven were recorded as doe, three as fawn, two as buck, and nineteen were unclassified.

This was the highest number recorded for a Public Lands Day deer survey! Several factors may have been pushing an increased number of deer to the park. Neighbors to both the north and south were harvesting crops, and the Friends of Homestead land to the south was hayed over the summer months.
Image of Goldenrod in bloom over the prairie at Homestead. Image courtesy of Mel Mann.
Ranger Jessica Korgie - Finalist for the 2020 Midwest Region Freeman Tilden Award!
The Freeman Tilden Award is the highest award and honor a National Park Service interpretive ranger can receive. It's been awarded annually for the last 40 years to recognize outstanding contributions and efforts by NPS employees, at the regional and national levels. We're thrilled to share that one of Homestead's rangers, Jessica Korgie was a finalist for the 2020 Midwest Region Freeman Tilden Award!

Her nomination was based on her excellent social media video series "Show and Tell with Homestead National Monument of America Staff." For several months in the Spring of 2020, while the park was closed due to COVID, Jessica used her skills to produce a series of videos highlighting what park staff was up to, in order to bring the Homestead interpretive experience to visitors virtually.

Excellent work, and a well deserved congratulations on your recognition, Jessica!

You can view the video series here: Homestead National Historical Park | Facebook
Congratulations to the "Tuesday Kids" - Winner of the 2020 Hartzog Youth Group Volunteer Award!
An extraordinary group of student volunteers from Beatrice High School have been affectionately deemed the "Tuesday Kids" because of their dedication to volunteering every Tuesday afternoon. This collaboration between Homestead National Historical Park and Beatrice High School was fostered nearly a decade ago. Randy Diller, a Special Education teacher at Beatrice High School partnered with the Park to provide a meaningful volunteer relationship between his life-skill students and the park. The partnership he created continues and speaks to his legacy in the community. The Tuesday Kids help with various projects around the park. They were recognized by the National Park Service for their excellent contributions to Homestead National Historical Park with the 2020 Hartzog Youth Group Volunteer Award. Congratulations, "Tuesday Kids!"

One of their consistent duties is changing out the batteries for the audio description stations. This important duty makes it possible for visually impaired guests to experience the content of the exhibits and displays. The group’s weekly volunteering efforts were paused in March of 2020 due to the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. They resumed their weekly schedule in August of 2021. By providing opportunities for this underserved audience, we are promoting an inclusive environment to park staff, park volunteers, and park visitors. 
Homesteads Across the National Park Service:
Harold J. Cook homestead at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
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 another park right here in Nebraska - Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.

James Cook, owner of Agate Springs Ranch in northern Nebraska, knew something of the paleontological importance of the lands in and surrounding his property. Starting in 1892, Cook allowed various institutions to conduct excavations of the fossil beds near his ranch. For several years, Carnegie Museum, Yale University, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and Amherst College had access to these treasure troves of Miocene Epoch fossils. As the excavations continued, competition ensued between the institutions over legal ownership of the fossil beds, leading to disruptions in research and concern that the land containing the fossil beds would be exploited.

In 1910, Harold Cook, James’ oldest son and a self-taught paleontologist, filed a homestead claim on 640 acres just east of the ranch that contained the contested fossil beds. By doing this, and successfully proving up his homestead in 1914, Harold established ownership over the land, ending any disruptive ownership rivalries between the institutions and ensuring that the fossil beds would remain protected under his watch.

During the proving up period, Harold and his wife, Eleanor Barbour Cook, lived on the homestead in what became known as the Bone Cabin, since an important stipulation of the Homestead Act is that the claimant live continuously on their land during this period. After obtaining title to the 640 acres in 1914, Harold and his family moved out of the cabin to the house at Agate Springs Ranch. From 1914 to 1951, Harold allowed various people, including paleontologist Albert “Bill” Thomson of the American Museum of Natural History, to use the cabin seasonally.
Today, the Bone Cabin is restored to its appearance from the period of 1909 to 1923, during which the cabin had significant use as Cook’s homestead residence and a field office for scientific study. It stands as a reminder of the wide-reaching impact of homesteading in the United States, including on paleontological research.
Archeological Survey at HOME
In late August we hosted a team from the National Park Service's Midwest Archeological Center (MWAC), based out of Lincoln, Nebraska. MWAC had previously been at the park in 2019 for a survey which found Native American pre-contact lithics (artifacts and tools made of stone) associated with an archeological site in the park.

That project utilized an all-terrain vehicle to haul magnetic sensors to collect data, focused on the investigation of magnetic anomalies located in the vicinity of Cub Creek, where the greatest threat to archeological resources exists from erosion and flooding. In August of 2021 MWAC returned to conduct test excavations of specific sites, excavating several one meter by two meter test units at locations of magnetic anomalies, as seen in the picture below.

Results of this work will be used to provide additional information on timespans during which indigenous peoples occupied this location, and activities that occurred here. The artifacts found in recent surveys suggest that multiple settlements were located at those sites over time, long before Europeans arrived. MWAC's assistance with this project will improve our ability to interpret this aspect of the story, and continue to incorporate tribal participation in that process.
The Story of 3 Orphan Homesteaders in Alabama

On March 19, 1904, the General Land Office in Washington, D.C. issued a Homestead Certificate for 46 acres in Etowah County in northeastern Alabama to three young children, ages 10, 8, and 5 years old. They were orphans of John H. Hagler who had died in 1899 at age 29. His wife, the mother of their three children, had died a few months earlier at age 24. As John was homesteading at the time, but had not yet proven up on his claim, it was later patented to his orphaned children. How this was possible and the story behind this specific homestead will follow.

Sources used in this article include Federal census records, Find A Grave, FamilySearch,, land records found at, and various information found in

John H. Hagler, born July 1, 1869, in DeKalb County, Alabama, was the father of the three orphan homesteaders. He was one of several children of Isaac Wilson Hagler (1838-1905) and his wife Louisa Jane (Killian) Hagler (1831-1877). Isaac had served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and held the rank of Sergeant in the 54th Alabama Infantry. At the time of his death in 1905, had been the pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Howelton, Alabama for nearly a decade. Otherwise, he was also a farmer. His children, including his son John H. Hagler, grew up on a farm in rural northeastern Alabama.

At age 22, John H. Hagler married on December 6, 1891, in Etowah County, Alabama to Lizzie May Huff (called “May”), age 17. She was born May 7, 1874, in Georgia and was one of nine children of William M. Huff and his wife Margaret (McNeil) Huff. Both of May’s parents would become directly involved in the lives of their grandchildren, the three orphan homesteaders.

Over the course of their seven-year marriage that ended with May’s death on February 27, 1899, she and her husband John H. Hagler had three children: Beulah, born 1893; Maggie, born 1895; and William, born 1898.

Sadly, May Hagler’s death occurred less than seven months following the birth of her son William on July 30, 1898. The Gadsden Times-News of Gadsden, Alabama included the young mother’s obituary in its March 7, 1899 issue:

“Death Claims Another Victim. The death angel placed its icy hands on Mrs. May Hagler, the loving wife of John Hagler, on the 27th of February, at her father’s home in East Gadsden, Mr. W. M. Huff. She was a Christian lady, having joined the Presbyterian church when young, and to know her was to love her. She was quietly laid to rest Tuesday evening at the Reid’s graveyard. A large crowd followed her to her last resting place. She leaves a husband and three little children to mourn after her. We say to her dear bereaved companion and relatives weep not, for she has only gone home to receive a shining crown, where she awaits your coming, and where there will be no parting.

Farewell, farewell, is a lonely sound,
And always brings a sigh;
But give to me when loved ones part,
That sweet old word, Good-bye.
Adieu, adieu, we hear it oft,
But the heart feels most when the lips move not,
And the eyes speak the gentle word, Goodnight.
Farewell, farewell, there is a vacant place in our home which never can be filled,
Adieu, adieu, she speaks it not,
But in heaven there will be no Good-bye.”

But the tragedy only deepened. Less than four months later, the same paper on June 30, 1899 (p. 3) carried a notice of her widower John H. Hagler’s untimely death at age 29:

“John Hagler was found dead by the side of his bed, near Ewing, Ala., last Monday morning. Mr. Hagler had not been long in that section and had been ill for some days and it is thought that he was attacked with heart failure soon after he arose early in the morning.”

Because of the loss of both parents, the three young Hagler children would be raised by relatives. At first, the three children were taken in by their father’s brother Columbus Newton Hagler, age 26, and his wife Bessie, age 21, who were farming in the same area. The three young orphans were added to their uncle and aunt’s also young family of two small children.

But tragedy would strike twice more in 1900. Soon after the birth of a 3rd child to Columbus and Bessie Hagler, their oldest child, Cora, died on June 2, 1900. That same year, Columbus died at age 27, leaving Bessie alone with five small children to care for. Understandably, it was too much, so not long after Columbus died, the Hagler orphan children went to live with their grandparents, William M. Huff and his wife Margaret.

When the Homestead Act of 1862 was written it included a provision that the guardian of orphan heirs to a homestead could sell it prior to patent for their benefit, with the buyer then able to get the homestead awarded in his or her own name. However, the law was silent on whether a homestead could just be awarded to orphan children in their names, which might not have been initially anticipated. Yet, it wasn’t prohibited. So, in this case, that’s indeed how the three children of John H. Hagler ended up as “orphan homesteaders” with their own homestead in 1904 in Alabama. They had rights to their late father’s claim. And with the help of their maternal grandfather, they received it.

On November 15, 1902, William M. Huff, as guardian for his three orphaned grandchildren, provided proof before the clerk of the circuit court at Gadsden, Alabama that the homestead claim of his late son-in-law should be awarded to his three orphan children under their grandfather’s care.

The U.S. Land Office at Huntsville, Alabama printed a “Notice for Publication” dated October 2, 1902, in the local Gadsden Times-News. It stated that William had “filed notice of his intention to make final proof in support of his claim” and had named three witnesses to support his statements to have the homestead awarded to his three grandchildren. The evidence of John H. Hagler’s settlement and farming the land was recorded, verified, and evaluated for his orphan children to receive the land. Eventually, they did receive their father’s homestead, issued on March 19, 1904. When it arrived, it named all three children as jointly receiving the homestead, with the patent also stating that they were “minor orphan children of John H. Hagler.”

William M. Huff, the grandfather and guardian of his three Hagler grandchildren, was himself a homesteader. He had received a 120.03-acre homestead on July 23, 1896, about two miles southwest of the homestead received by his three grandchildren.

To conclude is a brief account of what became of the three orphan homesteaders.
#1 Beulah Lilly Hagler was born August 22, 1893, in Etowah County, Alabama. She married King Merill Moore on July 12, 1914, King Merrill Moore. They had four children. King Moore served as a Corporal in the Alabama State Infantry prior to registering for the draft during W.W. I on June 5, 1917. The federal census for 1920 and 1930 listed Beulah and King Moore and their family as living in Gadsden, Alabama. In 1920, he worked there as a laborer for the Republic Steel Company. Then with the Depression, in 1930, King Moore was a salesman of cooking ware. Beulah died February 8, 1937, with her widower passing away in 1945. He and Beulah are buried in the same cemetery as her parents, the Reid Cemetery at Glencoe, in Etowah County, Alabama.

#2 Maggie Lou Hagler was born in 1895 in Etowah County, Alabama. She married James Lawson Hicks on October 14, 1914. He was born in 1886 in Alabama and had two children from a prior marriage, with James and Maggie adding another nine children together to their large family of 11 children. The 1920, 1930, and 1940 census returns all reported that James worked in a cotton mill at Gadsden, Alabama where he and Maggie lived during their married lives. Maggie died in 1952 and James in 1957. They are also buried in the same cemetery as her parents.

#3 William Isaac Hagler was born July 30, 1898, in Etowah County, Alabama. On September 21, 1916, at age 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army at Gadsden, Alabama, and served over two years including during all of W.W. I. He was discharged on February 14, 1919, at a military hospital over two months following the end of the war. He married Lovice Savannah Patty (1896-1972) on March 20, 1920, in Calhoun County, Alabama. The two had a child the next year, in 1921, but he was not in good health. He was readmitted to a military hospital that same year. He had likely sustained an injury or had contracted a disease during his military service that shortened his life. He was only 23 when he died in early 1922. He was also buried in the same cemetery with his parents and other family members.