Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

6. Daniel Freeman and Homesteading

Ten minutes after midnight on the evening of January I, 1863, the U.S. Land Office in Brownville was abuzz. A young man from Illinois who had come to Nebraska alone, one Daniel Freeman, had persuaded the local official to file Freeman’s land claim to be the first such claim under the Homestead Act of 1862. He paid a ten dollar filing fee and a two dollar commission to the land agent, and he received temporary title to 160 acres of prime farmland. Freeman located his homestead a few miles northwest of the settlement of Beatrice in northern Gage County. Young Freeman had the foresight to anticipate that the rolling, rich lands of eastern Nebraska were going to be open to new homesteaders, and he took the initiative.

The making of a farm out of a Nebraska homestead took time and hard work. The process was filled with occasional detours and despair and required considerable fortitude in those who wished to gamble on agriculture in the Great Plains. When Nebraska was officially opened for settlement in 1854, there were only a few scattered fur traders, missionaries, government officials, and illegal settlers in the territory attempting to live with Nebraska’s more numerous indigenous peoples. Thirty-six years later, the 1890 federal census revealed the state’s population to be close to one million people. The westward movement had carried a great many people to Nebraska, and what had once been dismissed as a barren desert was very quickly transformed into one of the nation’s leading agricultural states.

At first the pattern of non-Indian settlement in Nebraska was urban. Most of the original settlers lived in towns on the west bank of the Missouri River. As late as 1860, less than 14 percent of Nebraska’s twenty-nine thousand people counted in the U.S. Census said they were

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