Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History

The authors of Homesteading the Plains, Richard Edwards and Jacob Friefeld, examined the major myths related to the Homestead Act. These myths were often accepted as truth and had permeated the literature on the subject without any critical analysis of the historical details. Edwards and Friefield seek to correct that record by looking at the actual data surrounding the Homestead Act and the settlers that moved to that territory.

I found this book when I was researching the Homestead Act. Like the authors, I found that the topic was full of anecdotal stories and there wasn't much statistical or historical analysis. Despite its methodical approach, I still found the text quite readable and very convincing.

About the Book

From the publisher, “Homesteading the Plains offers a bold new look at the history of homesteading, overturning what for decades has been the orthodox scholarly view. The authors begin by noting the striking disparity between the public’s perception of homesteading as a cherished part of our national narrative and most scholars’ harshly negative and dismissive treatment.

Homesteading the Plains reexamines old data and draws from newly available digitized records to reassess the current interpretation’s four principal tenets: homesteading was a minor factor in farm formation, with most Western farmers purchasing their land; most homesteaders failed to prove up their claims; the homesteading process was rife with corruption and fraud; and homesteading caused Indian land dispossession. Using data instead of anecdotes and focusing mainly on the nineteenth century, Homesteading the Plains demonstrates that the first three tenets are wrong and the fourth only partially true. In short, the public’s perception of homesteading is perhaps more accurate than the one scholars have constructed.

Homesteading the Plains provides the basis for an understanding of homesteading that is startlingly different from current scholarly orthodoxy.”

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