Homesteading the Plains


Homesteading the Plains

Toward a New History

Richard Edwards, Jacob K. Friefeld, and Rebecca S. Wingo

272 pages
6 photographs, 5 illustrations, 12 maps, 11 tables, 28 graphs, 4 charts, 2 appendixes, index


September 2017


$45.00 Add to Cart

May 2019


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

September 2017


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

September 2017


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

2018 Nebraska Book Award 
2018 Outstanding Academic Title, selected by Choice 

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.

Author Bio

Richard Edwards is the director of the Center for Great Plains Studies and professor of economics at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the author of numerous books including Natives of a Dry Place: Stories of Dakota before the Oil Boom. Jacob K. Friefeld has a PhD in history from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, where he is also an instructor. Rebecca S. Wingo is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in digital liberal arts at Macalester College.


"Homesteading the Plains is an important revisionist work—a must-read for those interested in the revitalization of historical interest in homesteading and the settlement of the Far West."—Mark M. Carroll, Western Historical Quarterly

"Homesteading the Plains does an excellent job of providing reasons to be excited for the future of homesteading research while celebrating the past success of the Homestead Act, its principal role in the history of both the Great Plains and the entire country, and its enduring legacy on the land and the people who call it home."—Andrew Husa, Great Plains Quarterly

"Homesteading the Plains is a provocative, well-informed, and strongly argued analysis of the role of homesteading in settling the Great Plains from 1863 to 1900. . . . Throughout the book the factual evidence is
enriched by the stories of individual lives which are also embedded in the records. The result is a definitive analysis which is also a pleasure to read. It will serve as a model for future historians who want to circumvent the myths and find the facts about homesteading and its role in the development of the nation."—David J. Wishart, Nebraska History

"Homesteading looms large in the folklore and memories of European settlement of the North American Great Plains, but has almost disappeared from professional research and writing, including mainstream US history textbooks. These three authors aim to revise the standardized views of homesteading. . . . Every library with any interest in frontier/western/Great Plains history should have a copy of this book."—S. D. Reschly, Choice

"Homesteading the Plains showcases the value of digitized homestead records, arguing persuasively that we need to reconsider and challenge long accepted and widely circulated "stylized facts" in the light of the detailed research now possible."—Sarah Carter, Montana: The Magazine of Western History

"Edwards, Friefeld, and Wingo break new ground on the well-trod soil of Plains settlement history."—Cynthia C. Prescott, Middle West Reviews

"Recommended for all plains folk who like to brandish their homestead certificates, or who just share a tie to the land."—Prairie Public News

  "A welcome contribution to the understanding of our region."—Omaha World-Herald

"Homesteading the Plains is a "must-read" for Great Plains scholars, as well as for those interested in the American West and in GIS applications. It is a much-needed call for a revitalization of homesteading scholarship, and an example of how dramatically technology and historians' increased access to data can shift the historiography. The authors should be congratulated on their contribution to future Great Plains studies, as their book will doubtless serve as a fine kick-start to a new renaissance in homesteading research."—Julie Courtwright, Missouri Historical Review

"Homesteading the Plains represents an exciting new starting point for studying the Homestead Act's impact on agricultural expansion."—Ginette Aley, Kansas History

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
1. Competing Visions of Our Homesteading Past
2. Recalculating Homesteading’s Reach and Success
3. Evolving Views on Homesteading Fraud
4. Estimating the Extent of Fraud
5. Homesteading and Indian Land Dispossession
6. Women Proving Up Their Claims
7. Mapping Community Formation
8. Envisioning a New History of Homesteading
Appendix 1: An Annotated Review of GLO Circulars, 1862–1904
Appendix 2: Sources for Chapter 5 Graphs and Maps


2018 Nebraska Book Award 
2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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