Great Plains Homesteaders


Great Plains Homesteaders

Richard Edwards

Discover the Great Plains Series

198 pages
12 photographs, 5 illustrations, 4 maps, 1 graph, index


September 2024


$17.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Great Plains Homesteaders tells the epic story of how millions of people, white and Black, women and men, young and old, and of many different religions, languages, and ethnic groups, moved to the Great Plains to claim land. Most were poor, so the government’s offer of “free” farms through the Homestead Act of 1862 seemed a godsend. The settlers found harsh growing conditions and many perils—including exploitation by railroads and banks, droughts, prairie fires, and bitter winters—yet they persisted. The settlers successfully “proved up” nearly a million claims between the 1860s and the 1920s. They filled up the immense grassland, transforming it into productive farms, the beginning of the region’s agriculture. They also created a distinct culture that continues to shape their estimated fifty million descendants living today.

Every homesteader’s experience was different, as particular and distinct as the people were themselves. Yet their collective story, with all its hardships and toil, its ambitions and setbacks, its fresh starts and failures and successes, is central to the American experience.

Author Bio

Richard Edwards is director emeritus of the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is author or coauthor of numerous books, including The First Migrants: How Black Homesteaders’ Quest for Land and Freedom Heralded America’s Great Migration (Nebraska, 2023) and Homesteading the Plains: Toward a New History (Nebraska, 2017).


“History buffs will learn significant new things, but you don’t need a lot of background knowledge to understand Great Plains Homesteaders. Richard Edwards does an excellent job of summing up and evaluating the various topics, such as whether Black homesteading should be regarded as a success or failure, or the characteristics of women’s homesteading, or evaluating the number of people who sold out after proving up and the subsequent consolidation of farming and declining rural population. This is all done in a clear and readable manner and reflects current knowledge.”—David L. Bristow, author of Nebraska History Moments

Great Plains Homesteaders is very accessible to all readers and makes particular topics related to homesteading easy to find in the book.”—Benjamin T. Arrington, author of The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Homesteaders
2. Origins of the Homesteading Idea
3. Moving to the Land in the Nineteenth Century
4. Settling In in the Nineteenth Century
5. Perils and Survival
6. Black Homesteaders
7. The Twentieth-Century Land Rush
8. Life on the Twentieth-Century Homestead
9. Homesteading Women
10. The Homesteaders’ Legacy
Suggested Readings

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