Armchair Historians

Frank Young, Part 1, The Great American Experiment of Homesteading the American West

September 02, 2020 Anne Marie Cannon/Frank Young
Armchair Historians
Frank Young, Part 1, The Great American Experiment of Homesteading the American West
Chapters
Armchair Historians
Frank Young, Part 1, The Great American Experiment of Homesteading the American West
Sep 02, 2020
Anne Marie Cannon/Frank Young

In this episode, Anne Marie talks to Frank Young. Frank is from Bangor, Maine, but currently lives in Silver Plume, Colorado. He has dedicated his career as a steward of the land with the US Bureau of Land Management, Dept. of the Interior in the American West (BLM for short).

In Part 1 of our Homesteading the American West series, Frank explains the history of the great experiment of homesteading the American West.

Resources

Bureau of Land Management

Homestead Act

Movies

Far and Away (1992) Trailer

The Westerner (1940) Trailer

Cimarron (1960) Trailer

Support the show:

Become a patron on Patreon

Buy us a cup of coffee on Ko-fi




Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Anne Marie talks to Frank Young. Frank is from Bangor, Maine, but currently lives in Silver Plume, Colorado. He has dedicated his career as a steward of the land with the US Bureau of Land Management, Dept. of the Interior in the American West (BLM for short).

In Part 1 of our Homesteading the American West series, Frank explains the history of the great experiment of homesteading the American West.

Resources

Bureau of Land Management

Homestead Act

Movies

Far and Away (1992) Trailer

The Westerner (1940) Trailer

Cimarron (1960) Trailer

Support the show:

Become a patron on Patreon

Buy us a cup of coffee on Ko-fi




Anne Marie Cannon:

Thank you for joining us today for armchair historians. I'm your host Anne Marie Cannon Harbinger historians is a Belgian rabbit production. Stay up to date with us through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Wherever you listen to your podcast that is where you'll find us. You can also find us at armchair historians.com. armchair historians is an independent and to date ad free podcast. Would you consider supporting the show by buying us a cup of coffee through cofee or become a patron through Patreon links provided in episode notes. Today I am talking to Frank young from Bangor, Maine. Frank has dedicated his career as a steward of the land with the US Bureau of Land Management Department of the Interior in the American West. Blm for short. His management roles with BLM has shifted throughout the years and have included areas concerning mining law, forest management, mining claim administration and Alaskan native land rights. Frank is also the founding member and chair of Clear Creek county open space commission, where he has volunteered for 20 years. His interests include conservation, public lands, history, outdoor adventure and good food and conversation. This interview is part one of a two part series about the great American experiment with homesteading and the American West. Frank young Welcome, and thank you for being here.

Frank Young:

Good morning. Anne Marie,, thank you for inviting me.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Yeah, so you know, we just get right into this. I asked the question, what is your favorite history that we're going to be talking about today?

Frank Young:

My favorite history at the moment is homesteading in the American West. That's a subject. But

Anne Marie Cannon:

yeah, but you know, a lot of people don't know anything about it. What does that mean homesteading? I was thinking about that, before we started talking the United

Unknown:

States, in the United States, most of the Western lands, west of the Mississippi River, were lands owned by the federal government. And they were acquired by various means by the government at the time. It's such as Louisiana Purchase that United States purchase land claims essentially that they were held by France. There were lands acquired through the trees with us, Mexico, there were lands acquired by treaties with Native American tribes. as Sarah said, there's a whole lot of ways the federal government acquired lands, essentially, the western lands from the Mississippi west to the coast of the Pacific Ocean song. And they intend to the government in 1860s 1860s, was to get these lands settled, get some of these lands into private hands, and then get them settled mainly by farming. Because at the time agriculture was agriculture, and mining were the two major activities. So in the 1860s, laws were passed where individuals could acquire an own this government land by establishing a home on it, and farming the land. So that's where the term homesteading came from.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So homesteading, specifically, is this process that happened in the western United States after 1860. So how how was land distributed prior to that?

Unknown:

on the land where we're talking, but it really wasn't, it's a federal land.

Anne Marie Cannon:

I guess I'm thinking about the eastern United States these

Unknown:

that whole other story, but I'll summarize it, hopefully 50 words or less. On the the eastern United States we had the after European settlement. We essentially had British colonies. So I had discovered 300 years History right there. No, I'd say 200 years of history, we were set up as colonies, you know, the original New England colonies. And then the colonies along with this, the southeast coast of what became the United States. So the land belonged to the colonies. And then it was divvied out to individuals and towns and how slots and that kind of thing through the colony laws. And then later on through the state laws, there were a lot of federal lands, but those lands were transferred to the States after the state to form kind of, they like real estate, oh, maybe New York State, at one time, New York State, let's say Pennsylvania, they had staked claims that went west from the current boundaries, west to the Mississippi River, the states dropped those fire, what would then with a five Western claim is in the federal government, then let the states do the land distribution. So it wasn't really a big federal program at the time. And then, during the 1860s, and you got to remember the 80s, I think it was 1864. America was still in the middle of a civil war, the country is still functioning. This was during President Lincoln's last term. My main thing was they wanted to develop, have the western lands of the United States developed to provide like a safe industry that would boost the economy of the country. And the time the two, excuse me, the two main industries that were agriculture and mining. So there were a number of laws passed in the mid 1860s. And in the 1870s, that affected homesteading in mining in the West, but the next hundred years. So that's kind of set the stage for where it

Anne Marie Cannon:

was the Government Act. Okay, we're getting back to that Western United States and homesteading? Was the government actually giving the land away, or did individuals have to pay for the land,

Unknown:

the land was sold as an at a nominal fee, because the idea was getting the land into active agricultural production, boosted the economy of the country. And that was the value that was there. So they the almost the fees they paid were more of a administration fee, you like a permit fee, but it was a permit. It was a strong legal document, then it took then a permit. So it was a minimum cost. And that was the idea. So the cost would not be an impediment to the settlement of these lands.

Anne Marie Cannon:

And so basically, in the east, the way that it was administered vary based on the time and the place, and who was distributing the land and whether they were, you know, trying to give people favors with the line, it goes back to the whole colonization of the United States. And this is specific and different, what we're talking about with regards to homesteading. So now that we've cleared that up, and I understand it,

Unknown:

if we talked a little more on the concept, as you were just discussing, that homesteading was it was a watershed event. In in world governments. Most of the European countries were still on this some kind of monarchy where lands were owned by the monarch by law that was part of the American experiment was that here's a government saying, hey, citizens, we're gonna give you land, if you go out there and find it. And that was, you know, that's what was so at the time, it appears was sort of style them to the rest of the world.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Did you have to be an American citizen?

Unknown:

Yeah. Mm hmm. You had to be an American citizen, you had to be over 21 and you had to be an individual or the head of a family, which makes that kind of interesting. You there were some restrictions that married women could not homestead because their husbands were expected to and but there were Exceptions women could homestead if they were not married or if they were widow. Oh, this is the whole list of things. If the husband became insane, then the wife could pursue the homesteading and the homestead process. The laws that were passed in 1864 remained in place for about 100 years up until 1970s. So there was a lot of case law developed through the years on who could homestead and who couldn't. But essentially, you had to be male over 21, rollover and an American citizen that was acquainted with the very basic requirements to apply for homestead. Now, was there a limit on how much land you could get like could one person get more than one homestead? The original basic unit you could get with a homestead was 160 acres, which was considered a reasonable size farm. As the homesteading program moved into some of the more arid parts of our west, it was realized that 160 acres water was not enough land to support, say, some agriculture and a herd of cattle. So that were expansions with a call expanded homesteads. Over the years, various laws came through that in certain circumstances, you could go up to 640 acres for homestead, which is a square mile. That's what acreage just kind of came from, but it started out 160 acres.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So this was this was unprecedented in the world, as you said, that was a great opportunity to basically improve your life have the American experience in a way that you could only have the American experience. That's what's so interesting about the whole thing that the again, the America experience. Right, so I interviewed a local that we both know less maize and last week and his family own, they still own the homestead that they acquired in, I think it was 1870. And his family, like different members of the family acquired these homesteads. And so, you know, who was What did you say 160 acres, there might have been five relatives that their land bordered each other. And now it's like one big ranch. It's kind of amazing, because it's been since 1870, which is why when you gave me choices of things, because you're like a walking encyclopedia about a lot of topics, I chose the homesteading.

Unknown:

I'll go back again, talk a little bit more about the requirements. So we can kind of still kind of set the stage for stuff besides being 21 or over a citizen in a head of family or you could be single, that the requirements were you had like what you did, you went out and mocked you prospective property conas was with stage the outline of what you wanted for your home state. And that's where the term pulling up stakes. When you leave somewhere, it's American Western. And that means you changed your mind you pulled up your property sakes and you went somewhere else. So there's a little little tidbit there. And the if it wasn't pulling up the stakes to 10th in moving it was pulling up your property sticks. So anyway, you marked out the acreage you wanted a you went to the local Land Office, and the land office was a government agency, US official Land Office, and then you file paperwork that essentially was a sketch map of the property you wanted. The legal descriptions, as far as survey goes, is the whole thing. It would be township range and section and what portion of a section of a section of land is a square mile. By that time the US government had overlaid the land with a survey, a national survey system. And then the Land Office they entered the the legal description of the land you were applying for in a chronological order in handwritten record books. Okay, after you had filed your application you had within the four years you had to have you had to build a habitable house. On the land you had to cultivate a certain percentage of the acreage the first year or so percentage the second year and a certain percentage to the four The year it wasn't the whole hundred 60 acres you had to cultivate, there was a percentage, the requirement was you had the cultivated land, which means you tilled the land and planted something, your plan is didn't have to be successful. You didn't have to actually have a bumper crop of colon on your land to qualify for the agricultural part of it. You just had to make the effort to plant the stuff, and hope it grows. And that was the reason they had the largest homesteads later on, because you couldn't grow enough on some of our Western lands. So anyway, there was an agricultural component. You had to live in the house for a certain number of years. And then a government Inspector, when you were felt you were ready, your time had passed, their government inspector would come out and look at what your house and would look at the RF ports to do agriculture work and make a decision whether you should get your homestead or not, in the inspector was from like said the US, General Land Office diello, the inspector when in most cases approve, yeah, you've done the work, they would sign off on a government farm. And you would pay the fee. And then you own the land, then you were issued what's called a patent from the US government, that's a deed so that you essentially own the land as a private individual. It was not government land anymore. And so that's kind of how the process works.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So that would take about four years.

Unknown:

Yes, you could get an extension of time, but usually, most people didn't. Because when we're in the Great Plains of the United States country, because that was very good farmland. Not as good as the stuff in the East but it was always a lot of work. Talking about your example of the family you're talking with that you have a family they can file adjoining homesteads, they ended up with the families could be amassing many, many more acres of land by having the the family members who are over 21 US citizens, etc, etc. Fighting Jason homesites. And then as the family rooms would merge, you know in later years after it was private land, because the government had no no control of the land anymore. At that time. The only exception to that some of the homestead will have exemptions on what was granted to the homesteader they would get the surfaces of the land. But this is a lady years, when the government realized the value of minerals like oil and gas, that the federal government would reserve the rights to the oil and gas underneath these homestead land so the homesteader would get the surface, the right to farm it all the other rights of private land, except the government would retain the rights to the oil and gas, or the government route have retained the right to run what were called ditches and canals. Because at the time, again, in the 1800s, it was always envisioned that canals would remain a major form of transportation, unless you think back to the Erie Canal in upstate New York and whatever and all that stuff, that there was important to reserve the right for the government to build a canal if it needed it, which really didn't happen much in the West, but those rights were still reserved to the federal government. And their son was doing research on their land through the government records, the old General Land Office Records, which are now maintained by the US Bureau of Land Management, which is part of the US Bureau. Are you in finally the interior? You will see the land was transferred, but that we with the reservation of mineral estate, except canals, ditches, other things like that.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So were there designated areas like not all of the Eastern or western United States was open to homesteading? Did the government choose specific, you know, plots of lands to open up? Yeah,

Unknown:

it was kind of the other way around, though. The government chose specific areas of land not to open up but the majority to have it was opened one time or another I said we spend, essentially a century of time here. So when the federal government decided to create national parks, the national parks were close to homesteading. And if there was some other reason that the government wanted to keep the land as federal land early on, it would be like the sites of government forts in the West that they decide to do the these are gonna stay federal lands because there's a federal use for them. Yeah, we're not opened up the homesteading. And then in the early 1900s, when we'd created our national forest system, the national forests were removed from being available for homesteading and other things like that they were naturally involved in their national monuments. Then we became that were some of the Western forts developed in the lodge military training areas, so that those areas were off limits to homesteading.

Anne Marie Cannon:

What about a place like Georgetown when I know the Griffith brothers came here, and they stake their claim? How did this land was this a homestead?

Unknown:

We don't add there was a parallel effort, the same idea to get lands into private hands to create industry to develop the country that evolved into the mining claim programs that the federal government had, where if an individual again, US citizen and but you didn't have to be head of a family, US citizen overturned in one, you could file what they can you could file a mining claim on federal lands, if you felt you had discovered a valuable mineral. And usually, that was the metallic minerals. So have our gold evolved in the molybdenum mine, which is very important to connect Creek, where we live sand or whatever, it but if you had discovered a unique mineral on federal land, you could find what the color mining claim because you intend to mined the legal background or that is why it's called a claim. It was a individual claim against not adversarial against but a claim against government ownership. Okay, so you're you're a prospect of wandering around the Rocky Mountains, and you see some quartz rock sticking under the ground, which then you say, oh, there may be some gold mixed in with that. Again, you could file what's called a mining claim, similar to the homesteading and if you proved that there really was available mineral air, you could get a private ownership of that land through mining claim patent, as opposed to a homesteading patent. But the mining claim patents had evolved. They were generally five acre claims, not the hundred and 60. Things evolved later on that was kind of legalized or codified is the word they use code word code codified in the 1874. It can 73 I'm not exactly anyway, between 1873 and 74. That was quantified as us mining law. And that law is still in effect. That's what the folks were doing with the 1860 mining claims here in Clear Creek county when the lot that was when it really started because the main discovery, the early discovery was 1859. So that essentially that was how the a mining time was established. If you proved you if you proved upon the claim that you had a valuable mineral, you could get ownership of the claim as private land again for a minimal fee. Because the idea was to get these mines into production producing minerals and improve improving the US economy. So that was kind of the overall thing on mining claims.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So did they have to be productive in four years like the homesteads?

Unknown:

Uh, no, uh, you could do it faster. You saw rock outcrop, you walked away with your pick and chunks of gold came out, which hardly ever happened. But you could apply for your patent right there because you've proven that there was a valuable mineral there. But on the other hand mining hardrock, mining digging mining tunnel that it's whatever, take time. So in the meantime, you would file your claim. And if you did a monetary value of work on that claim every year, you could keep working on that claim as an unpatented claim, because you hadn't proven yet that there's there was gold there, say. So you couldn't get the patent. But you could continue that as an unpatented claim. And that would be as long as you work claim, every year, a certain amount of time, or it evolved, if you paid a certain amount of money to the federal government. In lieu of doing the actual work, you could keep that unpaid claim. But it only gave you the right to mine that land you didn't know yet.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Oh, this sounds like a whole other show. Just talking about Oh, yes. So I guess what I was getting out with that question was, so then the Griffith brothers, they got their five acres or whatever. They stake their claim up here. But then how did the town get laid out? And how did people acquire ownership of the lots here? Because we're, we're, you know, we were divided into lots as opposed to, you know, 160 acres, how did that is that part of homesteading, or now?

Unknown:

Again, that was a similar program. It was a it was essentially called the townsite. program with the federal government. And they were separate townsite laws, again, the idea of getting the land settled in. So if you wanted to create a town, and you're dealing with federal land, the time that the you had to follow my committee are usually it was prominent citizens of a mining camp, say they were camping on federal land, maybe they weren't on their mining claims, but they were close to.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So like the grip brothers would have. Yeah,

Unknown:

okay. If they and their friends decided they wanted the farm, the town, they would farm committee would ply to the federal government, again, through the General Land Office, essentially saying we want to farm town, okay. And then they will lay out the proposed boundaries of the town. So you could have a legal land description, they would file that application with the General Land Office, this is the same office where the homestead to a file to the weather mining claims fallacy. If they followed the process, the federal government would grant the federal lands would be granted to that group for the town. So then a town organization had to be created. And then that town in there called trustees have called the town trustees. The town would usually survey the land in the land, lots, and then the town. trustees would either sell or transfer giveaway of a lot to the people who wanted to live in town. So and that's happened all over the West.

Anne Marie Cannon:

That's a whole other show to

Unknown:

that.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So we have gone off I've I've put you off the path but I was curious about all that. Do you feel like you explained homesteading enough to move into more specifics?

Unknown:

I think what I'm doing now is, is I said these laws were on the books until the 1970s. The homesteading laws, among other things were repealed in the mid 1970s. At that time, I happen to be working for the Bureau of Land Management in in Alaska, we say that I'm a forester and I also dealt with what they call realty matters for the federal government. I was a federal landlord adjudicator at the time. And it got involved with the transfer of federal lands to Native Americans in in Alaska, when the homesteading laws were repealed in the 1970s. They gave a 10 year extension of them to Alaska would put it into the mid 1980s that you could still have set under the same laws in Alaska. One of my jobs was going into the field and verifying on the homestead application verifying that they had done all the requirements in the making a decision on whether that homestead to be granted or not. I went to one homestead in the house. They had were living in was the school bus. And okay, it live and living there for like, you know, four years. So it was it was at home. And I said to him, Well, you know, why did you pick this particular spot for your home to homestead? And they said, Oh, that's where the bus broke out.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Oh my goodness.

Unknown:

So sometimes just land selection process was kind of serendipitous. Wow. So that was kind of fun. That was a very interesting bit of a work. In no matter. Anyone who homesteaded and proved up in the sub was successful, you knew they had put ahead of a heck of a lot of work and what they accomplished. It was an accomplishment to do this in 1860s in their major hopless. In the 1970s, generally,

Anne Marie Cannon:

specific stories, do you have other specific stories or particular stories that you find compelling about homesteaders?

Unknown:

I think the main thing that impressed me was the determination of the people involved to go through this process in the own land. As a landowner, I don't have any particular list of stories to tell. The what's interesting about this whole thing it is it is was in such an amazing process, that a governmental body would decide that centrally giveaway or sell land at a very low price to develop the nation's economy. It was a whole different approach to a country's economic policies. That sure had not happened in the world much before.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Do you think it was a success based on what the hope for outcome would be? Do you think it was successful?

Unknown:

Oh, well, yeah. Here we are. We're in a, I know, the economy. United States goes up and down. It's a cyclic, like, like any country, but we're a country where the robots in the over the long run, very robust, still a developing economy. And that was the objective. And the homesteading process and the mining process in the township all contributed to making that happen,

Anne Marie Cannon:

or their homes homesteads in Colorado, like near us that you're aware of.

Unknown:

One of the provisions of the homesteading law is that homesteads cannot be on land that was valuable for minerals.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Okay.

Unknown:

So, in our county and front rains, counties of Colorado, where it was known mineral deposits after they were discovered, there were very few homesteads like St. Clair County that we live in Gilpin County, the next one to us, because most of what was recognizes mining land, they weren't agricultural. So they're in curry County, there was, I think there was a homestead in what's known as the Evergreen area on the eastern part of our county, which is flatter Valley, mountain valley, plateau Valley land, that you could that you could actually grow crops in, you know, on a large scale. So the, I think the least one homestead in the area of the eastern part of Clear Creek, county, but generally the our county here was so mountainous in that you couldn't do it successful agriculture. So most of the private land in in our county and similar counties either went to private hands through the mining laws with mining claims, or through the township laws that we described earlier. This is another factor in it to that when our merican Western territories became states, the federal government gave a certain amount of acres of federal land to the states and a lot of the and then the state could subsequently either sell that land or they could retain the ownership. here in Colorado, the western states, a lot of the states kept the land they got from the federal government state lands to manage and produce money for the school system so they're called schooling school lands. So then there were lands within our Front Range counties that take went to the state and then went to private ownership our state was taking ownership.

Anne Marie Cannon:

You are really a walking encyclopedia. So where can where do we see homesteading that I always ask my guests this in pop culture. The first thing I think of of course, is that movie was called far and away with Tom Cruise, huh? Yeah, that was about homesteading, right?

Unknown:

I say I'm not really familiar with that movie.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Well, I'm gonna have to do some more research, but because I like to link out in my episode page to where do we find this? This history and pop culture? Yeah,

Unknown:

I would, I would say in pop culture, it is the western Western theme of determination and grit, the get out there and build your house and pledge your firearm and become a success. In spite of all adversarial weather and terrain, and whatever happened to be going on politically at the time and that kind of thing?

Anne Marie Cannon:

Right.

Unknown:

It's that determination that we're going to get this done no matter what.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Why is this history? Why is history important to you? Why does it resonate with you?

Unknown:

Uh, well, again, it because it was part of my experiences with a, I was very lucky to be involved with the with the, what we can call the tail end of the homesteading saga of America. In that I find that very pleasing, I guess to myself that I got a chance to be involved with that. Because it wouldn't be when you look at the, this whole spread of it. It's such a unique and wonderful thing that happened in our country. It's

Anne Marie Cannon:

it's the narrative of the American dream, really? And what is the most important thing you would like to leave our listeners with about homesteading?

Unknown:

I would say that is an example of what people can accomplish when they put their minds to it. And that it is it was a Where is not a programming anymore. Yeah. But it exemplifies the, again, the determination and the drive of the settlers of our country. And that's, I think, is just the the example it sets that if you have more to achieve something, you work at it, and there's a high percentage that you will succeed. That's that's kind of it. Yeah,

Anne Marie Cannon:

that's a good answer. Okay, well, that was very informative. Frank, thank you so much.

Unknown:

God, this book was not completely boring to most people. But

Anne Marie Cannon:

it's a lot of good information. It's there's a lot of details in there that I didn't know about. I still have a lot of questions about other parts of it. So I think I'm going to have to bring you back to talk about maybe, you know, particularly our town, I don't know something, you know, to cut. Its fat. I think it's fascinating. I'm sure that our listeners will think so as well. So are there homesteads today that? Well, I know there are because my friend bless his family has had a homestead from the beginning. And they it continues to be passed down. Hmm,

Unknown:

yeah. Because there's private land. It's, you know, a great.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Are there many of those do you think?

Unknown:

Oh, I would say yes. That's why how some of the larger ranchers all over the West got established in a seal in the families because father knows, subdivided in subfolders if compared to suburban areas. Yeah. There's still a lot left. Yeah, yeah, there's Okay, cool. That's interesting. And then we could always talk about that. Everything I've been talking about does not apply to tech. Really, because Texas declared itself a republic when it that's why we had they had the Mexican, Texas in war with the Alamo. In all that is that Texas was was not a territory. It's like say, Colorado was okay. Arizona or those places, Texas had declared itself a republic and then decided to join the union and become a state directly without being a territory first.

Anne Marie Cannon:

It's like the difference between a republic and the territory

Unknown:

of Republic has the sovereign government.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Oh, so it was like its own country?

Unknown:

Yeah. Hmm. And there was no federal land.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So the whole time. Okay. Land.

Unknown:

Yeah, all the federal land laws didn't apply. So yeah, it was like it was all state land. Interesting.

Anne Marie Cannon:

So much history, so much history to talk about. And that's what I'm here for.

Unknown:

So you, you're doing a good job.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Oh, you're so sweet. Thank you. Thank you for listening to the podcast to Frank young. Thank you so much for being here today.

Unknown:

You're quite welcome. And Marie. It's been enjoyable.

Anne Marie Cannon:

Perfect. And that's a wrap. So. So there you have it. Frank young and homesteading in the American West. Be sure to join us next week for part two of our series of homesteading. When we talk to Les Moonves about his family's personal adventure, homesteading, the family ranch, a ranch which is still in the family. This American adventure begins in the 1870s and takes us all the way till today. Thanks for joining us. I hope you have a great week.