News from the Homestead
February 2021

It may be cold outside, but 2021 is starting to heat up with events and programming at Homestead National Historical Park! In addition to celebrating Black History Month with the Oklahoma's All-Black Towns exhibit, we are hosting Historian Dr. Fay Yarbrough for her presentation "Uncertain Freedom." We are also excited to help you find your homestead roots with our presentation for RootsTech Connect, a free online genealogy conference.

We hope you will join us for one or all of our wonderful upcoming events. To learn more, read on, or visit our website at


Mark Engler, Superintendent
Celebrate Black History Month with Homestead National Historical Park
Every February during Black History Month and throughout the year, the National Park Service and our partners share stories, rich culture, and an invitation for all Americans to reflect on Black history in parks and communities across the country. More than 400 years of Black history and heritage - including achievements, contributions, and historical journeys - are remembered and commemorated in places preserved for current and future generations

Here at Homestead National Historical Park, we are honored to celebrate and commemorate Black History Month in several ways. Our partnership with the Center for Great Plains Studies and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to learn more about Black homesteading across the Great Plains is ongoing, with research moving to explore African-American homesteaders in Oklahoma, where preliminary findings suggest as many as half of all Black homesteads were claimed! To celebrate the expansion of that project to Oklahoma, we have a special exhibit from the Oklahoma History Center on "The All-Black Towns of Oklahoma" available at the Education Center through the month of February.

On February 21st at 2:00 p.m. Homestead will host a program from Dr. Fay Yarbrough, a historian at Rice University. Dr. Yarbrough's program "Uncertain Freedom: Choctaw Freedpeople in Indian Territory in the Aftermath of the Civil War" will explore the history of African-Americans held in bondage by the Choctaw Indians, a Native American tribe in Oklahoma. The program will explore these African-Americans who were held in bondage by the Choctaw and gained their freedom following the Civil War. It will be a virtual event that you can watch on our Facebook or YouTube pages at

Want to learn more about the connection between African-American history and the Homestead Act? Come celebrate Black History Month with Homestead. Visit the park to see the exhibit in person. Find us on social media to watch Dr. Yarbrough's presentation. Check out the park website at to learn more about the research that the park has been doing in recent years on Black Homesteaders across the Great Plains, in partnership with the Center for Great Plains Studies. 
Homestead at RootsTech Connect
Homestead National Historical Park is excited to share that we will be part of RootsTech Connect, RootsTech's virtual 2021 conference! RootsTech is one of the world's largest annual genealogy conferences. This year the in-person event has been replaced with a virtual event which will be held from February 25th through February 27th. You can access content, including Homestead's rangers presenting on how to use genealogical tools, records, and methods to learn more about your own family's epic homesteading story.

RootsTech Connect is a 100% free online event this year. Content will be available both live and on demand. You can register for the event by clicking this link: RootsTech 2021

Once the event goes live, check out Homestead's presentation! We look forward to helping you find your homestead roots! Remember, you can also get research assistance from rangers either by coming to the park or by calling us at (402)223-3514 or emailing

Image of a log cabin with a sunrise behind it. Text reads: Find Your Roots Homestead National Historical Park
Hein Collection now on Exhibit in the Heritage Center
Image of museum collection items at the Homestead Heritage Center. Items include a white dress, photographs, books, and bibles. In the background are museum storage shelves.

Items from the recently donated Hein family collection are on display at the Heritage Center in the collection room window. The exhibit includes historic photographs and objects owned by the Hein family.

August & Augusta Hein were both German immigrants. August's immediate family immigrated to the United States, but Augusta traveled to a new country with only a friend. In 1883, August and his brother WIlliam traveled to South Dakota to file neighboring homestead claims in Beadle County, SD. The Hein family often spent winters in Janesville, Wisconsin where August met Augusta Grübner. They were married on the homestead claim on December 12, 1886 and proved up on their claim in 1888. Besides farming the land, August was also a Percheron horse breeder. 

They lived on the homestead of over thirty years until they left their homestead to their oldest son Henry and moved to Huron, South Dakota. The homestead land remains in the family today.

Jesse's Jottings - Groundhog Day
Image of a groundhog sitting in green grass in front of red brick wall.
Groundhog Day was celebrated at the beginning of the month which has me thinking about spring and how animals make it through the winter. The groundhog is one of the few true hibernators here at Homestead National Historical Park.  While hibernating the groundhog’s heartrate slows from 80 beats per minute down to 5 beats a minute, and their breathing slows down from 16 breaths per minute to as low as just two per minute. During hibernation, groundhogs can lose up to a quarter of their body weight as they go months without eating.

Other hibernators here at the park include the 13-lined ground squirrel, and some bat species may hibernate in the park as well.  Other species like the striped skunk and the badger don’t fully hibernate but do go dormant for some time during the coldest weather.  Mammals that stay active all winter long include the white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail rabbits, coyote, and bobcat. 

What's your tactic for getting through the cold of winter? Are you like a squirrel: venturing out only when it is nice? Or perhaps like a deer that puts on an extra coat and faces winter head on? You can rest assured that spring is right around the corner.  Soon those little birds that left for warmer climates will soon be back singing their happy song. 
Share Your Story - Outdoor Adventure Writing Contest
Image of a pencil, blue mountain, and green grass. Text reads "Share Your Story" - A Recreation.Gov Outdoor Adventure Writing Contest
Exploring and adventuring in America's beautiful public lands creates memories and stories that last a lifetime., the go-to trip planning resource for adventures on federal public lands, recently announced a contest to share your stories.

The categories include:

  • Traditions (Old and New) - Do you have an annual adventure, or have you taken one that you hope will become a longtime tradition? Whether it's cutting down your own Christmas tree or a weekend reunion under the stars, "Share Your Story."

  • Reflection Journeys - Do you have a wanderlust that has led you on an inspiring travel adventure? Did you find yourself connecting with nature in a way you hadn't before? "Share Your Story."

  • RV / Campervans - Has venturing out included the comforts of your home? Whether it's for a weekend or a cross-country trip, "Share Your Story."

  • Family or Group Travel - Do your campfire stories include roasting marshmallows with friends and/or family? Whether it was an experience that made you laugh or one that inspired you, "Share Your Story."

  • Activities and Adventure - Were outdoor activities part of your adventures this year? Share one of your favorite activities while traveling, such as climbing, hiking, rafting, sailing, trekking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, or snow sports. "Share Your Story."

  • Best Time Ever! - Did you have an outdoor experience this year that was like no other? If it doesn't fit in one of the above categories, but it was an adventure like no other, "Share Your Story."

You can enter the contest now at Share Your Story - The contest will close on April 30, 2021, and winners will be announced on May 15, 2021.

Enter for your chance to win fantastic prizes! The grand prizes include a $2,500 REI Gift Card and Interagency Annual Pass, . Each of the six categories offer a 1st place ($300 REI Gift Card & Interagency Annual Pass) and 2nd place ($150 REI Gift Card & Interagency Annual Pass), as well as monthly 1st place winners in January, February, March, and April ($150 REI Gift Card & Interagency Annual Pass for the winner, $100 REI Gift Card & Interagency Annual pass for monthly Runner Up). With so many fantastic prizes and chances to win, this is a great opportunity to explore America's public lands and share your stories!

While on the website you can also use their tools and resources to plan your next vacation, including the trip builder tool.

Image of Bureau of Land Management archeologist Bob King. Text reads: Did You Know? Homesteading with Bob King
Did You Know?
Bob King

The Story of Clinton DeForest: Early Western Explorer and Homesteader

By the time the homesteading era began, exploration of the American West had all but ended, with much of the land seen by the earlier explorers later becoming available to settlers. While we do not think of the people who helped explore the American West in the early 19th century as homesteaders, at least one was. Clinton DeForest was a member of John C. Fremont’s Expedition of the early 1840s. DeForest later homesteaded in California in the 1870s.   This column will tell his intriguing story.
Information used in this story can be found online using Find A Grave, U.S. census records,,, and the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office records database. Images of Clinton DeForest, his wife, and family are on Find A Grave.

Clinton DeForest was born on August 14, 1821 at Pittstown in Rensselaer County, New York. He was a son of Jacob Peter DeForest (1791-1854) and Elizabeth Eliza (Eddy) DeForest (1793-1858). By the 1840s, the DeForest family had settled in Iowa, where Jacob P. DeForest served as the first mayor of Iowa City after its incorporation as a city in April of 1853.
By that time, young Clinton DeForest had already left home. In the early 1840s, he was living on his own in the frontier West - DeForest was part of General Fremont’s Expedition of Discovery during the years 1842-44. Much of the story that survives today of Clinton DeForest’s early life is from an article that appeared in a Lassen, California newspaper a few weeks after he died on December 3, 1908 at age 87. His death occurred at the residence of his son Alvin Eugene DeForest (1853-1936) near Richmond, California, with the historical significance of Clinton’s life mentioned in his obituary.

It was of such interest that it was reprinted in the December 31, 1908 issue of the Feather River Bulletin newspaper of Quincy, California (page 4), as follows:


“There can now be no doubt, but the late Clinton DeForest, whose death occurred at the home of his son near this place a few weeks ago, was a member of General Fremont’s expedition... The Fremont expedition, of which Mr. DeForest was a member, was begun in 1842, 66 years ago, Mr. DeForest then being a young man of about 21 years of age. The Fremont party explored the Rocky mountains and proved the possibility of an overland route to the western coast of America. The highest peak of the Wind river mountains, 13,570 feet high, which he ascended, is named after him as Fremont’s Peak. He crossed the South pass, explored Great Salt Lake and went as far as Fort Vancouver at the mouth of the Columbia river. He forced a passage in the winter over the snow-covered mountains into California, reaching Sacramento in March with his men reduced to skeletons.”

The December 1908 story also explained how the information had been documented and a special purpose that Mr. DeForest had for it. He sought to join the Society of California Pioneers, which required that the applicant was in California prior to December 31, 1849. Sadly, the article noted, "final action was deferred, for some reason or other until too late. This is regrettable as the present and future generations of the DeForests cannot become members of the society, as would have been the case had the old gentleman become a member of that honored society.”

After being with Fremont’s Expedition in the first half of the 1840s, Clinton DeForest initially stayed in what would become California, but was then part of Mexico. The 1908 article stated that “Mr. DeForest was at San Juan Batista, California, in 1846; at the time of the raising of the American flag.”

Not long afterwards, Clinton returned East to see family in Iowa. On February 22, 1848, he married in Johnson County, Iowa to Mary Ellen Hart (1831-1884). She was a native of Ohio. Despite their marriage in early 1848, by the fall of 1850, Clinton DeForest and his wife Mary Ellen were not listed as living together when the federal census of 1850 was taken. Instead, Mary was living with Clinton’s parents in Johnson County, Iowa, with Clinton’s location unreported. One guess is that he had gone back to California due to the recent gold rush.
By 1860, Clinton DeForest had returned to his wife in Iowa, where he was reported as a relatively wealthy farmer when the federal census was taken of Johnson County, Iowa on June 18, 1860. He was listed with $3000 in real estate and the same amount in personal estate. ($3000 in 1860 is worth nearly $100,000 in 2021). Also, by that time, Clinton and his wife had added four children to their family that would eventually include a total of 12 children.
About 1863, Clinton DeForest and his family moved by covered wagon to Lassen County in northeastern California, an area that he may have become familiar with from his time with John C. Fremont decades earlier. Clinton and his wife would remain there for the rest of their lives. The 1870 federal census listed them as farming in Susanville Township in Lassen County, California, while in 1880, they were reported farming in Janesville Township in Lassen County, California. By that time, they were probably living on his homestead land.

In all, DeForest obtained a total of four tracts of federal land with his first tract being a 120-acre homestead located about two miles southeast of Susanville, California. It was patented to him on January 25, 1878. To get it, he would have entered a homestead claim on this tract in the earlier 1870s, with details to be found in his homestead casefile in the National Archives.
The next federal land Clinton acquired was a 160-acre tract about seven miles southeast of Susanville on the road to Janesville. This he purchased under terms of the 1820 Sale-Cash Act, with the land patented to him on April 10, 1882. DeForest and his wife Mary Ellen were farming it at the time of her death on February 1, 1884 at age 52. She was buried in the Susanville Cemetery in Susanville, California.

After her death, DeForest bought two more tracts of federal land in Lassen County, California under terms of the 1820 Sale-Cash Act in Lassen County. The first was 36.54 acres located nearly his 1882 land purchase. It was patented to him on July 20, 1887. General Land Office records show that he had filed a Desert Land Act claim on this tract, so Clinton would have developed an irrigation system on some part of it. The final federal land he bought was 63.65 acres located around 15 miles northwest of Susanville, California, near Eagle Lake. This he received from the General Land Office on June 5, 1889.  The price for all the land that he bought from the federal government was likely $1.25 per acre. In all, after homesteading, the total amount of land DeForest received from the federal government by purchase was just over 260 acres.

In 1900, the federal census of “Township 1” in Lassen County, listed Clinton DeForest as living alone with no occupation. Being older, he may have ceased farming and ranching by that time, with some of his land perhaps rented out or used by his family. He subsequently died on December 3, 1908 and was buried near his wife in the Susanville, California cemetery.
After Clinton’s death, an article appeared in the May 26, 1910 issue of the Los Angeles Times and told the fate of some of his land. It stated that George Wingfield “the millionaire mine owner of Nevada” had just purchased “the Clinton DeForest ranch, on the Janesville-Susanville road, about seven miles from Susanville.” He was to “build an up-to-date hunting lodge on this property, which is splendidly located for the purpose.” Subsequent articles confirm that Wingfield and his wife Maude built a “beautiful hunting lodge” on the property. Today, the tract of federal land that DeForest bought northwest of Susanville near Eagle Lake and Lassen National Forest is part of an area popular with a growing number of recreationists.
In all, the story of Clinton DeForest is another example of a person with an interesting and unexpected background who became a homesteader in America.
Fencing on the Great Plains: The History of Barbed Wire
Image of many strands of barbed wire in a museum cabinet at the Homestead Heritage Center.
The lands settlers encountered in the mass western migrations of the mid- to late 19th century were unlike any other they had seen before: vast, treeless expanses of open prairie bereft of any distinguishing features, an ocean of grass and wildflowers as far as the eye could see. With no trees for fences and no stones to build walls, the homesteaders needed more practical ways to contain their livestock and fence their property.

Some planted hedgerows, stock-proof living walls of thorny trees and bushes, such as the Osage orange hedgerow planted by Daniel Freeman in the early 1870s, which demarcates the park's southern boundary. However, prior to 1874, most homesteaders simply allowed their cattle and sheep to freely graze on the open prairie, sharing pasture and water resources with other settlers. These were the days of the "open range," when cowboys drove cattle long distances to eastern prairie markets, when nomadic Plains Indian tribes followed the vast buffalo herds, and when thousands of pioneers bound for the far western territories set off on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails.

The idea of barbed wire as a means for fencing livestock had been around for some time. In 1868, a man named Michael Kelly had invented the basic design for barbed wire when he twisted two plain wires together to create a cable for barbs. Then, in 1874, Joseph Glidden, a farmer from De Kalb, Illinois, made improvements to Kelly's invention, locking a simple wire barb into a double-strand wire, for which he received a patent from the U.S. government. Glidden's design was cheap, easy to mass produce, and effective at confining livestock. It soon spread across the Plains. Homesteaders at least had a simple, yet effective tool for marking their boundaries and confining their animals. Other inventors received patents for their own designs - over 500 patents were issued between 1868 and 1874. Over the following decades, much of the prairie was divided up into parcels marked by barbed wire fencing.

The introduction of barbed wire had an adverse impact on the cultures that had subsisted on the open spaces. Buffalo herds could no longer freely move across the now-restricted expanses, impacting Plains tribes which hunted the buffalo. Plains tribes were forcibly settled on reservations. Ranchers were restricted from grazing and herding their cattle on long drives, sparking the infamous era of "range wars." But by the 1900s, ranching itself had changed, and ranchers were using barbed wire to fence their cattle. By the 1900s the days of the open range were over.

Some homesteaders found that it was easier and cheaper to just make barbed wire themselves rather than purchasing it. This practical approach resulted in more than 2,000 variations on over 500 patents, some of which can be viewed at the barbed wire display on the trails near the Heritage Center. Check it out on your next visit!
Homestead's Maintenance Division Battles the Elements!
An orange Utility Task Vehicle plows snow from the grounds of Homestead National Historical Park. Trees and a cabin are visible in the background.
The Maintenance division here at Homestead has been hard at work keeping up with the torrential snowfall and winter weather conditions in Southeast Nebraska over the last few weeks. In an average winter (from October through May), the area sees perhaps 25 inches of snow. In the last 3 weeks we've had almost 27 inches! In fact, the storm in January was the highest one-day total snowfall since 1965! We're very grateful for the work the Maintenance Division has put in to make sure the park is safe and accessible for visitors and staff alike.

Remember, while the snow is beautiful, winter weather can be hazardous. We remind everyone to be cautious. Remember these general winter safety tips:

  1. Plan ahead when travelling or commuting. Give yourself plenty of extra time - traffic moves slowly in winter conditions.
  2. Wear appropriate footwear - footwear made of rubber and neoprene provide better traction than plastic and leather soles. Wear flat-soled shoes.
  3. Be careful when entering and exiting buildings and vehicles, or using stairs. Move slowly, use handrails or the car for support. Keep your center of gravity over your support leg.
  4. Walk on designated walkways - do not take shortcuts over snow and ice.
  5. Walk safely! Take short, shuffling "penguin" steps. Keep your hands out of your pockets. If you do fall - avoid using outstretched arms to brace yourself. Bend your back and head forward to avoiding hitting it on the ground.
NET Nebraska releases new What If... episode about Gusta Strohm's 1800s "First Homestead" painting
Avid readers of Homestead National Historical Park's newsletters may recall a story from last year about Gusta Strohm's "First Homestead" painting being conserved at the Ford Conservation Center, thanks to generous support from the Daughters of the American Revolution. The work, which was completed in March of 2020, was recently highlighted in an episode of NET Nebraska's "What If..." series, a program exploring innovation and creativity in Nebraska.