Homestead National Monument of America
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September Newsletter
News from the Homestead
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September brings the beginning of Autumn, a very important season in the lives of homesteaders - the harvest season. Fall is a beautiful time of year to visit the monument, to see the prairie and woods changing with the season. We hope that you will visit us soon, to enjoy the wonderful exhibits we have on display, such as the new Art Quilt exhibit at the Homestead Education Center, "Celebrating Women". You can also join in the upcoming events and programming, including the 2020 Fiddle Festival and Homestead Fest, both coming up this month.

Mark Engler, Superintendent
Homestead Hosting Art Quilt Exhibit "Celebrating Women"
Celebrating Women Art Quilt Exhibit

Homestead National Monument of America is very excited to share an Art Quilt exhibit with our visitors. Titled "Celebrating Women," this collection of 14 Art Quilts from a group of very talented Nebraska women artists honoring the accomplishments of women. We thought it would be the perfect exhibit to continue our theme for 2020 - "Women Homesteaders Leading the Way to Suffrage", which celebrates the role the Homestead Act and women homesteaders had in pushing for the vote for women and the 19th Amendment, which just celebrated its centennial (100th anniversary) in August. 

  Museum Technician Amy Neumann hangs an art quilt for the exhibit

This exhibit highlights the lives of several famous women, including Willa Cather, Georgia O Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, the Abbott Sisters, as well as artists' personal stories and family histories. We're very thrilled to have the opportunity to host "Celebrating Women" and hope our visitors enjoy learning more about the important history of women homesteaders and their role in paving the way for American women today. The exhibit was co-curated by Diane Thomas and Cynthia Levis.
Intern Sabrina Gonzalez hangs an art quilt for the exhibit   

The exhibit will run from September 2nd through October 28th in the multipurpose room at the Homestead Education Center. Are you a quilt aficionado? While at Homestead checking out "Celebrating Women" you can also go on the Quilt Discovery Experience:   If you visit on a Friday afternoon, you can also visit with our volunteer quilters while you view the exhibit.

Did you Know_ Homesteading with Bob King

The Story of Rafael Bermudez, a Hispanic American Homesteader

This month's story is about Rafael Bermudez, a Hispanic American, who homesteaded land in central Oregon in 1896. Bermudez's case is quite unusual. He received his two homesteads under two different names over 18 years apart!

According to his Oregon State death certificate, this homesteader's name was "Rafael Bermudez." It reported that he was born in "1846 in Mexico" and died March 20, 1926 in Burns, Harney County, Oregon, at age 80. He was buried in the Burns Cemetery in Burns, Oregon, with his gravestone inscribed: "Chappo Bermudez 1846-1926." His death certificate also stated that he was a farmer and a son of "Juan Bermu" (Bermudez?) and his wife "Margaret Reis," both born in Mexico. 

Yet, Rafael Bermudez, also called "Chappo", was not exclusively known by the name written on his death certificate. Notably, he received his first homestead of 160 acres on September 15, 1902 under the name of "Raphael Marmdas." It was located near Burns, Oregon and patented to him under the 1862 Homestead Act. But on May 10, 1921, he received a second 160-acre homestead under the name of "Rafel Bermudez." This was under terms of the 1916 Stock-Raising Homestead Act and was for land about 2 miles north of his first homestead in Harney County, Oregon.
How was it possible (or legal) for one person to received two homesteads under two names?

The key to unraveling the  mystery was a surprising notation on a document in his 1902 homestead file. It was on the official notice that he had filed on July 26, 1901 at the U.S. Land Office in Burns, Oregon stating that he was ready to "make final proof" for his homestead. His name was given on that record as "Raphael Marmdas," as I expected. But to my surprise his name had first been written as "Rafael Bermendez," which was crossed out and "Raphael Marmdas" substituted. From that discovery, more revelations followed. While "Bermendez: is not "Bermudez," it was close enough that I soon found him listed in federal census records. Yet each census record had certain different information that added more to the puzzle.
In the 1900 census, he was listed as "Rafael Bermudez," the same name as on his 1926 death certificate. He was reported as age 40, a stock raiser owning his own farm. The census also listed that he was born in August 1859 in Mexico, with his parents also born in Mexico. It noted that Rafael could neither read nor write English but could speak English. It also stated that he had come to the USA in 1878, where he had lived for 22 years, and had been naturalized, though the specific year was not given. In 1900, he and his wife Florence were reported as living on a ranch in Harney County, Oregon. Florence was stated to have been born in November 1863 in California, with her father born in Mexico and mother born in California. Raphael and Florence were also listed as recently married (not yet a full year) and had no children.
Subsequently, the 1910 census again reported Rafael but this time as "Rafael Bermendez." He was listed as born in Mexico in 1851, with the same stated as the birthplaces of his parents. Again, Raphael was listed as unable to read or write English but could speak English. Further, in 1910, he was reported as having come to the USA in 1874 (not 1878) and was naturalized (year again not given). His listed occupation was farming on his own land. The 1910 census also stated that his wife "Floren," (Florence) was age 45 (thus born ca. 1865) with a birthplace of California. Her father's birthplace was Spain. Florence's mother, however, was listed with the surprising birthplace of Greece. Also of note, the 1910 census reported that Raphael and Florence had been married 11 years (thus married about 1899) and that he had been married twice (so, once before his marriage to Florence). Florence, however, had been married three times (so, twice before marrying Raphael). They were reported with no children. 

The next 1920 census of the same location again listed Rafael and Florence as farming what presumably would have been one or both of his homesteads. This time, Rafael was listed as "Rafael Bermindez," age 67 (thus born ca. 1853) in Mexico, of parents also born in Mexico. Rafael's "mother tongue" was Spanish, the same as his parents. Most interesting, this census reported that Rafael came to the USA in 1853 (at birth?) but was naturalized in 1895. In 1920, the census did not ask if people could read or write English, but only if they could speak it, with "yes" listed for him. Rafael's wife Florence was listed as age 56 (thus born ca. 1864) with her birthplace and those of her parents being California. The 1920 census also reported that Florence spoke English. No children were listed with them.
If those inconsistencies were not enough, there was a further surprise in his homestead file in the National Archives. On his final statement, dated September 5, 1901, needed for proving up his homestead, "Raphael Marmdas, age 48," (thus born ca. 1853) reported that he had been "born in California," and was a "native-born citizen of the United States."
This statement contradicted an earlier document in the same file. On September 3, 1896, he had filed a "Homestead Affidavit" as part of his application for his first homestead in the U.S. Land Office in Burns, Oregon. It indicated that he was not a US citizen. On that day, he signed (using a mark) his "oath that it is my bonafide intention to become a Citizen of the United States" further stating that he would thereby "renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to all and any foreign Prince, Potentate, State and Sovereignty whatsoever, and particularly to the President of Mexico, of whom I am at present a subject."
This seemingly is very clear evidence that in 1896 "Raphael Marmdas" thought that he was not an American citizen. But, contrary to what I expected, there were no further documents about this matter in his homestead file in the National Archives. Typically casefiles for people filing for homesteads as non-citizens include a copy of the homesteader's naturalization papers, as American citizenship was required to get a homestead. But this was not the case for the "Raphael Marmdas" homestead casefile. Instead, it appears that his statement of being "born in California" may have resolved his citizenship issue, despite the earlier document in the casefile indicating that he was not an American citizen.
But that still seems odd. One explanation for this contradiction is that Raphael in 1901 may have understood more about his possibly complicated citizenship status than he did in 1896 when he filed for his first homestead.   While being born in California would have made him a native-born American, under certain circumstances he could have been born in Mexico and still have been a US citizen without undergoing the typical naturalization process faced by people born in other countries wishing to become American citizens.
How? It depended on exactly when and where he was born.
As noted, his death certificate reported that he had been born in 1846 in Mexico. Significantly, in 1846, California was part of Mexico, but after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848 ending the Mexican-American War, the northern part of Mexico was ceded to the USA. One of the terms of the 1848 treaty was that Mexicans living in the ceded lands (including what became the State of California) would automatically become citizens of the United States unless they chose to retain Mexican citizenship and moved south into what remained of Mexico.
Rafael's parents might have been living in the mid-to-late 1840s in the part of Mexico that became California at the end of the Mexican War. Simply by staying there with young Rafael after 1848, they all would have become American citizens.
But was Rafael Bermudez really born in 1846 and thus got his American citizenship under terms of the 1848 Treaty? Or was he instead born in the 1850s as suggested by the census reports and also what he reported for his age on his homestead papers (born ca. 1853)? I cannot be certain. But the question of his needing to be naturalized would have become moot if he were born in the 1850s in California as it was then part of the United States. So, where he was born? Mexico or California? That most likely can never be proven. But it appears that his 1901 statement of being "born in California" apparently was accepted instead of what he had indicated earlier.
But this matter is also intriguing for another reason. As noted, he was reported as already having been naturalized when the 1900, 1910, and 1920 census counts were taken for Harney County, Oregon. But specific information as to what year it occurred was listed only on one census -- the 1920 census reporting his naturalization "in 1895." But in all the census returns, Rafael had consistently been listed as an American citizen. So, maybe he actually had been naturalized in 1895 (or some other year prior to 1900) and misunderstood the implications of his first statement made on September 3, 1896 about not being a citizen, which he had signed by a mark in front of witnesses?
Related to this, it is noteworthy to mention that there is also evidence in his homestead casefile that "Raphael Marmdas" was confused about another matter when applying for his homestead in 1896: its location. He signed a special document on November 5, 1896, clarifying that his initial September 3, 1896 homestead application was wrong. He stated that he had made an error in filing for his homestead land, and it had ended up being recorded in the wrong place instead of where he intended.
To explain what happened, he stated: "I am entirely ignorant of the manner in which land is described by sub-divisions, and of the further fact that there was no one in the vicinity of said land from whom I could procure assistance in ascertaining the true numbers of the land I desired to enter." He went on to say that it was only later when he had talked with an employee at the Land Office in Burns that he discovered the error. His explanation was accepted, and his homestead location was changed to what he intended.

Now, let's return to another oddity of this story: of how one man can get two homesteads under different names. It turns out that it may not be much of an issue after all. Though not commonly done, it was clearly legal for one person to get two different homesteads if they were authorized under two different homestead laws. Thus, if they were obtained under different names by the same person, that likely did not matter as long as it was not done for some fraudulent reason. And fraud seems very unlikely in this case.
Further, while the three documented spellings of his first name (Raphael, Rafael, Rafel) are all pronounced the same and apparently created no issues when variously used, the situation with his use of two surnames that do not sound alike, "Marmdas" and "Bermudez," is still a mystery. (One idea I considered involves the Spanish naming system where a person receives both the father's and mother's surnames. So, was he using his mother's maiden name or a version of it? Yet in 1926. Rafael's death certificate reported that his mother's surname was "Reis." 
 I wish Rafael "Chappo" Bermudez" and his wife Florence could tell us the answers to these questions! This is such an intriguing story, yet undoubtedly just one of many thousands of fascinating histories of real homesteaders and their lives needing to be researched. Each one helps enrich our understanding of what really happened at different times and in different places during the very important Homestead Era in American history.

Jayhawk Haystacker Restoration - Thanks to Friends of Homestead National Monument!

Do you know what a Jayhawk Hay-stacker is? It's an impressive horse-drawn farm implement that was manufactured in Salina, Kansas by the Wyatt Manufacturing Company. Homesteaders used the Jayhawk (also known as an overshot hay stacker) to lift a load of hay weighing up to 700 pounds as high as 23 feet in the air. The Jayhawk was used to create mounds of hay, before the invention of the baler and the rise of the square bale. Early models were available both in wood and in steel - Homestead's is steel. Later models were designed to be hitched to the front of a tractor, rather than being horse-powered - part of the broader story of mechanization and the revolution in agriculture that homesteaders and farmers across the United States embraced to increase production and turn the country into "the breadbasket of the world". Any machinery that allowed homesteaders to reduce the immense amount of time and labor required to prove up a homestead and bring in a crop year after year was a treasured piece of equipment, and the Jayhawk was no exception.

Jayhawk Haystacker in front of the Heritage Center
Thanks to Duane Durst, Homestead National Monument of America has been home to one of these impressive pieces of machinery since 2009. Unfortunately, our Jayhawk was damaged in a recent storm. In order to help us restore the Jayhawk Hay-Stacker, our authorized philanthropic partner, the Friends of Homestead National Monument of America, will be participating in the 2020 Big Give, on September 10th, to raise funds for repairs to the Jayhawk. Please go to website here. Thank you to the Friends of Homestead National Monument of America for their support of this project! 

Virtual Fiddle Activities to Replace 2020 Fiddle Festival

Homestead National Monument of America will host free digital fiddling events on Saturday, September 5, 2020. The events will kick off at 10:00 am with a one-hour fiddle workshop with Debby Greenblatt. This workshop will be virtual and presented on the Zoom platform. The lesson will be followed by a 1:00 pm Facebook fiddle performance by Terrence Keefe, Chris Sayre, and Steve Hanson. The 45-minute fiddle demonstration will include a live question and answer session, so guests can ask about their experience fiddling and judging fiddling competitions. These two digital events will replace the 2020 Fiddle Festival and acoustic band contest as an effort to maintain the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's social distancing guidelines.

Tallgrass Prairie Fiddle Festival Saturday September 5 2020 Online Event

The Zoom workshop will feature three tunes that were brought to the United States by homesteaders. Greenblatt will teach the tunes by ear and will make PDFs of the songs available after the workshop for those who wish to acquire them. This event will feature live captioning and is open to all.

We hope to see you (virtually) on Saturday, September 5, 2020 for a wonderful day of fiddling. To register for this free workshop, please email [email protected]. An invite with the Zoom meeting link will be sent to you prior to the event. Please note: this event will be recorded. The fiddle demonstration and Q&A session does not require a reservation and can be found at Please contact us at 402-223-3514 if you have questions. The annual Fiddle Festival event is presented with the generosity of Humanities Nebraska, Coffin Family Foundation, Friends of Homestead and Nebraska Arts Council.

What Does 6 Feet Look Like_ NPS Social Distancing Sign

Remember to practice social distancing (keeping a distance of six feet and avoiding large gatherings) and be aware of CDC guidance and NPS Public Health Service recommendations.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
    • Wash with soap and water to destroy the virus. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
    • While an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%-95% alcohol can be used, it's best to reserve those resources for work locations where soap and water are not readily available.
    • If your hands are visibly dirty, soap and water should be used rather than hand sanitizer.
  • As always, it is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Regular household cleaners will destroy the virus.
  • Most importantly, stay home when you are sick in order to avoid exposing others.

Upcoming Events

Special Events and Exhibits at Homestead National Monument of America:

September - October: "Celebrating Women" Art Quilt Exhibit (Education Center)

August - November: "Rightfully Hers" Suffrage Exhibit (Heritage Center)

Saturday, September 5th, 10 A.M.  - Virtual Fiddle Festival: Zoom Fiddle Workshop with Debby Greenblatt

Saturday, September 5th, 1 P.M. - Virtual Fiddle Festival: Facebook Fiddle Performance with Terrence Keefe, Chris Sayre, and Steven Hanson

Saturday, September 19th, 1 P.M. - Homestead Fest. Many Moccasins Dance Troupe

Saturday, September 19th, 3 P.M. - Homestead Fest. Linked by Color: Rose Clauson

Saturday, September 20th, 2 P.M. - Homestead Fest. Kenny Janak Orchestra

To learn more about events visit:
Back to School: Free Distance Learning Programs Available!

It's Back-to-School season once again. With the increased demand for Virtual and Distance Learning opportunities, Homestead would like to remind you of our distance learning programs, which are offered completely free of charge! Are you or someone you know a teacher looking for virtual programming for the classroom?  Distance learning programs with Homestead bring a real-live park ranger into the classroom no matter the distance, and are available for K-12 as well as higher education or continuing education! 

Students in front of the Freeman School.
Students in front of the Freeman School.

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

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 - (402)223-3514 or [email protected]

Distance Learning Programs we offer include:

Women Who Paved the Way - Women Homesteaders and Suffragists:
As women homesteaders were helping to homestead the west, suffragists fought to secure the right to vote for women across the United States. In this lesson students and a Park Ranger will explore how women homesteaders and suffragists broke down gender barriers and paved the way for modern women.

(Different versions of program available for Middle School, High School, and Higher Education)

A School Day in 1872:
In this virtual lesson a Park Ranger will talk about how the Homestead Act of 1862 populated the west and the needs of those settling. This included the need for schools. This programs discusses the differences between school today and in 1872.

(Program suited for Elementary School)

A Day in the Life of a Homesteader:
In this virtual lesson a Park Ranger will examine what types of homes homesteaders built on the prairie, what the inside of their homes looked like and what their daily chores would have been.

(Program suited for Elementary School)

Follow the Buffalo:
In this virtual visit a Park Ranger utilizes real parts of a buffalo to discover American Indian uses. They will also discuss the importance of the Homestead Act of 1862 and its role in the American Indians life.

(Program suited for Elementary and Middle School)

The Homestead Act of 1862:
In this virtual lesson a Park Ranger will talk about how the Homestead Act of 1862 populated the west and the needs of those settling. Discussion includes how the United States acquired the land given away and the specific requirements to claim one's free land.

(Program suited for Elementary School and Middle School)
Behind the Scenes with Park Guide Jessica Korgie

Staff at Homestead National Monument work hard to provide visitors with a wonderful experience, providing introductions to the park, giving ranger talks and programming, and preserving and protecting the natural and cultural resources of the park. But NPS staff do a lot of work behind the scenes, as well. Park Guide Jessica Korgie is our digital media specialist here, and she has been hard at work this summer creating some fantastic videos for several major NPS-wide events and celebrations, including videos for the 50th anniversary of the Volunteer-in-Parks program and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

The Volunteers-in-Parks program was established 50 years ago by NPS Director George Hartzog. From just a few hundred volunteers at the beginning, the program has grown to hundreds of thousands of people generously sharing their time, skills, and talents to help. You can see the video that Jessica created here. 
Volunteer for the National Parks
Volunteer for the National Parks

If you've been following Homestead on social media, you have probably also seen Jessica's handiwork in celebrating the centennial of the suffrage movement. She put together this incredible documentary film on the link between women homesteaders and fighting for the right women to vote, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last month. If you haven't seen that film yet, give it a watch! You can access all of the content Homestead created in celebration of the 19th Amendment's centennial here: 

Planted in the Soil - Suffrage and Women Homesteaders
Planted in the Soil - Suffrage and Women Homesteaders

"I am truly honored to create videos on the behalf of Homestead and the National Park Service.  My colleagues here at home and across the NPS have encouraged and given me real belief that there is art in my craft, and for that I'll always be thankful," Jessica said.

Ranger Jesse's Natural Resource Musings:
 Explore the Cub Creek Woodland

The forty acres of woodland at Homestead National Monument of America is classified as a mesic bur oak forest, which are rare in Nebraska. When the National Park Service acquired the Freeman homestead, much of the wooded area along Cub Creek had been heavily grazed, and most of the older trees had been harvested. However, approximately 20 acres of woodland remained undisturbed. In 1939, 10,000 oak and hackberry seedlings were planted in the most disturbed area of the woodland, and by the 1960's, much of the forest had recovered.

Dominating the riparian woodland area are several species of oak, silver maple, hackberry, and eastern cottonwood. The understory contains species such as wood nettle, false nettle, wingstem, sedges, and Virginia wild rye. Shrubs and young trees are present mostly along woodland margins and include coralberry, oaks, elms, and black walnut.

Sunlight cascading through the canopy of the bur oak forest.
Sunlight cascading through the canopy of the bur oak forest.

On the Woodland Loop Trail you can step into a still, serene woodland world and escape from the relentless wind of the prairie. Feel the same smoothing relief as the homesteaders that settled in this area. Their relief was not only physical but mental as well. This forest meant security. It gave homesteaders warmth, shelter and animals to hunt.

Scientists of the National Park Service's Heartland Inventory and Monitoring Program crawled all over this forest finding 116 types of plants and an overstory of 60 foot tall oaks with large spreading crowns.

Monarch Butterflies and the Tallgrass Prairie

Sarah Nevison, a wildlife biologist, visited Homestead National Monument on August 6th to do butterfly surveys for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. These surveys were conducted across the tallgrass prairie ecoregion of Nebraska (the eastern quarter of the state) from June 15 through August 15, specifically targeting monarch butterflies and regal fritillary butterflies. The surveys help us better understand the density of our two target species on public and private lands, as well as the variety and composition of flowers and other vegetation along the transect. When Sarah was at Homestead and on Friends of Homestead land, she documented 5 monarchs on her survey. She said "Walking the trail along your southern boundary out to my transect and back I saw dozens of monarchs - the most I've seen at one site! - , as well as painted ladies, tiger swallowtails, silver spotted skippers, and other pollinators, often nectaring on Ironweed. There is also a good amount of milkweed along that trail which is necessary for monarchs."

This is a male monarch_butterfly__Danaus plexippus_ nectaring on Ironweed _Veronia sp._
This is a male monarch_butterfly__Danaus plexippus_ nectaring on Ironweed _Veronia sp._

Monarch butterflies aren't just beautiful - they contribute to the health of our planet as pollinators. As they feed on nectar, monarchs pollinate wildflowers across North America. In fact, they have one of the animal kingdom's most impressive migrations - from Mexico to Canada.  They live in prairies, meadows, and grasslands, and most of the monarchs that overwinter in Mexico actually originate in the Midwestern states. Though they feed on many different flowers, such as sunflowers, thistle, heath aster, and goldenrods, they lay their eggs only on milkweed plants - which are actually poisonous to many animals! As caterpillars feast on the milkweed before metamorphosing into a butterfly, the toxins remain permanently in their system. Animals that eat a monarch become very sick - meaning that many predators stay away from the distinctive pattern of this beautiful butterfly.

 The  prairie is an incredible ecosystem that is in danger of disappearing. It used to cover 400,000 square miles of North America - now only 4% of the tallgrass prairie's original area is left. Monarch butterflies have been facing population decline for years, in part due to loss of habitat and the important milkweed plants. When Homestead National Monument of America was created in 1936, the Freeman homestead had been plowed and farmed for decades, but beginning in 1939 the prairie was restored to its native vegetation - the second oldest restored tallgrass prairie in the nation! The restored prairie provides a healthy environment for the Monarch butterfly, and for a diverse ecosystem: 330 different plant species, 7 types of amphibians, 13 reptiles, 165 species of birds, 41 species of mammals, 12 species of fish, and hundreds of species  of insects! The National Park Service takes its mission to preserve natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations very seriously. Here at Homestead we are honored to be a part of that preservation effort. Come visit the monument and see the monarchs and all the beautiful, diverse wildlife of the tallgrass prairie for yourself!

Genealogy with Ranger Amber: Making a Case for Homesteading Case Files

The Homestead Act fundamentally changed the landscape of the United States and the evidence of its impact is everywhere. Fields of straight crops now replace the once-abundant prairie grass. The modern technology that efficiently plants and gathers crops was born from the homesteaders' demand for efficient equipment. The rapid development of western states and the American economy is all grounded in the Homestead story. The Homestead Act settled over 270 million acres of land in 30 out of the 50 states, making the homesteading story a major national story-and a key component of many Americans' personal stories. 

Over 93,000,000 Americans descend from a homesteader. Are you one of them? You can use homesteading case files to find more information about your homesteading ancestor. (You can establish you are descended from a homesteader by researching the database of GLO patents digitized and provided for free by the Bureau of Land Management at

The Homestead Act was very inclusive and ahead of its time. A Homestead claimant did not need to be an American citizen to start the process; they only needed to declare their intention to become a citizen. Many immigrants came to the United States on the promise of land ownership under the Homestead Act. Also, the Homestead Act did not include gendered language allowing any head of household over the age of 21 to apply. This provided single women a pathway to landownership over 60 years before they could vote (in 1862 married women were automatically deemed not head of household).

A potential homesteader needed only $12 to file a claim to gain the right to homestead a piece of the public domain. The claim did not give them ownership but the opportunity to try to earn the land for free. A homesteader could claim up to 160 acres of land under the original law. They had to live on the land for 5 years; they cultivate a crop to improve the land; and build a shelter. Homesteading was an enormous task. Homesteaders often faced difficult weather conditions with limited resources and tools. At the beginning of the homesteading era, homesteaders had 7 years to fulfill the requirements.

Once the homesteader was ready to finalize the claim, they had to provide proof that they did everything that the Act stipulated. They had to name four witnesses to swear to their accomplishments and they had to put out a public notice of their intentions. The resulting paperwork was a homestead case file.
What's in a homestead case file?
Homestead case files are everything your ancestor needed to prove they fulfilled the requirements of the Homestead Act. These files are treasure troves of genealogical information. They can answer so many of your research questions and can also form the foundation for new questions.
Homestead case files include all the sworn affidavits of homesteaders and affidavits of two of the four potential witnesses. Affidavits include what kind of crop was planted and what kind of shelter was built. The claimant did not have to be a U.S. citizen to start the process, but they needed to be a naturalized citizen to finalize the process, so naturalization papers would be included in the file as well. (If you've been looking in vain for your immigrant ancestor's naturalization records, the homestead case file could lead you to them!)
The witnesses they chose are excellent evidence for cluster research and understanding the community and network of your ancestor. Historians at the University of Nebraska Center for Great Plains Studies found that homesteaders would often choose people that were respected within the community beyond just their normal circle of friends and family. This would help prevent others from contesting the claim. Another requirement was a public notice informing the community that a claim was about to be finalized, allowing others to contest its authenticity.
The National Archives has digitized case files for 10 of the 30 homesteading states. We have a research area here at the monument's Heritage Center where you can access these digitized records. Rangers are ready to assist you with any genealogical or even general research questions you may have when researching at the monument. You can also access the records in the collection, "U.S., Homestead Records, 1863-1908" ( 

You can either enter an ancestor's information (on the left side) or browse the collection (on the right side) by state, land office, etc. During the homesteading period, there were many Federal Land Offices scattered throughout the 30 homesteading states. 

The Homestead Act had a tremendous impact, especially in western states. Consider searching for homesteading records for all your relatives who lived in the United States, especially the Midwest or West, after the Civil War and into the 1900s. Rangers at Homestead National Monument of America can also assist you with any research questions you may have. Visit the monument or give us a call at (402)223-3514! 

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

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Homestead National Monument of America