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Homestead Plot Problems

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On this date in 1903, two men may have been feeling some heat from the Department of the Interior Land Office. John Calkins and Peter Christenson owned separate plots of land near Minot, but were challenged by their neighbors, who accused the two of not meeting the terms required by the Homestead Act of 1862.

The neighbors alleged that the men had abandoned their tracts of land for periods of longer than six months, never established residence on the land, and failed to cultivate or improve the properties. Since neither of the men were absent due to enlistment in the Armed Forces, they were ordered to appear before the United States Land Office to defend themselves.

Stories such as this were quite common in the early days of North Dakota. They appeared often in the newspapers as the accused were called to account for abuses under the Homestead Act. The act was meant to help expand westward settlement, but the acquisition of land came with a few requirements.

Men and women alike could register for up to 160 acres of land, so long as they were 21 and were either a United States Citizen or one in the process of becoming one. In order to register for land, one had to be at least 21 years old, pay a fee to register, then settle or cultivate the land. If it was observed that the person filing the claim was absent from the land for more than six months, the government could reclaim the property. The Act stated that the land was for an individual’s exclusive use, not to be used by, or for, any other person.

Since the Homestead Act was extremely important to the settlement of North Dakota, residents took violations quite seriously. In the end, it seems that neither of the accused men came back to care for their plots of land, and both claims were canceled in April of 1905.

Dakota Datebook by Katie David


Ward County Independent, Dec 16, 1903

Homestead Act

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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