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Forum Communications Co., Published May 20 2012

Homestead Act on display in Nebraska

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave land west of the Mississippi to pioneers who would settle it. It was discontinued in 1976.

The original document, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, currently is on display at the Homestead Monument of America in Beatrice, Neb., where it will be until May 28, to commemorate its 150th anniversary.

When not on display, this document is housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit Friends of Homestead at: www.friendsofhomestead.blogspot.com.

Tom Isern, history professor at North Dakota State University and author of a regional history column and blog, Plains Talk, explained his view of the Homestead Act and its place in history:

“For many years it was fashionable among historians to trash the Homestead Act, and other acts of 19th-century American land policy, as irresponsible distribution policies,” Isern said this week. “Homesteads were too small to succeed on the Plains, the taking of land was rife with fraud, the land was despoiled, and all that.

“Over the past decade the scholarship has shifted significantly. In the first place, historians are less likely to think of homesteaders as dupes, but rather to consider them thinking people with agency. Then, too, they have come to view the Homestead Act as an instrument of national development, along with the building of the railroads, the Morrill Act, and so on.

“Taken on its own terms, then, it succeeded rather well at bringing the public domain into productivity and building up the country. So it turns out that all our fellow citizens who treasure the homestead papers that have been passed down in their families have something to be proud of after all.”