Homestead Act: Who Were the Settlers?
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Did the Homestead Act Succeed?

Using all the farm for crops
Using all the farm for crops — planting corn up to the front door, Custer County, Nebraska, 1888.
Courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society, RG2608-2023

Not everyone was happy with the Homestead Act. It was not a perfect piece of legislation and several problems developed.

  • In much of the west, 160 acres was just not enough land to sustain a viable farm. Just because it was a "free farm" did not guarantee that the farmer would be successful. Money and experience were also necessary ingredients in a successful homestead operation.

  • Corruption and land speculation ran rampant as people claimed free land with no intention of living on it, but rather intending to turn it around for a profit.

By 1900, only about 52% of the original homestead claimants had followed through to take legal title to the land. The remainder ended up in the hands of the railroads, private speculators and "shysters".

However, the Homestead Act did encourage settlers to move into areas of the United States that had not been settled, and it did hold out hope for those who wanted a chance to start over. Before the Act, most farmers living in the east were renters. After the Act, there was a realistic chance that you could be counted among the landowners.

Regardless of specific strengths and weaknesses, federal land policies like the Homestead Act played a major role in encouraging settlement in what was to become the state of Nebraska. The Act became the cornerstone of the nation’s public land policy.

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