News from the Homestead
April 2021
Greetings!

The prairie is bursting into life with the arrival of Spring this April. April also marks the celebration of National Park Week, from Saturday the 17th through Sunday the 25th. It's a great opportunity to enjoy the more than 400 National Parks across the country, and their natural, cultural, and historic significance.

We hope that all of our visitors, colleagues, and friends enjoy a safe, healthy Spring season.


Sincerely,

Mark Engler, Superintendent
Upcoming Events and Exhibits
March - April: Art in the Parks Exhibit (Education Center)

April 17th - April 25th - National Park Week
Check Out the New NPS App!
Image of the National Park Service App. There are three phone screens surrounded by a variety of National Park images - a fox, a  bear, an eagle, trees, a kayaker, a mountain, a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Statue of Liberty.
The new National Park Service mobile app is now available for visitors to national parks across the country! One app, every park at your fingertips. The official app for the National Park Service has tools to explore more than 400 national parks nationwide! This free app is available for iOS and Android devices. You can download it for free through the App Store and Google Play. Learn more at https://www.nps.gov/subjects/digital/nps-apps.htm

This app was created by National Park Service Staff to help you make the most of your visit, and has a great suite of features like:

  • Interactive Maps: Each park has a detailed map that includes points of interest, along with roads, trails, and other information to plan your trip.
  • Park Tours: What is there to see? Self-guided tours take you to interesting places in the park. Discover popular destinations as well as places off the beaten track. It's like having a ranger by your side to guide your trip.
  • Amenities: It's the little - and sometimes not so little - things that can make or break a park visit. Learn where you can find and access transportation, food, restrooms, shopping, and more.
  • Accessibility: The app offers a fully accessible experience with tools to benefit visitors with accessibility needs, such as audio descriptions of exhibits along trails and roads and in visitor centers.
  • Offline Use: No internet access? No problem! You can download content from entire parks for offline use. It's especially handy if you're experiencing remote areas in parks or concerned about data limits.
  • Share Your Visit: Tell your friends and family about the fun things you did by creating and sharing virtual postcards with scenes from the park.
  • Things To Do: What do you want to do in a park - hike? Take a bus tour or scenic drive? Visit a museum? Join a ranger program? Become a junior ranger? Discover all the fun, entertaining, and educational activities parks have to offer.
  • News, Alerts, and Events: What's happening? Get news and events for all parks - or selected parks of your choosing.
Celebrate National Park Week with Homestead National Historical Park
Text Reads: National Park Service Park Week 2021. Image of an eagle flying over mountains and a forest.
Each April, during the presidentially proclaimed National Park Week, the National Park Service joins with the National Park Foundation to celebrate America's treasures at all of the more than 420 National Park Units across the country. Come celebrate National Park Week 2021 with Homestead National Historical Park and enjoy a different theme each day of the week.

Saturday April 17th: Park RX Day - Doctors orders: Get yourself to a park. Enjoy the physical and mental health benefits that can be experienced in national parks. This is a Fee Free Day across all parks. Though Homestead is always free, take advantage of this opportunity to get in to any National Park for free!

Sunday, April 18th: Volunteer Sunday - Volunteers are crucial to the National Park Service. We'd like to say thank you and recognize the many volunteers who help make Homestead what it is! Here at the park we have about 250 wonderful volunteers that we are grateful to.

Monday, April 19th: Military Monday - The National Park Service recognizes the service and sacrifice of the U.S. military and their families. Remember, if you are active duty or a veteran, you are eligible for a free annual Military pass which provides access to public lands all across the nation! Learn more at America the Beautiful Passes (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Tuesday, April 20th: Transformation Tuesday - Just like the Homestead Act of 1862 transformed America, National Parks are ever changing. Explore transformations in parks as part of National Park Week!

Wednesday, April 21st: Wayback Wednesday - Explore America's history in national parks and learn about how the National Park Service and partners work to preserve and protect America's cultural treasures. You can visit the park and learn more about your families homesteading roots, and about the many ways that America's epic homesteading story forever changed the nation.

Thursday, April 22nd: Earth Day - Learn about the National Park Service's role in earth sciences and how you can get involved as a steward of the parks. As always, remember the Leave No Trace Principles - Leave No Trace Seven Principles (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Friday, April 23rd: Friendship Friday - We get by with a little help from our friends. Here at Homestead, we are grateful for the Friends of Homestead National Historical Park, and all the help they provide us!

Saturday, April 24th: National Junior Ranger Day - Calling Junior Rangers of all ages! Get ready to "explore", learn, and protect" while earning your Junior Ranger or Not-So-Junior-Ranger badge! Can't make it out to the park in person for National Junior Ranger Day? You can earn your badge virtually and we can mail you back a badge. Learn more at Be A Junior Ranger - Homestead National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Sunday, April 25th: BARK Ranger Day - Take your human for a walk in the park or learn how you can join the team of furriest rangers.

As you enjoy National Park Week, don't forget to share your experiences and memories on social media with the hashtags #NationalParkWeek, #FindYourPark, or #EncuentraTuParque! We'll have selfie-spots posted around the park to help capture the moment.
Upcoming Projects at the Park
One of our most important duties with the National Park Service is keeping Homestead National Historical Park in good condition - doing upkeep on our important historic buildings and cultural resources, as well as maintaining the natural beauty of the park. This year there's quite a busy schedule of work!

Upcoming projects include replacing the cedar shake shingles on the Freeman School. Since it's a historic building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, work has to be done "in-kind" - using materials as close as possible to the original to preserve the structure while allowing visitors to appreciate what it was like for students of the Freeman School during the homesteading era.

Another upcoming project, in honor of Donald and Loretta Nickeson, is to plant a bur oak tree at the campfire area of the Education Center. Over the years, storms have knocked trees down, reducing the amount of shade available. Whenever completing a project that could introduce invasive species by bringing in flora, fauna, or even dirt from another site, staff at the park is very careful - we inspect anything brought to the park to ensure that invasive species are not transported!

The exhibits at the Heritage Center are also due for a repair and overhaul. Worn and damaged exhibit panels are being replaced by Harper's Ferry Center, a unit of the National Park Service which is dedicated to improving visitors experiences at parks all around the country - they provide audiovisual programs, digital media, exhibits, waysides and signs, publications, and more for parks. You can see a conceptual draft drawing of the upcoming work below. If you'd like to learn more about what Harper's Ferry Center does to shape visitor experiences you can check out the website at Harpers Ferry Center (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Come visit the park soon to see all of the hard work done to keep Homestead looking its best for you!
Text reads: Sketch showing location of suggested elements. Image shows concept drawing of new Homestead exhibit redesign.
New Homestead Legacies Banner, Celebrating Journalist Ann Curry
Image of Homestead maintenance staff on a ladder, installing Homestead Legacies banner of Ann Curry.
Over the 123-year history of the Homestead Act, millions of people filed for land claims. Every single one of these people had a personal story. Homestead National Historical Park exists today to tell these stories and to commemorate the accomplishments and memories of all homesteaders. One of the projects here which celebrates the stories of homesteaders and their descendants are the Homestead Legacies banners - identifying well known figures in American history with personal connections to the Homestead Act.

We're excited to unveil the newest Homestead Legacies banner, honoring Ann Curry, Great-Great Granddaughter of homesteaders in Colorado. Ann Curry is a noted global journalist, photojournalist, and humanitarian reporter. Her work has brought her all over the globe, covering conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. She also covered the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, and the Haiti Earthquake in 2010

Ann Curry is the great-great-granddaughter of William Henry Hill (1831-1904) and Margaret Ann Casey (1841-1928). The two were both immigrants from the British Isles, and married in the United States in 1855. They lived in Iowa for several years, before staking a homestead claim for 160 acres of land in Teller County, Colorado, not far from Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, and within Mueller State Park. Hill successfully proved up his claim and was issued a patent on March 21st, 1893.


Are you one of the estimated 93 million descendants of a homesteader? We are interested in your story! Click here to learn more about sharing your homesteading roots: Share Your Homesteading Story - Homestead National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
Recovery of Bald Eagle Populations
A bald eagle sitting on a tree.
Bald Eagles are one of the most distinct, identifiable birds in the world - the national symbol of the United States. Historically they lived in every state except Hawaii, but by the early 20th century were in decline due to the use of pesticides, as well as unregulated hunting and loss of habitat. In 1963, the bald eagle population of the lower 48 states reached a low of only 417 known nesting pairs. However, conservation efforts and decades of protection have paid off - today there are more than 71,000 nesting pairs, and an estimated total population over 316,000!

If you've been at or around Homestead lately, perhaps you've seen the bald eagles who have been making themselves at home in the park! Bald eagles are a common migrant and winter resident in the state - the number of active nests in Nebraska has increased each year since the 1990s. From 2000 to 2020 the number of nests has gone from 20 to more than 200! Nesting pairs in the area will have eggs by this time of year. If you do happen to see an active bald eagle nest, do not disturb the birds, and remember to view them from a distance.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland spoke on the recovery of American bald eagle populations nationwide, calling it "a truly historic conservation success story. Announcements like ours today give me hope. I believe that we have the opportunity of a lifetime to protect our environment and our way of life for generations to come."

Come out and visit the park, and enjoy the rich diversity of wildlife in the tallgrass prairie!
Take Me Out to the Ball Game - Homesteading and Baseball
Black and white image of baseball player Grover Cleveland Alexander on a pitching mound.
April brings with it Major League Baseball's opening day. Did you know that baseball was a very popular sport for rural Americans in the 1800s and early 1900s? Many homesteading communities fielded teams. Though most teams were amateurs or semi-professionals, some homesteaders made it all the way to "The Show," playing in the Major Leagues!

In fact, one of baseball's all-time greats was born on a homestead near Elba, Nebraska. Grover Cleveland Alexander was one of 13 children born to homesteaders William Alexander and Margaret Cootey. He grew up working on the family farm, only occasionally having the opportunity to play ball - at County Fairs here and there, and then on Sundays for a local semi-professional team. A gifted athlete, it wasn't long before his talent was noticed and he was picked up by the Philadelphia Phillies. He was an instant star, setting a record for the most wins by a rookie player ever (it still stands today).

His baseball career was placed on hold to serve in World War I, where he served as a Sergeant for the American Expeditionary Force in France. He suffered from partial hearing loss due to a shell explosion, and lost part of the prime of his game. Still, he returned to play another ten years, winning a World Series in 1926 against the famed Yankees "Murderers Row" lineup that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Following his career he was enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938, one of only three Nebraskans in the Hall. He holds several records: the third most wins of all time (A National League record 373), as well as the NL Record for shutouts in a career (90), and in a season (16). He is widely considered to be one of the best pitchers in baseball history. The 1952 film The Winning Team depicts his life story, starring Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Doris Day as his wife.


Though Major League Baseball did not integrate until Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, interracial baseball was prevalent in the Great Plains at a time when social interaction between African Americans and whites was virtually non-existent. Homesteaders could watch games between local all-black teams as well as barnstorming teams that challenged local white teams. The first integrated baseball team played in Bismarck, North Dakota, in the 1930s. Neil Churchill, who owned the Bismarck Churchills, hired stars from Negro Leagues teams to play alongside local whites. Players included the famous Hall of Famer Satchel Paige and Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe, who also played for the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs. The team won the inaugural National Baseball Congress Championship Tournament in 1935. Paige recalled "Nobody could touch us. And boy did them Bismarck people like us. Those farmers that were our fans came to town with hats full of money to bet on us... That was the best team I ever saw; the best players I ever played with. But who ever heard of them?"

The Black Homesteader colony of DeWitty, Nebraska supported not one, but two baseball teams - the North Loup Sluggers and the Yellow Jackets, which played against other local teams. The Sluggers were managed by DeWitty homesteader George Riley, photo pictured below courtesy of Catherine Blount. The Sluggers lost very few games between 1910 and 1920, and were known for their entertaining style of play - much like the Harlem Globetrotters in basketball. Ava Speese Day, whose family homesteaded at both the Black homestead settlements of DeWitty, Nebraska, and Empire, Wyoming noted that "they would let the opposing team win right up to the bottom of the ninth and then come way back and defeat the heck out of them..." A local white rancher backed that story up, recalling that the North Loup Sluggers "could beat everybody around... they played everybody, and beat everybody."
Image of DeWitty homesteader and baseball player George Riley.
Did You Know? Homesteading with Bob King.
The Story of George Brownlee, an ill-fated Idaho homesteader

In past columns, I have told many stories about homesteaders from just after the Civil War to the mid-20th century. But when I recently discovered the history of George Brownlee, a homesteader in early 20th century Idaho, it was a story that was different than any I have found before. It was one I would not have predicted: a tale from the “Old West” involving a grisly murder.

First let me introduce you to Mr. Brownlee. George Brownlee was born in August 1859 in East Canada and immigrated to the United States in 1880. His younger brother Thomas H. Brownlee (1862-1946) also later immigrated to the USA in 1887, with both ending up in Idaho well over a century ago.

By 1900, George was a hired man handling livestock on a ranch in Idaho County, Idaho. It is bordered on the east by high mountains marking the Montana border and on the west by the Snake River canyon that divides Idaho from Oregon. Much of the region is mountainous mixed with high prairie good for livestock and farming. Homesteaders began settling in the region starting in the later 1800s.

Sometime after the 1900 census, George Brownlee filed a homestead for 138.60 acres of land west of the small community of Lucile in the western part of Idaho County. His land was east of the Snake River and included ravines and other rough terrain making some of his homestead unfarmable but good for grazing cattle and sheep. The exact filing date for George’s claim would be found in his homestead casefile located in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

George Brownlee filed for his homestead and was proving up on it prior to May 18, 1904, the day he died. By then, he had established a residence on his homestead claim and was cultivating the land to meet the requirements of the Homestead Act.

He would never live to get title to his homestead. He was shot and killed on May 18, 1904, while driving cattle across the land of a man in the area, Thomas M. Myers (1857-1904). George’s killing took place at what was called the Crook’s Corral, which includes steep canyon country near the breaks of the Snake River to the west.

According to newspaper accounts of the murder, Brownlee and his younger partner, Wallace I. Jarrett (1879-1959), thought that they had permission to cross Myers’ land. But instead, both were ambushed and shot from behind by Myers while driving their cattle on horseback.

The weekly newspaper, the Idaho County Free Press gave front-page coverage to the shocking event. During the ambush, Brownlee was shot first, with his wounds proving instantly fatal. Reportedly, a bullet “passed through his backbone,” causing him to immediately fall from his horse to the ground lifeless.

Next, the killer, Myers, turned his gun on Jarrett and fired again. The bullet passed through the back of Jarrett’s upper arm and exited through the front cutting through the bridle reins he was holding for his horse. The same bullet continued to pierce his horse’s ear. The horse, startled and in pain, threw the wounded Jarrett to the ground, with Jarrett rolling down a steep hill.

The murderer continued, firing six more bullets intent that Jarrett, too, should die. Though extremely painful, Jarrett’s fall over rocks and brush saved his life. It enabled him to find shelter and dodge the bullets raining down on him.

The paper reported that Jarrett ran “about two miles, secured another horse and made his way to the ranch of C. J. Hall.” One of Hall’s men brought news of the fatal attack to White Bird, with a party from that town capturing Myers. When Myers was captured he was on horseback, carrying a 30-30 rifle along with three boxes of cartridges. He offered no resistance, nor any explanation for his actions.

After a preliminary hearing in Grangeville, Myers was returned to White Bird to stand trial. The first day of the trial occurred, but public anger had increased so much about Brownlee’s murder that a “mob” decided that “justice” would be best served by its intervention.

To follow is the front-page account of Myers’ fate, as printed in the Idaho County Free Press, Grangeville, Idaho, on Thursday, June 2, 1904:

“Thomas M. Myers, who killed George Brownlee and shot Wallace Jarrett near Crooks Corral on May 18, was taken from deputy Sheriff Seay last Thursday morning on the road from White Bird and hanged. Myers had been taken from here [Grangeville] Wednesday to White Bird where he was given a preliminary examination before Judge F.Z. Taylor... Later that evening rumors reached Deputy Seay that an effort would be made to lynch the prisoner that night and that a posse was already organized for that purpose. This he soon found to be true, and what was worse, the feeling against Myers was so bitter that it was impossible to get anyone to take any active part in his protection. Armed men paraded every street, and no one was permitted to leave or enter the town who was suspected of wanting to interfere with their plans."

“The next morning the streets were practically deserted, but no one suspected that the mob had abandoned their purpose. About 8 o'clock Deputy Seay with Constable Roy Gordon started with Myers for Grangeville but when this side of the Hawley ranch about two miles this side of White Bird they discovered men on horseback at several points in front of them and knew the critical moment had come.

“Getting out of sight of the watchers, Seay got the prisoner on a horse and turning the buggy over to Gordon determined to make a run through the hills in hopes of escaping that way. They had gone but a short distance until they were again confronted by the mob who with drawn guns demanded the prisoner. Mr. Seay begged earnestly for his prisoner, but resistance was useless as there were about 30 men in the mob, and nothing could stop them in their purpose.

“They ordered Seay to return to town and the crowd started toward the mountains with their man. As soon as the news became known searching parties started out and Myers was found hanging to a tree near where he was taken from the deputy sheriff. The body was taken back to White Bird where it was buried after a coroner's jury was empaneled and although the inquest is being held today it would be easy to guess what the verdict will be [as to cause of death]."


This was vigilante retribution for the death of a homesteader, with the newspapers never telling the outcome of what happened to those in the “mob.” I found no stories reporting if anyone was ever held accountable. Instead, the incident and its aftermath, if any, disappeared from the papers.

What became of George Brownlee’s homestead claim after he was murdered on May 18, 1904? His brother, Thomas Brownlee, who operated a restaurant at Grangeville, Idaho at that time, filed with the court to become administer of his brother's estate. Thomas succeeded in getting a federal patent for his deceased brother’s homestead. When it was finally issued on October 1, 1909 by the General Land Office, over five years had passed since George’s death.

The homestead certificate was worded to say that it was awarded to the “heirs of George Brownlee.” Eventually, Thomas became the owner of George Brownlee’s homestead with the settlement of his estate. The 1910 census reported Thomas Brownlee to be ranching there with his wife, Anna, two daughters, and a son named George Elmore Brownlee, who had likely been named for his uncle.

Subsequently, on January 15, 1915, Thomas Brownlee and his wife Anna L. Brownlee sold the 138.60-acre homestead to Charles J. Hall - the same man who owned the nearby ranch to which George’s injured partner, Wallace Jarrett, had gone for help after nearly being killed along with George on May 18, 1904.

After selling the property Thomas obtained a Quit Claim Deed signed by the other heirs of his deceased brother all still living in Canada. This document would clear up any ownership problems with the title to George Brownlee’s homestead. By its terms, the Quit Claim Deed assigned to Thomas any interest that the other heirs had in this property for a nominal $1 “and other good and valuable consideration.” The latter, if anything, were not specified. Thomas Brownlee and his family subsequently moved into Oregon where they lived the rest of their lives.

Today George Brownlee lies buried in the Cottonwood Community Cemetery in Cottonwood, Idaho, about 25 miles north of where he was homesteading before his life suddenly and sadly ended by gunfire in the spring of 1904. The sad tale of George Brownlee shows once again that among the estimated 1.6 million homesteaders there are countless undiscovered fascinating stories. Stories like Brownlee’s and others help illustrate the wide variety of experiences homesteaders had during the Homesteading Era in American history, 1860s-1980s.
Master Gardeners and the Homestead Orchard
Image of an individual pruning a tree in the Homestead orchard.
The orchard just outside the Heritage Center highlights some of the varieties of fruit trees that Daniel Freeman may have had in his orchards. The testimony from the witnesses in his land entry case file, Joseph Graff and Samuel Kilpatrick, note that Daniel planted 40 apple trees and around 400 peach trees. Homesteaders across the country often planted significant orchards - after all, a trip into town to get fresh fruit could take days depending on how isolated your homestead was!

Homestead wants to extend a thank you to Nicole Stoner, the Gage County Horticulture Extension Educator, with Nebraska Extension and her group of Master Gardeners volunteers for pruning the fruit trees at the Heritage Center! The Extension Master Gardeners from Gage and Saline Counties helped Ranger Jesse prune the fruit trees at Homestead on March 12th. The group has been helping prune these trees for a few years now and prune in late February or March each year.

"I help educate in the best pruning practices for those who have not pruned before, and we work in teams to get the trees all pruned properly. The idea is to improve airflow and remove damaged, crossing, or diseased branches to help improve structure, growth, and fruit production. It is a great cooperation with the Homestead to help improve their trees while also providing the Extension Master Gardeners an opportunity to volunteer and learn about pruning fruit trees," said Stoner.

If you are visiting the park, we encourage you to take some fruit from the orchard. Our orchard has apples, peaches, pears, and cherries available for your enjoyment! It is free of charge, but please harvest only what you and your family can consume in a day. No pesticides have been used on the trees.
Free Distance Learning and Virtual Programming Available for Libraries, Museums, and More!
Homestead National Historical Park Distance Learning. NPS logo and text overlaid on a black and white image of a mid-1900s schoolroom.
Homestead offers a variety of virtual learning programs for all ages and groups. In recent weeks we have provided programs for other parks, libraries, museums, schools, historical societies, genealogical organizations, and more - all free of charge! The park partners with the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) to schedule distance learning programs at https://www.cilc.org. Rangers have been popping in all over the United States (and we've even gone international!). Just since March, HOME staff has done programs in 17 different states! We've been to Wyoming, Iowa, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Florida, Minnesota, Illinois, California, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Alaska, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, and Nebraska. We often do anywhere from two to four programs a day, and once we even did 8 in a single day!

Interested in setting up a free program for your organization? Let a ranger know today! Programs are generally between thirty minutes to an hour long, and can be customized to your group's needs: for K-12, higher education, or adult continuing education. No matter what sort of organization you have, we're ready to do a virtual distance learning program for you.

Existing programs include talks on the Homestead Act, "A Day in the Life of a Homesteader" as well as a "School Day in 1872," a program on women in homesteading history. Other programs we can provide are on Black homesteading history, doing genealogical research with homestead records, and more. Interested in a topic that you didn't see here or on the CILC portal? Give us a call or an email, at (402)223-3514 or home_education@nps.gov to inquire about scheduling a program.
Image of park ranger giving a distance learning program in front of a blue screen.