Homestead Act Provides Free Land

Washington, D.C.
May 20, 1862

President Lincoln and Union leaders are preoccupied with the Civil War, but Congress found time today to pass legislation intended to promote the westward movement—the Homestead Act. Any citizen or intended citizen (immigrant) who is over the age of 21 and is the head of a household may claim 160 acres of surveyed public land. The land is free.

After residing on and improving (plowing and crop planting) the land for five years, the homesteader will obtain clear title to the farm by paying small federal fees (never more than $34). Those who intend to take advantage of the generous offer, however, must build a house on the property, usually at a cost of $75 to $150. Essential livestock and equipment will run perspective homesteaders between $500 and $700. The land is free, but homesteaders must have the financial wherewithal to begin farming.

The Homestead Act does not replace the existing Pre-emption Act of 1841. Under terms of that law people may still purchase 160 acres of federal public land for $1.25 an acre or $200. Compared to the cost of buying private land (mostly owned by railroads) at $2.50 an acre, the Pre-emption Act still offers a bargain. For those who do not have the ready cash, the new Homestead Act will provide thousands of people with the chance to begin farming in the American West.


By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council

Subject Matter

Social Studies

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change