HOME, SWEET HOMESTEAD

If it weren’t for the Homestead Act of 1862 the western portion of the United States might have remained unpopulated for at least another fifty years or longer. President Abraham Lincoln’s foresight hastened the settlement by offering plots of land, approximately 160 acres at $1 per acre, or for free, if the homesteader was willing to live on the land and work it (read that as putting in some type of viable crop) for at least five years.

Homesteaders had to be at least 21 years of age or the head of a household to take advantage of the Homestead Act. Thus my grandfather who was but 17, was able to claim his portion of the Homestead dream and file for a homestead plot.

Even current day residents of Eastern Colorado will tell you that 160 acres is a pitiful acreage for raising any kind of livestock. Weather in eastern Colorado is totally unpredictable and ranges from the average of 18 inches of moisture a year to a high of 25 inches or a low of 10 or less. This precipitation includes winter snows through summer showers or downpours. This means native pasture grasses are frequently dry or non-existent.

Making a home on the Colorado plains for early homesteaders involved a success rate akin to the gambling odds of winning a million dollars in Las Vegas. The rule for homesteaders was that bigger was always better. Homestead families linked as many 160 acre plots together as possible in order to make a viable ranch living. An old rule for ranchers was that it took 20 acres to feed one cow for a year, so if the ranching homesteader wanted to have enough animals to survive–everyone homesteaded. In addition to the family lands, homesteaders purchased railroad sections to add to their holdings, but I’ll talk about them later.

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