Free Homes for the Millions
DANIEL FREEMAN early made the claim that he was the first homesteader in the United States. He stated that as a Union soldier stationed in eastern Nebraska on detached duty in a secret service detail, he had taken advantage of his situation to select a claim near Beatrice, Nebraska. He planned to enter his claim as a homestead at the land office in Brownville as soon as the Homestead Act became operative on January 1, 1863. He said, however, he had unfortunately been ordered to leave for St. Louis early in the morning of January 1, but he sought out the assistant register of the land office at a dance on the evening of December 31, 1862, and found he was willing to open the land office at the stroke of twelve and grant Freeman the privilege of entering his homestead. According to Freeman, after his claim was taken the office was closed until January 2, and Freeman stressed his claim as the first homesteader in the United States -- January 1, of course, was a holiday and the land offices over the country would be closed on that day.
The Beatrice Express carried the account of Freeman's claim far and wide, and because of this publicity Nebraska historians credited him with being the first homesteader in the United States, an honor which he enjoyed the rest of his life.
One thing was overlooked, however, which the National Park Service uncovered after the government decided to designate the Freeman homestead as a national monument. There were many land offices, and if any other might also have opened at midnight to allow a man to enter "No. 1" at that office, he could contest Freeman's claim of being the first homesteader. The National Park Service historians discovered that two other men had made just that claim: William Young who made entry No. 1 at the Nebraska City land office, and Mahlon Gore who made the first entry at the Yankton, South Dakota, land office. For years each had claimed that he was the first homesteader, but Freeman's claim had been broadcast more widely than theirs. In any case, Freeman was among the first, and