Historic Homesteads

Congress passed the first Homestead Act in 1862. It opened millions of acres for Americans to settle outside of cities. The plots were generally 160 acres, and the opportunities west of the Mississippi seemed endless. As long as homesteaders built a home, improved the land, and lived on it for five years, they could file for a deed of title. Tens of thousands of people responded to this opportunity and moved westward. This flood of homesteaders, combined with the advent of railroads, mining towns, and ranching, led Frederick Jackson Turner to declare the end of the Western Frontier in 1893. Now that the West was covered in little houses on the prairie, the American public no longer viewed it as the Wild West. Homesteading remained relevant through the 1930s when Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted subsistence homesteading under the New Deal. Though there was less land available, people were still drawn to the independent lifestyle that homesteading provided.


Some homesteads were established in beautiful places that eventually became protected by National Parks. Some homesteads were the birthplace of outlaws, such as Butch Cassidy. Some lasted late into the twentieth century. The environments and families of these homesteads were diverse, yet they all shared common elements of hard work and rugged beauty.

Gustive O. Larson was a prominent Utah historian. He started a homestead in southern Utah in the 1930s but lost it when the Kolob National Monument was established. During his four summers on the homestead, Gustive learned about Utah history, overcame a severe illness, and built a cabin that stands today.
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John Wesley Wolfe, a Civil War veteran, left his family in Ohio to find relief from his wounds in a drier climate. He and his oldest son established a cattle ranch and trading stop for Indians. In their last years on the ranch, John’s daughter Flora and her family kept him company and contributed to the ranch.
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Priddy Meeks moved west with other Mormon pioneers in 1847. In 1851, he built a home in Parowan, Utah. Priddy, over the next ten years, adopted an Indian girl, married his third wife, and helped residents as the only doctor in southern Utah.
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