Virtual Capitol Lessons Title: Homestead Act: Free Land!

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Virtual Capitol Lessons

Title: Homestead Act: Free Land! Free Land!


Cheryl Shanker

Grade Level


Class Period(s)

Adapted from: Put here name of person for major attribution (delete if inappropriate)

Nebraska Social Studies Standards

Nebraska Math Standards

Nebraska Language Arts Standards

Nebraska Fine and Preforming Art Standards

SS 4.3.1 Explore where (spatial) and why people, places and environments are organized in the state.

SS. 4.3.1.a Read local and state maps and atlases to locate physical and human features in Nebraska.9eg. major cities, major rivers)
SS 4.3.1.b Apply map skills to analyze physical/political maps of the state (eg. Use grid systems to find locations, identify relative and absolute locations).

  1. 4.3.1.c Analyze why things in Nebraska are located where thet are inNebraska.

SS. 4.3.4.a. Compare and contrast patterns of culture within the state of Nebraska.

SS. 4.3.4.b Compare and contrast population characteristics of the state of Nebraska (eg. Density, growth rates)
SS 4.3.5.a Describe the impact of extreme natural events in Nebraska (eg. Tornadoes, floods, dust storms, insect infestation, blizzard)
SS 4.3.5.c Describe how humans have adapted to and modified Nebraska’s physical environment (eg. Progression of home constructon from sod,timber, bricks, concrete; homestead Act…)

MA 4.4.1. a Represent data using line plots where the horizontal scale is markded off in appropriate units.

LA 4.1.6k Select text and explain the purpose(eg. Answering a question, accomplishing a task)

LA 4.2.2a Communicate information and ideas effectively in narrative and/or poetic modes using a variety of media and formats.
LA 4.2.2d Use precise word choice and domain-specific vocabulary to write in a variety of modes.
LA 4.3.1.a Communicate ideas and information in a clear and concise manner
LA 4.3.1.b Demonstrate appropriate speaking techniques
LA 4.3.2.a Demonstrate active and attentive listening skills
LA 4.4.1.c Use or decipher multiple formats of print and digital test (eg. Cursive, manuscript…)

FA 5.2.3.c Interpret the message communicated by a work of art, using knowledge of visual elements, subject matte, and mood.

FA 5.2.4.d Explore how images and objects are used to convey a story, familiar experience, or connection to the world.
FA 5.3.5.a Use dance to discover social events, ideas, and traditions from a local context.

In the late 1900’s many people wanted to start their lives over with little debt. With the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, these people were able to do just that in the West including the Nebraska Territory. In fact, Daniel Freeman was the first homesteader to file a claim under the Homestead Act near Beatrice, Nebraska, on January 1, 1863.
Big Idea or Theme

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed people to stake a claim to 160 acres of land, free-of-charge ($18 minimal filing fees) if the homesteader agreed to a few qualifiers. The homesteader had to live on the said land for a minimum of five years and to make improvements on that land parcel. Improvements were to include a dwelling, breaking the sod and raising a crop. Over 1.6 million applications were processed and more than 270 million acres of land were transferred from the US government to individuals from 1862-1976, when the Homestead Act was repealed.

Essentail Question/s:

Why would people sacrifice everything and everyone they knew to move West in 1862?

What did it take to own your own land in Nebraska Territory back in 1862?
Describe the challenges that the homesteader faced on the praiire.
How did the Homestead Act change the course of history and settlement of Nebraska?

To illustrate how Nebraska was settled by numerous European immigrants, farmers from the East without land, single women, and freed slaves.

Key Concepts/Vocabulary
Homestead Act:– An Act of Congress passed on May 20, 1862, which assigned ownership of US public lands free-of-charge to the homesteader if they met three criteria: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of ttitle.
Homestead-a piece of public land that was transferred by the US government to a settler to develop into a farm
Improvement-a dwelling, breaking the sod or soil, and planting a crop
“Prove your claim”– having two neighbors or friends vouch for the truth of the land improvement and signing -off on this document
Vouch- to give a guarantee
Patent- a public document transferring ownership of land, also known as deed of title

Sod-the top layer of the soil containing grass with its roots

Sod buster-farmer who breaks up the sod preparing the land for planting crops
Survey-to measure the size and shape of a piece of land with special instruments
Land Agent-a person who worked for the government and assigned to investigate and record the land transfers


  • Documents of application for a homestead

  • Documents of “proving” improvement of land

  • Platte of a homestead

  • “Final Patents Received” bar graph from NPS

  • “Final Homestead Entries” bar graph from NPS

  • Daniel Freeman’s application for a homestead

Magnifying glass, ruler,

  • Line graph illustrating the increase of population in the west from 1862-1976

* Map of Nebraska showing bodies of water and land regions.
The student will be able to:
1. Demonstrate the process a person would go through to apply for and obtain a homestead.
2. Write a description describing the challenges of being a homesteader.
3. Complie a list of weather factors and soil conditions encountered by the homesteaders in the late 1900’s.

4,. Construct a line graph to analyze the change in population in Nebraska prior to and at the end of the Homestead Act.

1. Assign students to small groups to discuss where in Nebraska would you have chosen to live in 1865, if the land was free.

Students will use a map of Nebraska with bodies of water and land regions identified. Students will identify three reasons why they chose that location.

  1. Students will investigate the weather factors and soil conditions of Nebraska and keep a list of these factors.


  1. Students will discuss what kind of a man or woman you would need to become to be a homesteader. Students will list five specific adjectives describing these qualities.

  1. Students will analyze data on the population settlement of Nebraska from 1860-1976. Students will use this data to create a line graph illustrating the settlement trend.


Students will write a letter home to a friend or relative describing their life on the homestead. The letter will include the qualities a homesteader should have to attempt this adventure. The letter should should also describe the weather conditions and soil conditions they encounter on their new adventure in life. Students will score 80% on the map and weather/soil conditions worksheet for a geography and reading/research grade. Students will receive a grade of 4 or higher on the six traits of Ideas and Organization, Word Choice, and Conventions. The student will earn 80 points out of 100 on the writing assignment.


Students will engage in a mock filing/proving session on their land claim. Students will bring documentation of their homestead family to be presented to the land agent. If status is approved, students proceed to complete their application for a land claim. When summoned back to the land agent’s desk, students receive directions for filing an application for “proving” their land improvements. When all students complete the process, a country hoe-down is held to celebrate settling in Nebraska under the Homestead Act. (See Activity Guide cited in sources)


*NPS: Homestead National Monument of Nebraska. “Final Homestead Entries 1868-1960

*NPS: Homestead National Monument of Nebraska. “Final Patents Received 1871-1950”
* special-topics.htm
Homesteading: The Free Land Idea. By Amy Garrett, Wesley Lamberson, L.S. Lange, Jason Sutter, and Gail Sutter. Beatrice NE: National Park Service, 2005. Print. (Activity Guide)


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