AgrRevII - VII.TheFarmersFrontier I The Homestead Act of...

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VII. The Farmers’ Frontier I. The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed folks to get as much as 160 acres of land in return for living on it for five years, improving it, and paying a nominal fee of about $30.00. Or, it allowed folks to get land after only six month’s residence for $1.25 an acre. o Before, the U.S. government had sold land for revenue, but now, it was giving it away. o This act led half a million families to buy land and settle out West, but it often turned out to be a cruel hoax because in the dry Great Plains, 160 acres was rarely enough for a family to earn a living and survive. And often, families were forced to give up their homesteads before the five years were up, since droughts, bad land, and lack of necessities forced them out. o However, fraud was spawned by the Homestead Act, since almost ten times as much land ended up in the hands of land-grabbing promoters than in the hands of real farmers. Sometimes these cheats would not even live on the land, but say that they’d erected a “twelve by fourteen” dwelling—which later turned out to be twelve by fourteen inches! II. Taming Western Deserts o Railroads such as the Northern Pacific helped develop the agricultural West, a place where, after the tough, horse-trodden lands had been plowed and watered, proved to be surprisingly fertile. o Due to higher wheat prices resulting from crop failures around the world, more people rashly pushed further westward, past the 100th meridian (which is also the magic 20-inch per year rainfall line), where it was difficult to grow crops. Here, as warned by geologist John Wesley Powell , so little rain fell that successful farming could only be attained by massive irrigation. To counteract the lack of water (and a six year drought in the 1880s), farmers developed the technique of “ dry farming ,” or using shallow cultivation methods to plant and farm, but over time, this method created a finely pulverized surface soil that contributed to the notorious “Dust Bowl” several decades later. o A Russian species of wheat—tough and resistant to drought—was brought in and grew all over the Great Plains, while other plants were chosen in favor of corn. o Huge federally financed irrigation projects soon caused the “ Great American Desert ” to bloom, and dams that tamed the Missouri and Columbia Rivers helped water the land. VIII. The Far West Comes of Age I. The Great West experienced a population surge, as many people moved onto the frontier. II. New states like Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming were admitted into the Union. o Not until 1896 was Utah allowed into the Union, and by the 20th century, only Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona remained as territories. o In Oklahoma, the U.S. government made available land that had formerly belonged to the Native Americans, and thousands of “Sooners” jumped the boundary line and illegally went into Oklahoma, often forcing U.S. troops to evict them.
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