Monday, August 24, 2015

Homestead National Monument – Beatrice Nebraska

I had a specific destination as my goal once we crossed the state line from Kansas into Nebraska…

This is the Headquarters and Museum for the Homestead National Monument of America which is located just a little west and north of Beatrice Nebraska. 

The National Homestead Monument commemorates the Homestead Act of 1862 and the far-reaching effects it had on our nation’s landscape and our people.  This Law turned over vast amounts of the public domain to private citizens…with a total of 270 million acres or 10% of the area of the United States claimed and settled under the Homestead Act.  By granting 160 acres of free land to claimants, it allowed nearly any man or woman a "fair chance." 

  • Along the sidewalk leading to the building is the "Living Wall," a physical representation of the percentage of land that was successfully homesteaded in each state.  The 30 “Homestead States”, from Florida to Alaska, are lined up in order from east to west as you would see them on a map.  45% of Nebraska was ‘homesteaded’ vs. less than 1% of Alaska.

Other than the fact that Nebraska has the highest percentage of homesteaded land, there is another reason that the Homestead National Monument is located in this specific spot.  It’s impossible to prove it but  legend has it that Daniel Freeman filed his claim 10 minutes after midnight at the Land Office in Brownville Nebraska on January 1, 1863, the first day the Homestead Act went into effect.  This was the land where he had his homestead...

Mr. Freeman came from Illinois to Nebraska and began corresponding with Agnes Suiter, a young woman from Le Claire Iowa.  Agnes had been engaged to Daniel's brother James, who died in the Civil War.  Daniel proposed marriage through the mail, and in 1865, he brought his new bride back to his homestead claim.  They had 8 children there over the years.  As the children grew, some married and built homes on the old homestead.  None of the old homes exist today…

The exhibits inside the Park Headquarters are extensive and well done.  Being into trains, cars, planes and other modes of transportation, I had to include photos of some early ‘wheels’ the buckboard wagon above and this nice looking buggy. 

The Homestead National Monument of America currently has over 9,000 archaeological artifacts, over 7,000 historical objects, almost 1,000 scientific specimens and over 43,000 archival documents or 26.9 linear feet of material. The total collection for the Homestead National Monument of America includes over 60,000 items.   

The exhibits in the museum portion of the building include a lot of information about homesteading and homesteaders as well as the tools and equipment needed to succeed. 

The list of homesteaders and descendants of homesteaders include many familiar names.  These include: George Washington Carver (Inventor and Educator); Willa Cather (Author); Whoopi Goldberg (Actress); Chet Huntley (Journalist and Newscaster); ’Jewel’ Kilcher (Singer); Thomas Kleppe (Congressman, Director of the Small Business Administration and Secretary of the Interior); Walter Knott (Knott’s Berry Farm Theme Park); Bill Nelson (Congressman, Senator and Astronaut); Al Neuharth (Founder – USA Today); Jeannette Rankin (1st Female member of Congress); Lawrence Welk (Musician and Entertainer), and; Laura Ingalls Wilder (Author – Little House on the Prairie and others).

I just had to include the McCormick Reaper poster and a model of the original design.  My better half’s is related to the McCormick family line…

Although Cyrus Hall McCormick is generally credited with the invention of this revolutionary piece of farm equipment, he wasn’t the only person involved in the process.  His father had worked on this project for many years and other inventor’s ‘reapers’ included design elements that were eventually included in the successful McCormick reaper.  To read more about the development of the modern reaper, go to, and

While the mechanical reaper was critical to the development of farming on the prairie, it wouldn’t have seen the use it has if John Deere hadn’t invented the first commercially successful steel plow.  Old fashioned wooden and iron plows couldn’t plow the thick sod so his plow was revolutionary.  For more information, just go to

There is a plethora of photos on display that shows early homesteaders and their families with their homes and livestock… Life, especially on the prairie, was primitive and challenging.  How many of us today could survive this experience?  Note the lack of trees… Before settlers planted trees around their homesteads, almost all the trees were limited to the riverbanks of larger rivers.

A homesteader had only to be the head of a household or at least 21 years of age to claim a 160 acre parcel of land.  Settlers from all walks of life including newly arrived immigrants, farmers without land of their own from the East, single women and former slaves came to meet the challenge of "proving up" and keeping this "free land".  Each homesteader had to live on the land, build a home, make improvements and farm for 5 years before they were eligible to "prove up" and receive a patent for their land.  A total filing fee of $18 was the only money required, but sacrifice and hard work exacted a different type of cost from the hopeful settlers.

  • Out of roughly 4,000,000 homestead claims by settlers, only about 1,400,000 persevered through illness, flood, drought and pestilence, meeting all of the requirements and earning their land patents

This display shows the last Homesteader… With a 10 year extension for Alaska, the Homestead Act was in effect until 1986. Over these 123 years, about 2 million individuals used the Homestead Act to attempt to earn the patent to a piece of land.

In 1974, a young Vietnam veteran and native Californian named Kenneth Deardorff filed a homestead claim on 80 acres of land on the Stony River in southwestern Alaska.  Over the next ten years, he and his family lived on and worked the land.  He built all the buildings on the property from white spruce trees.  He fished for salmon and hunted moose and other wild game for food and often woke up in the morning to find grizzly bears in his front yard.  Transportation was limited to a boat or a dog team.  Temperatures often dipped as low as 65 degrees below zero. 

In June 2001, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service got together and officially recognized Deardorff as the nation's final homesteader…

The Palmer-Epard Cabin is located close to the Headquarters Building/Museum.  It was originally built about 14 miles northeast of the Monument by George W. Palmer in 1867 using mixed hardwoods.  The cabin is representative of the local construction style and is considered luxurious in size as it measures 14 x 16 feet! 

I included this photo of the cabin door because I liked it.  Laurie has an eye for these artful shots… 

These 3 photos show the original entirety of the cabin's interior…moving from the right side of the room to the left.  Can you imagine living in this one room cabin with 10 children?!  Finally, between 1875 and 1880, a 10 x 12 foot lean-to was added to the rear of the original cabin.  The Palmers continued to live in this structure until 1895.  Another family lived in this home until around 1940.

We didn’t have a chance to visit the Freeman School which is also located on the Monument grounds.   A landmark judicial decision regarding the separation of church and state and involving this school took place in Nebraska in 1902.  The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, stating that the use of the bible in school by the teacher with the support of the school board violated the Nebraska Constitution's provisions regarding the separation of church and state.  This case was settled many years before the United States Supreme Court ever addressed the issue.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by!  To learn more about visiting the Homestead National Monument of America you can go to

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave   


  1. I am constantly amazed at all of the history you've uncovered in your travels west David. There is so much to learn about our nation and it's people. I especially love the shots of the inside of the cabin.

  2. This post was really interesting, Dave! I can't imagine how proud Homesteaders must've been back then to have the land and try to make it successful. That was some hard work to make a go of it! The Alaska man certainly did, but for that large family to live in that house is unbelievable. I love door pics and Laurie definitely has an eye for doing it perfectly! Thanks for the history lesson, I enjoyed it!

  3. The act did indeed change America. You mentioned Tom Kleppe - his daughter is Janice and wife of Maryville attorney, Jerry Cunningham. The Kleppes would occasionally attend church with them when we went to Mvle First Methodist.

  4. This is a really beautiful post Dave:))