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Flashcards in Homesteaders Problems on the Great plains Deck (6)
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What was the homestead act?

In 1862 the US government introduced a Homestead Act. The aim of this was to encourage people to move west. They were offered 160 acres of land for free, as long as they lived on it and farmed it for five years. However, life on the Plains was tough, and the Homesteaders faced many challenges.


Early settlers and homesteader on the Plains faced huge problems. The burden of many of these fell on the women, whose lives were burdensome and unpleasant, describe the problems and how they overcame them.

- Building a house There was little wood to build log cabins. They solved this by Settlers built 'sod houses', while they lived out of doors - people did their cooking on an open fire.
- Dirt and disease Outdoor toilets and open wells. The sod houses leaked, and fleas and bedbugs lived in them 'by the million'. It was impossible to disinfect the floor. As a result the death rate, especially from diphtheria, was high. The solution to the problem was A 'good thick coat of whitewash' killed bedbugs. 'A layer of clay' stopped leaks. Homesteaders eventually built more modern houses.
- Housework There was no wood for fuel, and no shops to buy items such as candles and soap. A typical household had only two buckets, some crockery and one cracked cup. There was no water and little food. The solution to the problem was A travelling shoe-maker or tinker might pass through who would provide or mend household items, but usually families just had to make do. The women collected 'buffalo chips' for fuel, stoked the stove, and made their own candles and soap. 'I have often wondered how my mother stood it', wrote an early settler.
- Isolation No doctors or midwives. No social life 'because of the distances between farmhouses'. In the winter families were shut in 'and longed for spring The Solution to the problem was People had to make the most of any trip to their nearest town, where the women talked of the harvest and the men smoked corncob pipes and talked politics.
- Law and order Local government was non-existent, and some early lawmen (such as Henry Plummer) were worse than the bandits.'. The solution to the problem was Law courts and sheriffs such as Wyatt Earp slowly established law and order.


What problem did the farmers face and how did they solve these?

1. Farming - A hard crust on the soil made it hard to start farming. Farmers could not afford a plough or machines. There were not enough workers.
Teams of 'sodbusters' using steel ploughs did the first ploughing. After 1880, thresher teams travelled around following the harvest. Farmers could hire them for just a few days.
2. Drought - There was only 38 cm of rainfall in a year, and the hot summers evaporated dampness from the land. In the 1860s there were terrible droughts, followed by fires.
The well driller and windpump allowed deep wells to be dug, which gave water. New methods of dry farming were invented (the 'Turkey Red' variety of wheat was imported from Russia, and farmers put a layer of dust on the soil after rain, which stopped evaporation).
3. Food - Farmers could not grow enough on their farms to feed a family.
The government realised that 160 acres was not enough to sustain people. The Timber Culture Act of 1873 gave farmers another 160 free acres if they grew some trees.
4. Fences - Lack of wood for fencing meant farmers could not keep cattle off their crops. This led to trouble with the cattlemen.
Barbed wire (patented by Joseph Glidden in 1874) solved the problem of fencing.
5. Insect pests - In the 1870s, grasshopper plagues stripped the cornstalks 'naked as beanpoles' and sent pregnant women insane. Colorado beetle destroyed potato crops.
Settlers tried to harvest the crops before the grasshoppers came. They tried to kill them, but gave up, 'weary and dispirited'. The government raised relief funds. Modern insecticides solved this problem.
6. Law and Order - Rival settlers, Bandits, Renegade Native Americans and Vigilante cattlemen.
Law courts and sheriffs such as Wyatt Earp slowly established law and order.


Describe Federal Territory

At first, newly-occupied land on the Plains was federal territory (it belonged to the US government) and was administered by a governor, three judges and a US marshal.
When the area reached a population of 5,000, it became a territory, with - in addition - locally-elected sheriffs, who could deal with local criminals. New territories were notoriously lawless.
Miners in the mining towns set up miners' courts, which settled local matters such as disputed claims, but were powerless to stop gangs of outlaws or rustlers.
In many areas, local citizens set up vigilante groups, who dished out summary justice to people suspected of crimes.
The gunfight at the OK Corral took place near here on 26 October 1881.
When the population reached 60,000, the territory became a state, with its own laws, government and finances, although there was still a US marshal with responsibility for criminals who broke federal laws. Slowly, helped by improved communications (for instance the telegraph), law and order was established.
Among the lawmen who helped achieve this were Pat Garrett (who shot Billy the Kid) and Wyatt Earp (famous for his shoot-out with the Clanton gang at the OK Corral).


Describe nine problems of law and order in the west.

- Distance (difficult to cover the large areas and isolated communities of the West)
- Poverty and harsh conditions (people were prepared to resort to desperate measures)
- More men than women (no calming influence; prostitution)
- Different races (differences of language and culture led to there being little sense of a united community)
- Culture of violence (everyone carried guns, and sorted out problems by using violence)
- Land claims and gold (arguments over land ownership; greed, gamblers, criminals)
- Cattle barons (fear of reprisal; 'respectable' citizens were scared to speak out; juries could be bribed and were often biased)
- Poor court system (judges often had poor knowledge of law; courts often gave unfair verdicts; lack of convictions)
- Vigilantes (often as much a problem as the criminals)


Describe the events of the Johnson County War

Governor Barber of Wyoming supported the cattlemen, who said homesteaders ('nesters') were rustling (stealing) their cattle.
The sheriff of Buffalo (Red Angus) supported the homesteaders, who said the cattle barons were stealing their land.
The cattlemen regularly caught and hanged local homesteaders.
Among those they hanged were Ella Watson and Jim Averill (a poor local couple), and nine trappers who were out hunting wolves.
The cattlemen assembled a list of 70 rustlers they wanted killed. In spring 1892 they hired a lynching party of 43 cattlemen (including 20 hired gunmen).
The lynching party attacked a ranch known as the KC ranch. They killed Nick Ray and his partner Nate Chapman, who was roundup foreman of the local Northern Wyoming Farmers & Stock Growers Association.
In response, Red Angus raised a posse of 319 men, who rode out and trapped the cattlemen at a ranch called the TA.
The cattlemen were eventually rescued by the Army cavalry.
The cattlemen were charged with murder. They bribed the jury and the case was dropped. Nevertheless, the war marked the end of the power of the cattlemen.