Homesteaders in Decatur County topic of museum ‘brown bag’ talk

By Angie Baldelomar

A great part of the history of the United States involves the Homestead Act, which promoted settlement of the western half of the country.

Dick Carman, a museum board member, explained the history that led to the landmark federal law during a “Brown Bag and Learn Program” on Thursday at the Old Bohemian Hall at the Last Indian Raid Museum.

He talked about the different methods by which people could acquire land during the settlement era. At first, he said, parcels were awarded depending on rank as payment for military service. After that, the Land Ordinance of 1785 established guidelines on how to manage public lands of the 13 colonies. The Preemption Act allowed land sales up to 160 acres at $1.25 per acre.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which allowed people to file an application for 160 acres of land in exchange of building a home, making improvements and farming the land for five years. After that, they needed to find two neighbors to sign a “proof” document and present it to the government.

Other methods of land acquisition included the Timber Culture Act of 1873, which granted 160 additional acres in exchange for maintaining 40 acres of the land in trees for 10 years, the use of preemption rights and provision for school lands.

Fraud was a big problem during this period, Mr. Carman said. One of the most common methods was taking advantage of the fact that the structure built on homesteaded land had to be at least 12 by 16, but since the act did not specify feet or inches, some people built a small structure.

Mr. Carman also gave information on homestead applications filed in the Decatur County area, but only the part south of U.S. 36. He said he still is researching the area north of the highway.

In Decatur County, he said, homesteading started in 1873. Many of the claims were filed between 1878 and 1885, but a lot of them were abandoned by the later year. A lot of homesteaders were not farmers to begin with, he said, which added to the eventual abandonment of the the land.

After his presentation, Mr. Carman showed some township maps divided into land sections that were homesteaded and who the owners were. Some of the audience members knew of some of the people who filed homestead claims.

The story was published on page 3A of The Oberlin Herald‘s print edition on August 3, 2016.


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