The homesteaders Why and how they came to be What does this picture tell you about life on the Plains? The USA when Homesteading started The Great Plains Look at the house above. It is made out of lumps or sods of earth. The family who proudly pose for this photograph have built this home themselves with hardly any building materials. These people were known as the homesteaders and their homes called sod houses. Many thousands of them moved west from the 1850s onwards to begin new lives. They came from the east and from Europe mainly England, Germany and Sweden, to escape poverty and over-crowding and sometimes to escape religious persecution. Many more people went west after the US Civil War ended in 1865. . Thousands of freed black slaves became homesteaders. Ex civil war soldiers Many civil war soldiers from both the north and the south went out to the plains to start a new life. They became miners/ cowboys/ railroad builders. The building of the transcontinental railroads The US govt wanted a railroad that went from East to West. In the 1860s two companies starting building- one from the East and one from the West. They met in Utah. Two main effects; It was easier now for homesteaders to make it to the Plains. It was cheap to buy land and the railroad companies sold off the land either side of the line at low prices. Land was cheap, travel was easy and plenty of people looking for a new life. Why did they go to the Plains? Land in the far west - California and Oregon - was too expensive by 1860 for most settlers. Farming on the Great Plains was the only option. The government encouraged this settling of the Plains 1862 Homestead Act - each family given 160 acres of land as long as they farmed it for five years 1873 Timber Culture Act - a further 160 acres of land was given as long as 40 acres was planted with trees 1877 Desert Land Act - 640 acres of very cheap land was made available in areas with low rainfall Railroad companies sold huge tracts of land along their railway lines to homesteaders to encourage use of their trains. Europeans:Many wanted to escape poverty and unemployment. Esp. England, Ireland, Scots and Russians. Jews and other religious groups like the Amish wanted to escape religious persecution. Thousands of European immigrants settled in Iowa and the Dakotas. Eastern Americans: (New York/ Boston etc.) After the war wanted new opportunities after the Civil War or they wanted farmland no longer available in the settled Eastern states. Southern States: after the Civil War black ex- slaves fled racism. Mostly went to Kansas. many southerners lost income and land. Serious economic problems- if crops failed the people starved. Problems with living on the Plains Dirt and disease: the houses were completely made of sod bricks and clay, so pests were everywhere!. It was difficult to keep clean, especially when water was in shirt supply. Illness was common amongst homesteaders, esp children. Water shortages: in many places water was scarce. Couldn’t keep themselves or clothes clean. Extreme weather: hot in the summer and cold in the summer. Little rain all year long. The Indians moved with the seasons but the homesteaders were stuck there. Fuel: there was no wood to burn for heating and cooking. Instead homesteaders used buffolo or cow “Chips”- dried dung! Problems of farming on the Plains Water shortages: could lead to a total failure of crops. Lead to starvation and bankruptcy. The Mormons dug irrigation ditches to get water but on the Great Plains there was no rivers or lakes nearby. Wells were an option but expensive and couldn’t always promise water. Extreme weather: drought in summer and cold in winter. This would kill or destroy crops. Ploughing: the Plains had never been farmed before so it needed ploughing first. The grass was dense with tangled roots. Protecting crops: there was no wood for fencing so nothing protected the crops from wandering buffalo or straying cattle. This also meant that boundaries couldn’t be fixed and led to disputes. Growing crops: the homesteaders planted the same crops they had always grown but they were not suited to the weather conditions on the Plains. Natural hazards: Prairie fires could start easily in the dry weather. They could destroy crops. Plagues of grasshoppers at times also came and ate all the crops. What were the problems and solutions of farming on problems the Plains? solutions Ploughing and sowing - Very hard work, the grassland was tough to break up and cast iron ploughs regularly broke New machinery - Industrial revolution in the East made better farm machinery such as John Deere's sodbuster Lack of water - Irrigation was no use due to the shortage of lakes and rivers. Wells were also expensive to dig and no guarantee of success Dry farming - Farmers preserved moisture in the soil by ploughing after rain or snow, trapping in the water. Wind pumps - Halliday's windmill could keep going all day and night, pumping up water from wells deep down, no matter which way the wind blew. Crops - Ordinary crops like maize (corn) and spring wheat didn't grow well in the harsh weather conditions Turkey Red Wheat - Introduced by Russian immigrants accidentally thrived on the Plains as it was similar to the Russian Steppes where they came from. Fencing - Wood was scarce and expensive so fences couldn't protect crop fields from cattle or dodgy Barbed wire - Invented by Joseph Glidden in 1874 - this was a cheap and effective solution for the homesteaders. Exam style question Use your own knowledge to explain why people began farming the Plains in the early 1860s in spite of the difficulties they faced. Exam style question What part did new technology play in the solving the problems of farming the Plains? Explain your answer.