Farming on the Great Plains depended on a series of technological
innovations. Lacking much rainfall, farmers had to drill wells
several hundred feet into the ground to tap into underground aquifers.
Windmill-powered pumps were necessary to bring the water to the
surface and irrigate fields. Steel tipped plows were necessary
to cut through the plains' grasses dense roots. To make up for
a scarcity of farm labor, farmers relied heavily on mechanical
The Homestead Act
To encourage farmers to settle on the Great Plains, Congress
passed the Homestead Act in 1862. This act allowed any citizen
or any immigrant intending to become a citizen to get title to
160 acres of land by paying a small fee, living on the tract for
five years, and making a few improvements. It also allowed settlers
to pay $1.25 an acre and own the land immediately.
Homestead Patent No. 1 was granted to a Daniel Freeman in 1862
for a tract in Nebraska. Between 1862 and 1900, the Homestead
Act provided farms to more than 400,000 families.
Homesteading proved to be very difficult. About a third of
those who tried to develop homesteads eventually failed. On the
Great Plains, rain was scarce and a farm or ranch of 160 acres
was too small to be economical.
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