The life of the Homesteaders

By: Jaycie Joslin and Kaitlin Lewis

Homestead Act

The government made an agreement for the 10% land that was left was Indian country for Native Americans to live. But the government took back that agreement and gave the land to settlers to generate farms, towns, and industries in the west. This is when the U.S Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1862. The person who was head of the household first had to live on the land for five years in order to be granted the 160 acres of land. Lincoln also pushed for a railroad to be built across the U.S.1


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The homesteaders was a diverse group of people that were given 10% of the United States land due to the Homestead Act, to restart their new lives in America as free people. The homesteaders were made up of immigrants, families with young kids, single woman, farmers without land of their own, and freed slaves.2 Homesteaders faced a great variety of hardships, including the crucial process of building a house, the stress of finding transportation, and threat of malnutrition.



Homesteaders in the 1862 moved west to the Great Plains and each got 160 acres of land. With these 160 acres Homesteaders had to build their own homes. They didn't have the materials to make a house like the ones we have today, they had to be resourceful and use what they had. The majority of houses the Homesteaders had were called sod houses, they used the prairie sod as their main support for the house. Sod houses weren't made smooth and effortless, they took time and a lot of dedication. They would sometimes take up to several weeks to build, even with multiple men working on them. To build these sod houses, they needed bricks of prairie sod to make the structure of the house, some sod houses had windows incorporated into the houses but the windows mainly occurred in people who acquired more money. Then came the roof the most difficult process of the house, they had a series of cedar poles that were holding up several layers of brush that was bound to bundles of mud, grass, and sod. Besides the fact of having shelter, these homes were not the most efficient in certain weather situations. Such as storms, rain, and snow. During these conditions there home could be ruined or in bad shape, when it rains it would seep into the home through the roof and not only would it be raining in the home, it would be raining mud and strong storms could knock the house down or ruin it. These are constant fears the Homesteaders had to face with their sod houses.3



Homesteaders also faced malnutrition, this means they were not getting the proper nutrition they need and nothing having enough of the foods they need. Many peoples main concerns were not getting enough food, and this was a constant struggle for any homesteaders. They had to raise and care for cattle or they would have to go hunting for animals. They used the cows for meat and milk, and they could use the milk for cheese and butter. If you did not have these resources you would not be able to have a healthy diet and it would be considered malnutrition. The wealthier ones are the ones who had it easier because a lot had these resources but people who didn’t had to work very hard to get and find there food or else they could get ill. They also didn’t have a wide variety of choices so they had to make the food with the little resources they had. They planted gardens and would pick wild berries and with these they would make dry fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh or use them to make jelly.4


Illnesses and Cures

They did not have any medicines so they women were responsible for making up cures for these illnesses. A popular one was applying warm manure to an arm for a snakebite.

Other cures used were eating a roasted mouse for measles and pouring warm urine into the ear for an earache.They did everything by hand because they didn’t have enough money to buy supplies and the work was never ending and could have easily worked them to death or made them ill and they had no medicines for them. Grasshoppers were a big cause of illnesses and problems. The plague of grasshoppers happened when swarms of millions of insects covered the plains and devoured everything the homesteaders possessed. They’d eat all their crops and all their clothing items and even eat away the house causing them to have nothing left and this would easily cause malnutrition and illnesses.5



The Homestead Act opened up 160 acres to any setter that farmed the land for at least five years. Little did the settlers know how hard it would be to farm the land due to the lake of rivers, lakes, and rainfall.6 The main problem the homesteaders came across was plowing and sowing the ground in order to plant their seeds. The ground was very dry which made the ground very hard to break apart. Many of the farmers plows tend to break from the hardness of the ground. However, they later found a solution. Industries in the east later invented a better piece of machinery, one being the John Deere sod-buster. Also to fix the problem of the dry soil, wind busters were made to pump water from the ground.7



There was a railroad that was built around the same time the Homestead Act was passed. The railroads impacted our country’s development. The railroad especially helped the transportation of homesteaders. It definitely shortened up the length of the trip and only took about a week now to get across the country. Homesteaders also traveled by carriage and horses. Traveling by horse the homesteaders can cover about 12-20 miles just in one day.8


People can now see just how hard the homesteaders had it, especially compared to the modern day’s way of living. Their unsturdy houses were made of sod. They had to be their own doctors with the little knowledge they had. Also the frightening fact they might not be able to put food on the table for their families. Nothing came easy for the homesteaders. They had to work hard for survival, but they did it well and still seemed to live normal lives.


Notes Page

  1. "Homestead Act Signed" Nebraska Studies. Accessed September 21,

2014. page 17.

  1. "Homestead Act: Who Were the Settlers?" Nebraska Studies. Accessed September 21,

2014. page 1.

  1. "Our Story: American History Stories and Activities You Can Do Together." OurStory

Activities : Life in a Sod House : More Information. Accessed September 23, 2014.

  1. "Homesteaders Living On The Plains." Homesteaders Living On The Plains. May 17,

2007. Accessed September 23, 2014. slide 9.

  1. Giannetta, J. "HOW THE SETTLERS SURVIVED." EARLY DAYS. January 1, 2013.

Accessed September 23, 2014.

  1. "What were the problems and solutions of farming on the plains?" Homesteaders

Farming the Great Plains.Accessed September 23, 2014. chrome-extension://bpmcpldpdmajfigpchkicefoigmkfalc/views/app.html slide 11.

  1. "What were the problems and solutions of farming on the plains?" Homesteaders

Farming the Great Plains.Accessed September 23, 2014.

chrome-extension://bpmcpldpdmajfigpchkicefoigmkfalc/views/app.html slide 12.

  1. Homestead Congress: Woot Woot! The Effect of the Railroads on Homesteaders."

Homestead Congress: Woot Woot! The Effect of the Railroads on Homesteaders. March 12, 2010. Accessed September 25, 2014.

  1. "Homesteading | Stories of Nebraska Quilters." Homesteading | Stories of Nebraska

Quilters. Accessed September 25, 2014. Homesteading | Stories of Nebraska Quilters (Homesteading | Stories of Nebraska Quilters)

  1. Rupert, Elinore. "Letter from a Woman Homesteader." Accessed September 25, 2014.

  1. United States. National Park Service. "Presidential Quotes about the Homestead Act."

National Parks Service. September 2, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2014.