Cheap Country Land
The Civil War ended in 1865, and soon thereafter, the great westward expansion began. Thousands of people headed west seeking cheap country land to settle and the chance to start new lives. These people planned on farming, grazing cattle, harvesting timber, mining for gold and silver, building railroads, starting businesses and constructing towns—all of which required large tracts of low-priced land.
During this migration westward, into an untamed and unforgiving wilderness, a code of conduct began to emerge. The code dictated that a person should “carry a firearm for protection, offer assistance when needed, mind his own business, and acquire cheap country land.”
The Homestead Act of 1862 made it relatively easy to acquire land in the Western United States. A person who was 21 years of age or older and had never taken up arms against the U. S. government could claim 160 acres, located west of the Mississippi River, from the federal government for $1.25 per acre. The claimant had to improve the land and live on it for five years. The $200 purchase price could be paid with a small down payment and the balance could be paid over time.
More desirable land, priced from $2 to $10 per acre, also could be acquired from railroads, land speculators or the states.
The Timber Culture Act, passed in 1873, made additional land available. Under this act, homesteaders could acquire another 160 acres if they planted trees on one-fourth of the land. Any potential settler, including foreign immigrants, could claim land under this act.
The Desert Land Act of 1877 provided 640 acres to a husband and wife who agreed to irrigate the land within three years. The cost of the 640 acres was $1.25 per acre.
In 1878, when the Timber and Stone Act passed, even more land became available. This act provided that federal lands “not suitable” for farming, could be acquired for timber and mining operations. The cost was $2.50 per acre for 160-acre tracts.
In summary, during the last half of the 19th Century, millions and millions of acres of cheap country land were transferred from the federal government to private ownership.
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