Homestead National Monument of America
National Park Service Arrowhead Emblem

September Newsletter
News from the Homestead
  _Find Your Park_ Logo

September brings with it the arrival of Fall - a change in season and a change in park hours. Beginning September 3rd, Homestead National Monument of America will be open daily Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and from 9:00 a.m.  to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Historically, summer has always been the busiest season of the year for Homestead Monument of America, and for the National Park Service as a whole. In recent years, that pattern has seen a shift to where now the Spring and Fall bring as many visitors as the summer months.

It's a wonderful time of year to visit Homestead, to see the prairie and the woods turn with Autumn, and to attend park programming. September's highlights include the the Labor Day events including the Cars of the Homestead Car Show (September 1st, 10 a.m. at the Education Center), the 10th Annual Old Fashioned Spelling Bee at the Freeman School (September 2nd at 10 a.m.), and a Naturalization Ceremony on Constitution Day (September 17th at 2:00 p.m. in the Education Center).

We hope you'll join us this Fall to remember the importance of the harvest season, and to participate in all the fun activities we'll be hosting here for friends and visitors to the park.

Mark Engler, Superintendent
Here Come the Huskers!

College football season is just around the corner. Here in Nebraska, it's a very special time of year, when residents change their favorite colors to "Scarlet and Cream," and proudly cheer on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's "Cornhuskers," where Memorial Stadium turns into the "third largest city in Nebraska" on Game Day.

But who or what exactly was a "cornhusker?" Where did the name originally come from? 

A cornhusker was the person (and after the rise of mechanization on farms, machinery) responsible for removing corn from its stalk, and tearing it free from the husk - the protective, leafy cover surrounding the golden kernels inside. 

Prior to modern mechanized harvesters, corn was harvested in many different ways. The most popular of these methods included either cutting the stalks and bundling them together into piles or "shocks," or using a corn sled to cut between rows of corn and then tying them into bundles on the sled. After the corn was harvested, the leftover stalks could be used as animal feed. 

Homesteaders, always eager for any tools and equipment to ease the workload of farming, utilized husking pegs and husking hooks to reduce the strain on one's hands and fingers while husking or shucking corn.

While harvesting has been mechanized for decades, there are still farms where corn is husked by hand. In fact, there are national cornhusking contests dedicated to celebrating this part of America's agricultural heritage! Henry A. Wallace, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Secretary of Agriculture,helped organize and create the first national corn husking contest in Iowa in the 1920s. The early husking champions were often treated like movie stars across the Corn Belt.

This year's National Cornhusking Contest will be held in Gothenburg, Nebraska.  In last year's statewide event in Gothenburg, Ryan Boyd shucked 272 pounds of corn in only 20 minutes! 


10th Annual Old-Fashioned Spelling Bee

Join us Monday, September 2nd for the annual Old-Fashioned Spelling Bee at the Freeman School. Contestants will be divided into five categories: under 7, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15, and 16-adult.

The Bee begins at 10 a.m., with registration opening up at 9:00 a.m.

There is no entry fee required and trophies will be awarded courtesy of the Beatrice Daily Sun.  If you don't want to compete, just come out for some old fashioned fun! 

Spelling Bees were a major component of curriculum at one-room schools. A contest to see who the best speller in school for any given week, students lined up and took turns spelling out words. The last student standing took home bragging rights. Spelling Bees were social events for communities as well - the term "bee" applied to group activities such as husking bees, or quilting bees. Adults and children alike would participate in bees in the nineteenth century. 

The 1866 Southern Homestead Act

When the Homestead Act signed by President Abraham Lincoln became law on May 20, 1862, the country was embroiled in the Civil War that would last nearly three more years.  Eleven states in the Lower and Upper South had succeeded from the Union and were engaged in active warfare against the rest of the United States.  Not surprisingly, the 1862 Homestead Act contained a provision that all persons who had "borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies" could not receive a homestead.  And from the perspective of the Confederate States of America, the 1862 Homestead Act was irrelevant anyway.  It had been passed by a country that they no longer considered their own, with the "free" land that could be homesteaded thus not even part of their new and separate "nation." 
But eventually that would change.  Confederate soldiers who had fought against the United States during the Civil War eventually were allowed to homestead -- and apparently thousands did.  The story of how this change happened is fascinating yet not well known.

Central to the story is politics.  Even before the Civil War ended in the spring of 1865, there was heated debate in Congress and throughout the nation on how to bring the country back together again, including if there should be lasting consequences for those who had borne arms against it.  When, if ever, would former Confederates be treated the same under all federal laws including homestead laws?  Would they ever be allowed to get "free" land?
Since the 1862 Homestead Act had specifically withheld homestead rights to combatants or others who gave "comfort or aid" to the nation's enemies, it required either an amendment to the 1862 law or a separate homestead act to accomplish this change.  The solution was both. 

Due to the complexity of the situation and other goals of the Reconstruction Period, a special homestead law was passed by Congress on June 21, 1866 with the lengthy name: "An Act for the Disposal of the Public Lands for Homestead Actual Settlement in the States of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Florida."  It became known as the 1866 Southern Homestead Act and involved more than just restoring homestead rights to former Confederate soldiers and other supporters of the Confederacy.  It included other changes to existing homestead law that would last though the end of the homestead era.  

As the 1866 law's lengthy title indicated, most of it directly applied to those five former Confederate states with public lands that potentially could be homesteaded.  Before 1862, the federal lands in the South had primarily been sold by the government often to large timber companies (and speculators) eager to find cheap lumber and reap large profits.   But the new 1866 law put at least a temporary stop to that practice.  It prevented further sale of public lands in these five states, with the lands instead made available just to homesteaders.

Also, for the first two years of the 1866 Homestead Act (June 21, 1866 to June 21, 1868), all homesteads filed in the five former Confederate states could only be for a maximum size of 80 acres, but later increasing to 160 acres after June 21, 1868.  The apparent reason was to enable more people to obtain land in the same area.

Significantly, part of the real (yet unwritten) purpose of the 1866 Southern Homestead Act was to enable newly-freed slaves to obtain federal land as an alternative to breaking up southern plantations and forcing their owners to surrender their private land to their former slaves.  Some in Congress had strongly supported this idea (arguably a version of "forty acres and a mule" for reparations for former slaves).  Indeed, there were many in the North who would have gladly punished the former large Southern slave owners in this fashion.  Yet cooler heads saw that such a legally questionable land confiscation policy could only further inflame and embitter many inhabitants in the former Confederate states leading to endless litigation.  So, for the sake of the reuniting the nation, the idea of breaking up Southern plantations was not adopted, and public lands were opened to former slaves and others to homestead to help quell the need to provide land to the landless.

As for the provision in the 1862 Homestead Act barring those who had borne arms against the nation or who had supported the Confederacy, it was amended away by the 1866 Act.  However, that change only became effective on January 1, 1867, six months after the 1866 Southern Homestead Act was signed.  This was viewed as an attempt to give former slaves a head start in filing homestead claims in those five former Confederate states.  Yet the reality was that the pace of filings for homesteads under this new 1866 law was initially slow, perhaps due to it not being widely known or understood.  Homesteading was indeed new to the South. 

But starting January 1, 1867, former Confederate soldiers or others who had materially supported the Confederacy could at last homestead like anyone else throughout the nation.  But there was one caveat.  The 1866 law required that each homesteader "shall make affidavit that not part of said land has been alienated [sold], and that he will bear true allegiance to the government of the United States."  So, a special loyalty statement was required.

One more notable provision of the 1866 Southern Homestead Act would also later apply to homesteading through the nation from that time forward.  This 1866 law explicitly stated: "that no distinction or discrimination shall be made in the construction or execution of this act on account of race and color."  This was added clarification not in the original 1862 Homestead Act.  So, while the 1862 law did allow anyone of any race or color to homestead, it was apparently feared that without explicit language in the 1866 act the race or color of a perspective homesteader might be used, especially in the South, to bar former slaves from getting homesteads.   And it would thereafter apply to all homesteading.

Thus, the 1866 Southern Homestead Act was a mixture of new land policies and new national goals for the South in the post-Civil War period.  This very important 1866 law was part of the Reconstruction Period in the South.  And like many other Reconstruction policies, it was controversial, too often abused, and eventually repealed with the undoing of Reconstruction in the 1870s.  The Act of June 22, 1876 (19 Stat. 73) was passed by Congress to repeal the 1866 Southern Homestead Act.  Ironically, the repeal went into effect on July 4, 1876, the 100th birthday of the nation, and a day we celebrate freedom in the nation.   Yet for African-Americans the result was a decline homesteading as the post Reconstruction Period gave way to the rise of Jim Crow laws and new attempts to decrease the rights of former slaves.

U.S. Presidents on the Homestead Act

 "I think all of us recognize that America's future depends upon America's farmers. Our national heritage was created by farmers. All Americans--actually, the entire world--today depend more than ever upon all of you.
Abraham Li ncoln signed the Homestead Act, which embodied our fundamental belief in the importance of the American family farm. Lincoln was so right.
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington had shared the same great vision. They were convinced--so am I--that a man with a stake in his own land is a free man. His family is a free family, and together the family farm is the basis of our free society. "

--  Gerald R. Ford, April 3, 1976


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

Stay in touch with us all the time! 

Like us on Facebook  
Follow us on Twitter
Follow us on   
Contact Us
Homestead National Monument of America
Upcoming Events

Special Events at Homestead National Monument of America:

April - August : Promontory Point Exhibit (Homestead Education Center)

July - September: Smoke Over Oklahoma Exhibit (Homestead Education Center)

Sunday, September 1st, 10 a.m.: Cars of the Homestead Era (1900s-1980s) Car Show (Homestead Education Center)

Sunday, September 2nd, 10 a.m.: 10th Annual Old Fashioned Spelling Bee at the Freeman School

Tuesday, September 17th, 2:00 p.m.: U.S. Immigration Naturalization Ceremony - Constitution Day

Sunday, September 22nd, 2:00 p.m.:  Artist-in-Residence Presentation 
by Nancy Lehenbaeuer-Marshall

Sunday, September 29th, 2:00 p.m.: Artist-in-Residence Presentation
by Marjorie Savage

To learn more about events visit:
Constitution Day Naturalization Ceremony: September 17th, 2019

Homestead National Monument of America is honored to host a Naturalization Ceremony this Constitution Day, September 17th, at 2:00 p.m. The ceremony will take place in the Education Center, and the public is encouraged to attend.

Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is conferred upon individuals after fulfilling the requirements established by Congress. After naturalization, foreign-born citizens enjoy the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities that the Constitution gives to native-born U.S. citizens.

Homesteading has a very powerful connection to the story of immigration and naturalization. The peak years of homesteading were also the peak years of immigration to the United States - from the 1890s to the early 1920s. Homesteaders, just like immigrants today, were in search of the American Dream.

By 1870, 25% of the population of Nebraska was foreign-born. The promise of free land under the Homestead Act of 1862 helped drive this rapid influx of immigration. The Homestead Act, historians have argued, was not just a land law, but also an immigration law - open to all potential citizens of the United States, as long as they declared their intent to become citizens. In meeting the requirements to "prove up" the homestead claim, immigrants also met the requirement to become citizens.

The New York Times reported after the passage of the Homestead Act: "Europeans have learned of the immense extent of our country and its limitless resources... they have also begun, or soon will begin, to learn of the Homestead law, and provisions for securing to every man not only life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue happiness but also the means of gaining an independent livelihood."

Please join us in congratulating America's newest citizens we are pleased to honor this Flag Day.

To learn more about immigration and the Homestead Act of 1862,  check out this article on our website!

Southeast Community College Opens "Homestead Hall" 
for Fall 2019 Semester

Southeast Community College in Beatrice celebrated a ribbon cutting ceremony on August 22nd for its new "Homestead Hall" residence hall. Homestead Hall was named in honor of Homestead National Monument of America - we're thrilled to know that soon there will be a whole new generation of "homesteaders" living just down the road from where it all began on January 1st, 1863 with Daniel Freeman.

The 54,000 square foot building can house almost 150 students in apartment-style living quarters with individual bedrooms and shared bathrooms, living spaces, and kitchen areas. The new dorms are part of a series of new facilities going up at SCC, including a dining hall also scheduled to open this semester, and a multidisciplinary building currently under construction.

Back to School!

It's Back to School Season once again. Homestead National Monument of America is proud to offer both on-site and distance learning opportunities to students, not only here in Nebraska, but around the world! Our programs are place-based educations with curricula to support a wide variety of educational frameworks.

All educational programs are offered free of charge.
Funding assistance for transportation costs may be available.

Can't make it to Homestead? Connect with us via distance learning program! Distance learning
programs with Homestead bring a real-live park ranger into the classroom no matter the distance.

Homestead's curriculum guide "Free Land was the Cry!" featuring K-12 lesson plans and
activities is available for free online.

Several traveling trunks are available that can be mailed directly to your school and feature
curriculum materials, hands-on activities, and primary resources. You only have to pay return

For more information on how Homestead National Monument of America can help meet
the learning needs of your students, whatever their age, contact us today and ask to speak
with the education staff!

Programs we offer include:

Stake Your Claim:
Students "Rush" to claim their homestead and read homesteaders hardship journal entries.

(Suitable for grades 4-6)

Finding History with a GPS:
Students navigate a one-mile trail through the tallgrass prairie with GPS units, answering questions at each location.

(Suitable for grades 4-12)

Day in the Life of a Homesteader:
Students learn homesteaders daily chores in a relay race.

(Suitable for grades 2-6)

Follow the Buffalo:
A hands-on activity that examines the
importance of the buffalo to Plains Indians.

(Suitable for grades K-12)

Skins and Skulls:
Students learn what information can be learned about an animal from a skull, by touching and feeling 10 different skulls and skins.

(Suitable for grades K-8)

Questions can be addressed to: [email protected]

Homestead Radio

Did you know Homestead has a radio station? Tune in for news and fun facts

Traveler's Information Stations, or TIS for short, are short range radio stations operated by many National Park Service sites, including Homestead National Monument of America.  You can hear Homestead's broadcast in Beatrice, Nebraska on station K1610 AM, KAC748.  The TIS allows Parks to provide information to motorists regarding travel, events, destination options, and situations of imminent danger and emergencies.   If you are traveling to other National Parks and would like to know if they have a TIS radio stations,  click here