New book from the Center For Great Plains Studies, Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History, by Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo, has been added to the Institute for Regional Studies Archives book collection. The following book description comes from the authors’ website:
“Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History reconsiders the history of homesteading and overturns the long-held scholarly view regarding the subject. While the public has generally viewed homesteading as being one of the shining successes in American history, scholars have viewed the enterprise as tainted by illicit activity and as an overall failure. Using newly digitized evidence, the authors set out to examine the following stylized facts, or shared understandings, that serve as the basis for scholars’ dismissive claims:
The Traditional View -Homesteading was a minor factor in farm formation; most farmers purchased their land. Most homesteaders failed to prove up their claims. The homesteading process was rife with corruption and fraud. Homesteading caused Indian land dispossession. Our research, dealing primarily with the Great Plains from 1863 to roughly 1900, supports a more favorable view of homesteading than that of most scholars.
We tested the stylized facts and advance the following points:
The New Understanding - Homesteading was a significant, perhaps the most significant, way that western farmers started their farms during the period 1860-1900. A majority of homesteaders in the West who staked their initial claims before 1900 succeeded in proving up and obtaining their free land. The actual frequency of fraud was small: perhaps as little as 3.2 percent and likely not more than 8.5 percent. Community policing of homestead claims was an effective mechanism to deter fraud. The relationship between homesteading and Indian land dispossession was more complex than current scholarship assumes. The Homestead Act was not only a single women’s law; widows also participated at a high rate. Homesteading was not a solitary activity; homesteaders formed both incidental and intentional communities and relied on those communities to succeed.
While the authors realize that their findings are preliminary and limited by the scope of the project Study Area and other data, our findings demand a new era of homesteading scholarship based on newly available evidence and supported by data-based evidence as well as anecdotes.
Homesteading the Plains is part of a larger homesteading research initiative at the Center for Great Plains Studies.”