What Is a Homestead?

Blank application form that a homesteader and a Land Office Register had to fill out and sign to make a land claim, 1862.

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"Form A" of the Homestead Application published in Homestead Law, by the U.S. General Land Office, 1862.

Minnesota Historical Society Library Collection, HD181 .G5 1862

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed settlers to claim land for free as long as they lived on it for five years and made improvements such as building a house. The act brought 75,000 people to Minnesota in its first three years, quickly settling the prairie and displacing the Dakota living there.

Form A.)

Land Office at___________________


Application No____

I, ____________________, of _______________________ do hereby apply to enter, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved May 20, 1862, entitled "An act to secure homesteads to actual settlers on the public domain," the _____________ of section __________________ in township ________________ of range ____________, containing _______________ acres.

[In pre-emption cases let the following be added: "Having filed my pre-emption declaration thereto on the ______ day of ______________________."]

Land Office at ___________________

____________, 186__.

I, ___________________________, Register of the Land Office, do hereby certify that the above application is for surveyed lands of the class which the applicant is legally entitled to enter under the Homestead Act of May 20, 1862, and that there is no prior, valid, adverse right to the same.


Did Many Women Really Take Homesteads?

Photo of a woman sitting in the doorway of a prairie shanty, ca. 1904.

Homestead in Burke County, North Dakota, c. 1904

Minnesota Historical Society Photograph Collection, E200 p33

"There are the most old maids out here holding down claims that a person must wonder where they all come from."
—Myrtle Yoeman in a letter to a friend

Most homesteads are registered by men, but a notable number of single women also take to the land. They leave the expectations of family or city life for the freedom they find on the open prairie. Many, like Miss Ficknor, marry later and join their claims with a husband's; others enjoy their independence and never marry.

Myrtle Yoeman, letter to Grace H. Carpenter, 24 June, 1905, South Dakota State Historical Resource Center, Pierre.

See Edith Kohl's story of her experiences as a homesteader: Land of the Burnt Thigh (reprinted by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986); also Glenda Riley, The Female Frontier (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988).

Where Was the Carpenter's Land?

Crop of a Lyon County land ownership map showing the Carpenter farm and land surrounding Marshall, Minnesota, 1884.

Plat map of Lyon County, Minnesota, 1884.

Minnesota Historical Society Map Collection, MICROFICHE 522

The Carpenters in the Census

Page from the 1875 state census listing the members of the Carpenter family.

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Grandview Township, Lyon County, Minnesota State Population Census Schedule, 1875.

Minnesota Historical Society Library Collection. Microfilm Roll 11

Name of every person whose residence was in this family on the 1st of May, 1875. Age Sex Color Nativity, State or Country Father's Nativity Mother's Nativity
George W. Carpenter 40 M W Mass. Mass Mass
M. E. L. Carpenter 34 F W N. York Mass R.I.
M. L. 11 " " Minn. " N. York
G. H. 9 M " " " "
Henry L. 6 " " " " "
Tyler 69 " " Mass Unknown Unknown