Homesteaders and farming on the Plains

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  • Homesteaders and farming on the Plains
    • Problems and solutions
      • Land size - needed enough land to support family; Government allocation not always enough
        • Government legislation - passed Timber Culture Act/Desert Land Act
      • Breaking hard ground broke lightweight ploughs
        • Steel ploughs (sod-busters)could be hired to break up hard prairie. Coming of Railroads = farms more mechanised (efficient) - reapers, binders, threshers could be bought
      • Lack of water for crops - Av. Rainfall 38cm p.a. = not enough to sustain agriculture
        • High powered drills and wind pumps = deep wells could be dug and water pumped to surface. Dry-farming techniques introduced. Turkey-red wheat introduced from Russia (1874); grew better than original varieties
      • Lack of wood for houses/fences - needed fencing to prevent cattlemen's herds trampling crops
        • Houses built from clods of turf (sod houses). 1874; barbed wire invented = crops could be fenced off
      • Pests - grasshoppers; fleas and bed bugs in sod houses 'lived by the millions'
        • Grasshoppers devoured crops; nothing could be done. A coat of white wash inside the house killed bed bugs
      • Devastation - fire!
        • In Summer grasslands dry; small fires could be extinguished, but for larger ones just had to hide in sod houses till it went out
      • Indian Attacks
        • Try to defend themselves/hope US Army was nearby
      • Extremes of weather
        • No solutions; just had to deal with it
      • Isolation - long distances between farms and towns = lack of doctors/midwives and little social life
        • Arrival of railroads = some homesteaders could sell their crops to distant markets and obtain some luxuries to make life easier
    • By 1860, whole continent of America had been acquired by US Government through force, treaties or purchase. Keen to fulfil 'Manifest Destiny'
    • Homesteaders Act 1862 - designed to encourage settlement and stop land speculation. 160 acres free if occupied and worked for 5 years; after this period could pay $30 for ownership certificate
    • Timber Culture Act 1873 - further 160 acres if half planted with trees
    • Desert Land Act 1877 - in areas where land was particularly poor/low rainfall = right to buy section cheaply


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