Who Homesteaded?

Lawmakers wrote the 1862 Homestead Act to make as many "Americans" as possible eligible to claim a homestead. The law only required that a person be a United States citizen and the head of a family or at least twenty-one years old. So, while we think of many single men breaking sod, the law allowed for many others to homestead, including young married couples still in their teens and single women. Also, the law, while requiring citizenship, did allow for non-citizens to begin homesteading if they had filed a declaration of intention to become a citizen, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States.

Interestingly, the 1862 Homestead Act required that the applicant had not "borne arms against the United States Government" or given aid or comport to its enemies. This provision, when written in 1862, made citizens of all the Southern States (the Confederated states) ineligible for homesteading; however, his right was restored after the end of the Civil War and supported by the passage of the Southern Homestead Act of 1866, which opened land in five southern states to homesteading.

Home sweet homestead for one man on the plains near Chinook, MT. Photo courtesy of Robert King.

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