The Evolution of Homestead Laws

Following passage of the 1862 Homestead Act, homesteading in America evolved through a series of amendments and later Acts. The first amendment to the 1862 Homestead Act was passed on March 21, 1864. It assisted men who had filed for homesteads but who were serving in the Civil War, to meet some of the requirements for patenting their claims.

Other amendments followed that further refined the process and allowed different groups of people to claim homesteads, including Native Americans, ex-Confederate soldiers, and ex-slaves. Other legislation spurred homesteading on the open prairies and in desert lands in the West, such as the 1873 Timber Culture Act and the 1877 Desert Land Act. The homestead laws changed and adapted to both the physical and political landscapes of America. By 1878 eighteen additional homesteading laws had amended the original act.

Long lines formed outside the Cascade County Courthouse in 1909, following the passage of the Enlarged Homestead Act, which allowed settlers to claim 320 acres of land. Historic postcard courtesy of Robert King.

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1. Explore the Homesteading Timeline. U.S. Department of the Interior. Bureau of Land Management.

2. Krys Holmes with Sue Dailey and Dave Walter. Montana: Stories of the Land. Montana Historical Society Press, Helena, 2008.