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Free Land for Sale

May 19, 2004

Almanac Transcript

Free land for sale this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

Despite the great role that it played in the settlement of the western half of the state, many people don't understand how the concept of "homesteading" worked for early day Oklahoman's. When the first piece of land opened for homesteading settlers were required to pay a filing fee, live on the land for five years and make some improvements to their property, after that the land was theirs free and clear.

However, only one small section of Oklahoma opened up that way. After the 1889 opening there wasn't any more free land. Settlers now were required to pay anywhere from between one and three dollars an acre for their claims. If, as a settler, you entered in a land run after 1889 managed to stake a claim and hold it, and pay the filing fees you still had to pay for each acre you claimed. The settlers were aware of these conditions when they signed up for the runs and also knew that the payments were due in two installments one in three years and then one two years after that. Once they signed the agreements and got their land though, many of the pioneers suddenly couldn't see why they would have to pay for their land if the settlers of 1889 didn't have to pay for theirs.

In 1892 a movement began to eradicate the payments due on this Oklahoma land. Known as the Free Homes Movement and led by the Free Homes League. This group of Oklahoman's was determined to get for free what they had earlier agreed to pay for. Beginning in 1892, the Free Homes League recruited members from all across the territory and sent delegates to Washington D.C. to lobby congress. Initially, the efforts were dismal failures, a few years into the movement though, other western states, realizing the benefits to be obtained, jumped on the bandwagon and pushed for the Free Homes Act as well. The main arguments of the Free Homes Group was the fact that once settlers tried growing crops on their new land they realized that there was no way they could make the payments in the first place, and secondly, wouldn't it be better if any money that was available could be put back into the land and towns rather than sent to Washington.

The Free Homes League soon became a rallying point not only for those who owed the money but also for people convinced that it would be of economic benefit to keep the money in the community. It was in this week of 1900 that after eight long years of political red tape, lobbying, frustration and failure the Free Homes League succeeded in passing the necessary legislation and because of the nature of the bill the new law affected the entire U.S. Now, because of the actions of the Oklahoman's, all land throughout the entire country opened up for homesteading would be free land.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of Oklahoma's Public Radio and the Oklahoma State University Library.

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