The Farmer's Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860-1897

By Fred A. Shannon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
Disposing of the Public Domain FACT AND FANCY ABOUT THE NUMBER OF HOMESTEADS

IT is easy to assume that those pioneers moving on to earlier uncultivated land in the cotton states, the Prairies, the timbered regions of the upper Lake district, and out into the only partially charted Great West, generally took up free homesteads in areas where they could make a living. But history must sometimes be prosaic--even painfully so. It is true that the number of farms in the United States grew from about 2,000,000 in 1860 to 5,737,000 in 1900, and that the total land in farms rose from 407,213,000 to 838,592,000 acres.1 It is equally true that not quite 600,000 patents for 80,000,000 acres of homesteads were issued in those same years.2 In other words, even if all the homesteaders had kept and lived on their holdings, less than a sixth of the new homes and a little over a sixth of the acreage would have been on land that came as a gift from the government. Eighty-four out of each hundred new farms had to be achieved either by the subdivision of older holdings or by purchase. Furthermore, as will be demonstrated later, an astonishing number of homesteaders were merely the hired pawns of land monopolists who took over the land as soon as the final patents were received, thus reducing free farms more nearly to an eighth, or possibly a tenth, of the increase for the forty- year period. Again, the bona fide homesteaders usually got only the

____________________
1
Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1910 ( Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911), p. 121.
2
Public Lands Commission, Report, 1905 (Senate Document No. 189, 58 Cong., 3 Sess., Washington: Government Printing Office, 1905), p. 175.

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