Westward Expansion: Homestead Act and Land Rush

Westward Expansion: Homestead Act and Land Rush
With much of the east coast of America already developed, the United States government wanted to
encourage people to move out west. They decided to help people out by offering them free land
through a law called the Homestead Act.
A New Law
The Homestead Act became law in 1862 when it was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. Under
the new law a U.S. Citizen could get 160 acres of unoccupied land west of the Mississippi River and
east of the Rocky Mountains. They could keep the land if they lived on the land for five years and
made improvements to the land.
A homestead during the Old West
Homesteading was a great opportunity for many people, especially immigrants just moving to the
United States. Anyone who was over 21 years old could own land. This included former slaves,
immigrants, and single women.
The Land Rush
Different areas of land were opened for homesteading at different times. This often created land
rushes where people would race in to claim the best plots of land.
One of the major land rushes occurred in Oklahoma on April 22, 1889. Around 50,000 people lined
up to claim around 2,000,000 acres of prime land. At high noon they were allowed to enter the area
and claim the land. Some people snuck onto the land early and hid in order to lay claim to best areas
of land first. These people were nicknamed "Sooners". Today the mascot for the University of
Oklahoma is the Sooner.
Around 10,000 homesteaders settled around the area that is today Oklahoma City. The next day,
April 23, 1889, the city was established with a population of over 10,000 people. It would later
become the capital of the state of Oklahoma.
Interesting Facts about the Homestead Act and The Land Rush
Northerners wanted the land to be developed by small farmers rather than the large
plantation owners from the South. They were afraid the plantation owners would use slaves
to farm the land.
There was an $18 fee to file the application to get a plot of land.
Later Homestead Acts allowed for 320 acres in areas for dryland farming and 640 acres for
By 1934, 270 million acres of land had been given away by the United States government.
That's around 10 percent of the entire United States.
Homesteading ended in 1976, except in Alaska where it ended in 1986.
In the book Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls' dad claims a homestead in Kansas.
Name: ___________________ Period: ________
The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889
As the saying goes, “You can’t build something overnight.” But in April 1889, Oklahoma City and
Guthrie, Oklahoma, became established cities with more than 10,000 residents literally overnight. It
was all part of the Oklahoma Land Rush, the first land run in which previously restricted land in the
United States was opened to settlers on a first-come, first-serve basis.
More than 50,000 people gathered at noon on April 22, 1889, to claim a piece of the 8,000 square
kilometers made available by the federal government. Legal settlers could claim up to .65 square
kilometers of land. Each could receive the title to the land provided that the settler could improve it
and live on it for at least five years.
Some settlers were so eager to grab land that they illegally entered the unoccupied territory and hid
until it was legal to enter. These individuals were labeled “sooners.” That’s where Oklahoma derives its
nickname, the Sooner State.
Find out more about Oklahoma at DiscoverAmerica.com.
After reading the selection above, answer the following questions:
1. Define “Sooner”: ________________________________________________________________
2. What two cities were literally built overnight as a result of the Oklahoma Land Rush?
______________________ ____________________
3. What were settlers required to do before they could receive the title to the land they claimed?
4. How many gathered at noon on April 22nd, 1889 to make a claim? _________________________
5. How many square acres of land total was available to all the settlers combined? _____________
6. Divide the number of square acres available by the number of people that were gathered on
April 22nd, 1889. If everyone was promised a piece of land (which they weren’t) how much land
would each person have had a claim to? ___________________ square acres