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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Acquiring land in Southwest Nebraska in 1883

Monday, February 13, 2012

(From the McCook Tribune)

In the first years of McCook's existence the United States Land Office was one of the busiest places in town. Settlers were flocking into the new territory, lured by the prospects of free land, in a country that had been touted as being "A Land of Milk and Honey."

On June 18, 1883, The United States Land Office opened in McCook, with G.L. Laws as Register and C.F. Babcock as Receiver.

On that first day 27 Preemption Entries and 15 Homestead entries were made. There were also 17 contests filed against these entries.

Note: Later Mr. Babcock was a prominent McCook Businessman. An early Tribune ad:

C.F. Babcock

ex-Receiver U.S. Land Office,

Real Estate,

Loans, Insurance,

and "Conveyancing"

Land for Sale in any County in the McCook Land District

Large Ranches

and Improved Farms

a specialty.

City Property Bought,

Sold, and Rented.

Taxes Paid

for Non-Residents.

Sole Agent and Owner

for Lots in

Willow Grove Addition.



Office located

East Side Main St.

There were three ways that a man could acquire land from the government, 1. He could make a Timber Claim, 2. He could acquire land under the Homestead Act, or 3. He could acquire land under the Preemption Laws.

The Timber Culture Law: The provisions of the timber culture law required an entryman to prove at least five acres of sod within one year. The second year he must plant the five acres he broke the first year to trees, and must break at least five additional acres. The third year he must plant the second five acres to trees. Then he must cultivate the trees each year and re-plant trees if re-planting is necessary until the 8th year, when, if he has complied with the law and has a certain number of trees growing he could make proof at the local land office, and he would eventually receive a patent from the General Land Office for his land. In case of drought or other casualty, he could secure and extension of time to make proof for another five years.

Only one quarter section in each 640 acres could be entered under the Timber Culture Act. Since it was not required that an entryman live on a timber claim, most claims of this character were held by non-residents. Most of the trees -- box elder, honey and black locust, ash, and walnut -- were planted from seed -- few living trees were transplanted.

The Preemption Law: An entryman was required to break at least 10 acres of his 160 acres. After six months of residence the preemptor made proof of his compliance with the law and paid for the land at the rate of $1.25 per acre.

The Homestead Law: (Note: Daniel Freeman, a Scout on leave from the Union Army, from Iowa, became the first man to file for land under The Homestead Act of 1862, when he filed his claim for 160 acres of land near Beatrice NE).

A homesteader needed to prove residence on his land, but no specific amount of cultivation was required. He could "commute", that is he could prove up at any time within the five years of the date of his entry, but if he did he had to pay the government $1.25 per acre for his land. But he could also live on the land for five years, and at the end of that time prove up without the payment of anything to the government for the land.

Proof: Proof under all of the above laws for acquiring land was made by giving notice -- by publication in a newspaper that the entryman would offer his proof on a designated date at the local Land Office. In his notice he named four persons by whom he could corroborate his testimony that he had complied with the law; at his hearing, however. he was only required to produce two of his witnesses. Any person wanting to protest the entryman's proof, on the ground that he had not complied with any of the requirements of the law, could do so at the hearing. If the entryman could not show his compliance (proof), his claim was rejected.

At any time prior to the entryman's offering his proof, any person could make a complaint that the entryman was not complying with the provisions of the law. Then that entryman was required to appear at the Land Office for a hearing. If it appeared that the requirements of the law were not being fulfilled his entry was cancelled and the person contesting the claim could himself make application to enter the land for himself, under any of the three laws.

Controversies over the acquisition of land under all three laws were often bitter. They frequently provoked fistic encounters, and even shootings were quite common, in which one of the claimants was killed.

McCook businessmen and most citizens welcomed settlers into the territory, and saw them as a vital part in making McCook a vital trade center. However, settlers were not universally welcomed, as noted in the following story about an artesean well at Akron Colo.

The U.S. Government has abandoned its purpose to sink an artesian well near Akron. This project has been watched with deep interest by the inhabitants of the entire region since it was inaugurated. The contractors have been having trouble in setting the casing. When the casing was removed, its edges were found to have been bent. It was first believed to have been caused by a rock formation encountered in the drilling.

When rocks were ruled out there was still some hard substance upon which no impression could be made. It is thought that some person, who for some reason did not want the well drilled, may have tampered with the drilling, and every effort to remove the obstruction has failed.

Cattle men, who do not desire this country settled, are charged with having made it impossible for the contractor to finish his work. Their fear is that the bringing in of a flowing well will encourage immigration. However that may be, the nature of the difficulty is a mystery.

One thing is certain; the well will not be drilled and work has been definitely and finally stopped.

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By