Homesteading shaped Nebraska’s early development as a state in powerful ways. Between 1863 and 1900, the federal government’s distribution of land created about 61% of new farms here. Nebraska exceeded all other states, in fact, in the amount of land (45%) claimed by homesteaders.
Nebraska is home to an outstanding center for understanding this history. Homestead National Monument, near Beatrice, offers excellent educational facilities operated by the National Park Service. The grounds include a one-room schoolhouse and log cabin, hiking trails and a program exploring the area’s geological history.
The name “monument” fails to convey the actual scope of the site, and it’s encouraging that Nebraska’s congressional delegation is supporting a legislative proposal to change the name to Homestead National Historical Park. A House committee recently approved legislation to that effect sponsored by 3rd District U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith. Nebraska’s two other House members — 1st District Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and 2nd District Rep. Don Bacon — cosponsored the legislation. Sen. Ben Sasse has introduced the bill in the Senate, and Sen. Deb Fischer is a cosponsor.
Under the Homestead Act of 1862, the federal government distributed more than 270 million acres in what became 30 states. The nation’s first homestead claim, by Daniel Freeman in 1863, was in Nebraska. The site is now the location of Homestead National Monument.
Approval of the renaming legislation by the full Congress is a sensible, needed step to convey the many ways the facility helps the public understand this important part of our national past.