The Homestead Act

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law on May 20, 1862. This law stated that any US citizen who was over the age of twenty-one and had never fought against the United States government, including freed slaves, could apply for a federal land grant of one hundred and sixty acres of unoccupied public land west of the Mississippi River. After five years, the homesteader was entitled to buy the land for a small fee as long as he could prove that he had improved the land by either building a house or cultivating the land. For the wealthier applicants, a title for the land could also be bought for $1.25 per acre after a six-month residency. After the Civil War ended, Union Soldiers were able to apply the time they served in the army towards the residency requirement.

The Homestead Act of 1862 was created because many people, including the Free Soil Party and the new Republican Party, objected to the fact that most of the viable land in the west was bought by only rich slave owners. They argued that independent white farmers should also be able to purchase that land. Southern Congressmen would not allow Homestead laws to pass because they did not want immigrants and poor whites to move near their lands, so it was not until these Congressmen had left during the Civil War that this law could be passed. This law was not as successful as had been hoped because the farmers had been too poor to afford the necessary equipment to cultivate the land and were therefore unable to obtain the title five years later. Also, this law was so ambiguously worded that only eighty million of the five hundred million acres granted went to homesteaders. Many businessmen exploited this law so that most of the land went to speculators, cattlemen, miners, lumbermen, and railroads.

Homestead Act

New Mexico Territory

The United States gained the New Mexico Territory in 1848 when Mexico surrendered the land after the Mexican-American War in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Southwestern portion of the territory was later added with the 1853 Gadsden Purchase. New Mexico became a territory on September 9th, 1850 when it was entered as a bid for statehood. During the Congressional Compromise of 1850, Republicans, in an attempt to avoid the Civil War, offered to allow New Mexico to become a state as long slavery was legal within it. The South, though, rejected this idea and New Mexico therefore remained a territory. During the Civil War, many settlers in Southern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico joined the Confederacy. After the Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 26 to 28th, 1862, though, the New Mexico Territory was captured by and joined the Union. Originally, the New Mexico Territory included a majority of Arizona and a portion of Colorado. The territory gained its present New Mexico boundaries after the Colorado Territory was established in 1861 and the Arizona Territory in 1863. On January 6th, 1912. Congress admitted New Mexico as the forty-seventh state.

New Mexico Territory
Mexican-American War
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Gadsden Purchase
Congressional Compromise of 1850
Battle of Glorieta Pass

Farming on the Frontier

The frontier is known as "The Great American Desert" and mostly encompasses the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, an area that suffers from extreme temperatures and under 15 inches of rainfall per year. Before 1862 this area was largely uninhabited except for Native Americans, but with the passing of the Homestead Act that year, new and tempting incentives for settlement were created. The Homestead Act promised citizens and immigrants 160 acres of land for a small fee on the condition that they live on the tact for at last five years. Farmers began filling the landscape, beginning what is called the "Age of the Sodbuster", because settlers were forced to build their homes with sod due to a lack of trees.

These homesteaders, as they were commonly called, often failed to be productive on the frontier due to a variety of factors working against them which called for innovative techniques and technologies. At first, many farmers ascribed to the idea that "water follows plow", but of course, it does not. Most notably, the lack of rainfall required a process called dry farming, which involves plowing deeply into the soil for moisture and then breaking it up to catch hold of any precipitation. Farmers also had to drill wells several hundred feet into the ground, which were called aquifers, and developed impressive windmill powered pumps. Another issue was getting supplies and sending products especially to the farther regions, which lead to a massive boom for the railroad industry, particularly involving the transportation of cattle. Finally, the invention of barbed wire in 1874 allowed farmers to fence off their regions when timber was in short supply. Despite these advancements, farming on the frontier was a challenge, and many did not succeed.


Locoweed is a plant poisonous to livestock because it produces a toxic substance called swainsonine. Locoweed flowers look like sweet peas, growing in tufts or clumps that are eight to thirty centimeters high. This poisonous plant commonly grows on mountains, foothills, plains, and semiarid desert regions. There are multiple species of locoweed that grows in various regions across North America, including the white point loco, woolly loco, spotted loco, and garboncillo.

Locoweed is also referred to as crazyweed or loco because it causes neurological damage in animals that appears as such abnormal behaviors as depression, withdrawal from other animals, and extreme nervousness. The three other principal effects of locoweed on animals are emaciation, reproductive dysfunction and abortion, and congestive heart failure. Some other signs of loco poisoning are dull dry hair coat, eyes dull and staring, irregular gait or loss of muscular control, and skeletal malformations.


"Shall we gather at the river"

John Ford's favorite hymn and included in many of his films. It was al­so sung at the fun­er­al of Amer­i­can Su­preme Court Jus­tice Will­iam O. Doug­las ( This beautiful and very popular hymn was written by Rev. Robert Lowry, D.D. He was born in Philadelphia, March 12, 1826, and died at a good old age in 1899. Educated at Lewisburg University in Pennsylvania, he became a Baptist minister in New York, Brooklyn, and other cities, and professor of belles-lettres in Lewisburg University.

Dr. Lowry was editor of ten or a dozen of the most popular Sunday-school song-books ever published, and he contributed to these some of their best hymns and tunes. Among his hymns that are most widely sung are "My life flows on in endless song," "One more day's work for Jesus," and "Where is my wandering boy to-night?" For all of these he also wrote the tunes.

But Dr. Lowry's most famous hymn is "Shall we gather at the river?" He wrote the words when a pastor in Brooklyn, on a hot July day in 1864. A very severe epidemic was raging in Brooklyn, and hundreds were passing over the river of death. Dr. Lowry was thinking of the sad scenes all around him when the question arose in his mind, "Shall we meet again? We are parting at the river of death; shall we meet at the river of life? With his heart full of these thoughts, he seated himself at his parlor organ, and both the words and the music of the famous hymn came to him as if by inspiration. It was published the following year in "Happy Voices," as a hymn of five stanzas and a chorus.