Farming in the West. Guided Reading Activity. Farming on the Great Plains. The Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act of 1862.
Guided Reading Activity
The Homestead Act, passed during the Civil War, was meant to encourage Americans to move West and populate the Great Plains and Midwest. The act offered 160 acres of free land to anyone who would live on the land – and improve the land by building a home, a barn, or cultivating crops – for a period of five years. Although many thousands of homesteaders sought to take advantage of the government deal, very few succeeded in becoming prosperous.
Railroads used advertisements like the one on the right in order to encourage Americans to settle on the Great Plains. Some companies even created advertisements in foreign languages to recruit more settlers and offered to build schools and churches for their clients. Why? Simple good business! The Railroad Companies realized that as soon as the settlers moved West, they had a new supply of customers – to purchase passenger tickets and to pay shipping costs. Every farmer had crops which needed to be sent to market.
The soil of the Great Plains was fertile, but arid, dry, and thin. Once the land was plowed and the thick sod removed, the land could easily turn to dust – in dry years, soil erosion was common.
Due to the lack of trees and wood with which to construct houses, many homesteaders built their homes of sod.
The Steel Plow
The Modern Day Tractor
Many African-American freedmen came to view themselves as “Exodusters” during the post-Reconstruction years. Like the Israelites in the Book of Exodus, they were able to escape slavery, cross a vast body of water, and, with the help of God, survive their time in the desert…
After the Mexican-American War, the United States coerced Mexico into selling a large portion of its territory for approximately $20 Million. Later, with the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, the United States added even more territory once controlled by Mexico. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the people living in these territories chose to remain on their land – and they continued to speak the language they had been raised speaking: Spanish.
The Sod House
The Chicago and Northwestern
Groups of Farmers who pooled together their money and resources in order to make large purchases of tools, machinery, seed, and other supplies at discount rates. Often, these groups would also share machinery and assist one another with planting and harvesting.
Inflation causes the value of money to go down, and usually leads to an increase in the price of goods. However, people who are in debt can benefit from inflation in the short term. It allows them to pay off their debts faster. The amount of their debt remains the same, but the real value of the money is decreasing over time.
William Jennings Bryan
A bit of a mixed blessing for him, though, since he was shot to death by an anarchist in 1901. William Jennings Bryan – the loser in 1896 – would lose the Presidential race four times during his lifetime! He was the Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson during his first term, though. Although many farmers loved Bryan until the day he died, he was always opposed by business interests and the many Americans who opposed his Christian fundamentalist belief system.