Getting and Living on a Homestead

During North Dakota’s two booms, the Great Dakota Boom (1871-late 1880s) and the Second Boom (1898-1915), the Homestead Act (1862) played the important role as a way for settlers to obtain land. About 25 percent of the land was acquired this way. Under the terms of the Homestead Act, a person could get 160 acres of free land by living on and improving the land for five years. After two years, the owner could buy the land for $1.25 an acre. During the Great Dakota Boom three other means of gaining land existed. Under the Timber Culture Act (1873), a homesteader could claim an additional 160 acres if he or she raised a crop and planted ten acres of trees. The Pre-emption Act (1841) allowed a person to buy 160 acres of unsettled government land outright for $1.25 an acre. The Northern Pacific Railroad, which received about 25 percent of North Dakota’s land mass, also sold land for between $3 and $5 per acre. About 17 million acres were acquired using the Homestead Act and the other options.

During the Second Boom only the Homestead Act and purchase from private parties were available to land seekers. An additional 14 million acres were opened up for farming and ranching.

North Dakota attracted a wide range of land seekers; it was the farmer’s last frontier. The railroads and government (both territorial and state) promoted North Dakota as a wonderful place to start farming. Immigrants from Europe and Americans from the East flooded into North Dakota in search of land upon which to start new lives. Agricultural historian Paul Sharp referred to North Dakota as the “last best West.”

The following news item and interviews from The North Star Dakotan provide us with an idea of what finding a homestead and then living on it were like. Terkel Fuglestad represents homesteading during the Great Dakota boom. Jacob Kruckenberg homesteaded in the 1890s, that economically depressed decade between the two booms. Reuben Hume operated his land location business and Eliza Crawford filed on a homestead during the Second Boom. Fuglestad, Hume, and Kruckenberg were interviewed as part of a government program in the late 1930s. Their interviews are located at the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Eliza Crawford’s words come from her diary, reprinted in the Adams County Record in November 1981 and as quoted in H. Elaine Lindgren’s book, Land in Her Own Name, Women as Homesteaders in North Dakota (Fargo: The North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1991).

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Grade Level


Subject Matter

Social Studies, Science

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change